Outdoors column: Fisherman’s recovery from horrific fall gives him more reason to be thankful

This Thanksgiving holiday has taken on a whole different meaning for Capt. Brant McMullan. He’s more appreciative of his family and what he has in life. Moreover, he’s simply thankful to be alive.

This summer, on July 24, McMullan’s life changed forever.

McMullan and his brother, Barrett, part of the McMullan family that owns and operates Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., were on another family venture that day. The brothers decided to put a billboard wrap on a family-owned billboard along U.S. Hwy. 17 in Brunswick County, instead of contracting the work out.

“We’re do-it-yourselfers,” Brant McMullan said earlier this week. “Sometimes you call people to do a job, sometimes you just do it yourself. We went about doing it. We were operating 50 feet above ground. It was a safe situation with lots of catwalks.”

The brothers had finished putting on the new wrap and were observing their work when Barrett noted the upper corner of the billboard looked a little loose. Brant climbed up the catwalk to pull a strap designed to tighten the corner of the wrap.

“I remember walking toward the strap, and to be honest that’s all I remember,” Brant McMullan said. “What happened is I pulled the strap expecting there to be tension to be there. I pulled the strap, there was no tension, it was loose, and I just fell backward.”

McMullan fell the 50 feet to the ground, and to make matters worse, he fell on concrete.

“When I fell, I have no recollection of that,” McMullan said. “My brother was standing there watching. He was standing on the billboard looking at me basically dead on the ground.”

Barrett McMullan frantically climbed down and ran to an adjacent business to call 911.

“In all that, the one thing I remember was [Barrett] laying on top of me saying ‘You’re hurt real bad,’ ” Brant McMullan said. “I was trying to come to and was moving around. He jumped on me to make me stay still.”

After being transported by ambulance to Brunswick Novant Medical Center, McMullan was airlifted by helicopter to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.

“I woke up in the hospital with people all around me,” McMullan said. “My wife, Amy, was there.”

And, Amy continued to be there for her husband.

“My wife never left my side for over four weeks straight,” McMullan said. “She spent every single night next to me. She was a blessing, she is my blessing.”

She was there as her husband began the arduous recovery from multiple injuries, although he was fortunate to not suffer serious internal or spinal injuries. Amazingly, he was never even admitted to the hospital’s ICU.

McMullan did sustain a major injury to his pelvis where the impact of the fall rammed the femur of his left leg into the pelvis and shattered it into several pieces. McMullan also had injuries to both ankles and feet, broke his left forearm and wrist plus suffered severe ligament damage in numerous areas. He spent three weeks in the hospital and another week in physical therapy rehab in the hospital.

“I ended up with four different surgeries to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” McMullan said. “I experienced the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life in multiple places. It was a very difficult stay. I was on lots of pain medications – I spent a lot of time in pain and the other part of the time drugged up.”

While in the hospital, McMullan was uplifted by the concern shown from family, friends and acquaintances.

“Many, many people, family, friends, even people I didn’t consider close friends – acquaintances – came to see me that I never would have ever expected to come see me,” McMullan said. “The emails, the letters, the outpouring of sympathy – it was very, very touching. Very incredible.”

McMullan has made a name for himself in the charter fishing industry, and as one of the top king mackerel fishermen in the Southeast, from North Carolina to Texas. It didn’t take long for his thoughts to return to the water.

“I clearly remember, one of the very first things as I was laying in bed, one of my thoughts was ‘Oh, no, I’m not going to be able to fish in the [Southern Kingfish Association] Nationals in Biloxi, [Miss.],’ ” McMullan recalled. “One of the goals I had was, maybe there’s a chance I could make it.”

The McMullans won the SKA national championship in 2009 and 2011, the last two years the event was held in Biloxi and he was eager to return with Team OIFC to defend their title. In 2010, the nationals were held in Ft. Pierce, Fla., due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico meaning the McMullans had won the last two nationals held in Biloxi.

With the Biloxi goal in mind, McMullan pushed through his rehab and made it.

“I was able to attend and able to participate as a crew member – mostly as driver of the boat,” McMullan said. “We had a great time and caught some very nice kings. Again, the outpouring from all the participants – it was awesome all the sympathy and support that was offered there.”

Team OIFC didn’t defend its title, but finished a very respectable 29th in the event with a two-fish aggregate of 77.38 pounds.

Now, McMullan continues to move right along with his rehab, and is striving to return to his old self physically.

“I’ve run the progression from being in bed, to crawling to walking,” McMullan said. “I’m walking without assistance. I’ve got a limp, no question, and I’m not pain-free especially in walking. It’s difficult. Now, I guess I’m presently still in recovery stage. In the time-will-heal status.”

McMullan continues to work out at least once a day and attends physical therapy twice a week. More follow-up surgeries could be in the offing. If he grows weary of the process, he thinks of his family, including Amy, and his 8-year-old daughter Caroline and 3-year-old son Brayden.

“I think that those two children and my wife could have been without a father and a husband, but they have a father and a husband and I’m very lucky to be alive,” McMullan said.

Through the trauma of the accident, the surgeries, the pain, the tears, the rehab and after much soul-searching, McMullan’s viewpoint on life has changed drastically.

“I was living too free, too careless – I thought I was indestructible,” McMullan said. “You are not indestructible and need to be aware of it and be careful. Now, I see the light of what being thankful really means – to be thankful for health, family and friends. I am thankful that I survived and that now can hopefully influence the lives of other people and help them to survive or avoid a tragic event.”

As he moves forward in his life, McMullan plans to use his experience to benefit others, especially young people.

“I’ve always liked to give youth my time and I feel like I can give them life lessons now,” McMullan said. “I can’t tell them to be careful enough. I was the king of the mountain prior to my fall. I was the big man on campus – healthy, strong and vibrant. With one snap of the finger things can change so quickly in your life. You need to remember that and be thankful for what you have, you can lose it at any time.”

Hooks For Hearts

The 7th annual Hooks For Hearts Charity Trout Tournament was held Saturday in Murrells Inlet amid blustery and cold conditions.

The team of Rogers-Bess took first place with a total of 9.29 pounds, which was a three-trout aggregate. Seven Seas finished second with 8.98 pounds followed by Padgett-Blakely with 8.63 pounds.

Rogers-Bess also landed the biggest trout, a 5.53-pounder.

George Davis won the Kayak Division with a 5.70-pound aggregate for three trout. Dawn Newsome was the top Lady Angler while Kal Sasser was the top Youth Angler.

In all, 26 boats and 8 kayaks competed in the tournament, which benefits The American Heart Association and the Winston Perry Reef Foundation.

CCA Oyster Roast and BBQ

The 2nd annual Lowcountry Oyster Roast and BBQ Dinner, put on by The Beaver Bar and the Waccamaw Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina, will be held Dec. 8 at 4 p.m. at The Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet.

The $25 admission for those attending includes local oysters, a BBQ dinner and fixings provided by The Beaver Bar and an open bar (beer and wine). The event is sponsored by Williams Knife Company and Pawleys Island Outdoors.

The event exemplifies the S.C. Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program in action. One of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ oyster shell recycling trailers will be on site for the leftover shell from the oyster roast to be piled on and then returned to a local estuary. Proceeds will benefit CCA SC and in turn the SCORE program.

For more information, contact Chris Hawley at 843-455-0371.