SAN JOSE, Calif. — A plane crash nearly two months ago in Northern California took away his husband and friend and left him partially paralyzed. But the sole survivor of that deadly crash spoke on Wednesday, as he prepared to go home, of the joy of biting into a strawberry and listening to Beethoven during his weekslong recovery.
Eric Raptosh, 60, said he didn't know if he could rally following the July 17 crash and multiple surgeries. He had fractures in the lumbar and neck area and extensive brain damage. It is unlikely he will be able to walk again.
"The days were dark, and I just thought, well, I don't know how this works, but If I stop trying I'm never going to figure out how it works and I would never be here," he said at a news conference, sitting in a wheelchair and surrounded by family and staff at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's Sobrato Rehabilitation Center.
"I feel like myself, very much, sometimes the pain comes and goes, but I really feel like I'm myself, version two. And version two is always better than version one," he said, "all the bugs are fixed."
Raptosh is scheduled to leave the hospital Thursday after five weeks of intensive in-patient therapy at the public medical center, which specializes in spinal cord, brain and burn injuries.
He joked about the "cheerful people" who dragged him through hell. He profusely thanked the medical staff for their support. He said he could not remember the crash.
"Instead of having an infinite number of things I can do, I now have a smaller set of infinite things I can do, and those sets are equivalent, mathematically," he said.
His spirit and ability to see "life as half full instead of half empty" has helped tremendously in his recovery, said his attending physician, Dr. Eddie Chaw.
"Having that positive mindset and seeing what he can continue to do, moving into the future definitely helps patients get through the recovery process," Chaw said.
Raptosh was flying with his husband, Peter Jackson, and their pilot, Kenneth Whitall-Scherfee, when the single-engine plane crashed near Lake Tahoe, killing Jackson and Whitall-Scherfee.
Officials said the pilot reported engine problems and was trying to return to the Truckee-Tahoe Airport when the crash occurred shortly after takeoff.
Raptosh, a photographer, said he can't wait to return to his home in Truckee. He misses the clean air and his friends and said he plans to roll his wheelchair into the middle of the road and look at the stars.
His sister, Diane, wiped away tears as her brother maneuvered from his wheelchair onto a table.
"The most beautiful parts of Eric are his mind and his spirit, which are thankfully still intact, and he still reminds us that we are not our bodies," she said.
Raptosh did not speak at the news conference of his husband, the man he loved for two decades. Martha Jackson, the sister of Peter Jackson, said the two men were opposites — Raptosh artistic and verbal while her younger brother was logical and efficient.
But together the pair went everywhere and could be counted on to help others, she said.
"It will be very hard, I think, for Eric to be without him," Jackson said. "I'm so grateful that he has so many close friends that loved them both."