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Armand Nelson Schneider of Boulder still wears a back brace after being hit by a passenger train in Japan. Here he poses with origami cranes made for him by his friends and the family he stayed with in Japan.
Marty Caivano
Armand Nelson Schneider of Boulder still wears a back brace after being hit by a passenger train in Japan. Here he poses with origami cranes made for him by his friends and the family he stayed with in Japan.

BOULDER, Colo. –

He didn’t see it coming.

With a belly full of food and sake, Armand Nelson Schneider just wanted to get rid of his nausea and empty his stomach before hopping on a train back to his study-abroad home in Yokohama, Japan.

Schneider, 22, was throwing up over the platform when a high-speed commuter zoomed into the station and smashed into him.

“Here’s where the miracle begins,” said Schneider’s mother, Audrey Nelson.

Moments earlier, a “Japanese angel” had grabbed Schneider’s left shoulder and pulled him just enough to the left to spare his head and save him from suffering neurological damage, Nelson said.

“Had Armand not been pulled by his left shoulder, he would not be here,” Nelson said about the March accident.

The Boulder native fractured nine vertebrae and suffered severe liver and lung damage. He was kept in smallish beds in Japanese hospitals for eight weeks, struggled to communicate with the foreign doctors and risked becoming paralyzed on the flight home.

But Schneider recently made it back to Boulder, where he’s continuing to heal in his Spanish-style home near Chautauqua Park. And, Schneider said, his brush with death has given him a new perspective on health care, culture and life.

“It’s a miracle,” his mother said. “This kid should be dead.”

Schneider said he doesn’t struggle with alcohol and has always been a safe drinker — his mother calls him “Mr. Responsibility.”

“There’s no denying I was very drunk,” he said. “But I don’t think the accident was caused by that.”

Still, Schneider said, he plans to share his story and its lessons with teenagers facing tough decisions.

“Sometimes it takes a severe accident to teach someone a lesson,” he said.

As part of that community service, Schneider said, he’ll share about the Japanese people who cared for him after the accident and how their example changed his perspective.

“This accident put into light the graciousness of Japanese people,” he said. “It’s unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced.”

‘I was hit by a train’

Schneider fell in love with Japanese culture at a young age when foreign video games and Manga — a form of Japanese comics and cartoons — were big. After graduating from Boulder High in 2005, Schneider went to the University of Oregon to major in ancient Japanese and history with the goal of becoming a professor.

He began a year-long study-abroad program Sept. 18 at Japan’s Waseda University — known as the country’s Harvard. He lived with a family in Yokohama — farther from campus than other students and more than a one-hour commute to class.

Understanding the culture and building community was difficult at first, Schneider said, but “I was on the cusp of making advances in my skills” when the accident occurred.

Schneider and a group of about 30 other study-abroad students gathered the evening of March 18 for a Nomikai — an all-you-can-eat buffet of food and drinks. When the group decided to change locations, Schneider said, he opted to head home.

“I had spent my last $30,” he said.

That was the last thing Schneider said he recalls.

“One minute I was at the party, the next I was in the hospital,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think when they told me I was hit by a train.”

Paramedics induced a coma to keep Schneider from moving, causing the student to lose some of his short-term memory. When he awoke, Schneider said, they were draining blood from his right lung and calling him “Godzilla” for his 6-foot, 3-inch stature.

‘I thank God he was in Japan’

Schneider’s mom was hiking in the Boulder foothills March 18 and returned home to a horrifying answering machine message at about 3 p.m.

“It was the call no mother wants,” Nelson said.

Her only son had been hit by a train nearly 6,000 miles from home and was in a coma with internal bleeding. He was being treated by nurses and doctors with whom she couldn’t communicate in a health care system she knew little about.

Several hours after first learning of the accident, a panicked Nelson — who was frantically trying to book a flight to Japan — called back hoping for an update. Her desperate plea was met with a surprise answer.

“You want to talk to him?” a doctor asked Nelson in broken English.

Of course she did. And, Nelson said, no sound was sweeter than her son’s “hill-billy” way of saying hello.

“He said, ‘Hey mama,'” she said. “And I knew, this kid is going to be OK.”

His recovery, however, wasn’t as fast as he had hoped. Schneider stayed in the Japanese intensive care unit for 12 days, kept his spot in the ward for four weeks and was moved to a nearby rehab facility for another four weeks. Nelson stayed by his side — along with the Japanese nurses and doctors who “fell in love with him” — for a month.

Endless droves of friends and his Japanese family members visited him often. His Oregon study-aboard peers folded him 1,000 origami cranes, following an ancient Japanese fable symbolizing a speedy and safe recovery.

Nelson returned to the United States after “I saw him get out of that hospital and go upright.” When she returned to Japan weeks later, the doctor gave Schneider the surprise go-ahead to return home with his mother.

Nelson said she was prepared to make a hefty payment — above $300,000 — for the months of care. Instead, she said, they informed her of the national health care system and asked her for about $3,000.

“Twelve days in the ICU would have cost a quarter million in the United States,” she said.

There were some trade-offs for the less-expensive treatment, Schneider said. For instance, he had to pay for meals and to use the TV and refrigerator. He also had to share a bedroom with six people, and pay for his pajamas and diapers.

“But you’re happy not to have the frills to walk out with no bills,” Schneider said.

And, he said, his treatment was unparalleled.

“I thank God he was in Japan when this happened,” Nelson said.

‘He’s this miracle healer’

Nelson and Schneider were given first-class seats for the daunting 17-plus-hour flight home on May 24 so Schneider could stay flat on his back. If any of his fragile vertebrae were jostled, Nelson said, her son could end up paralyzed.

“When we got on the plane, the pilot came over the speaker and said, ‘We’re gonna have a good two hours of turbulence on this flight,'” Nelson said. “I just told Armand, ‘Dude, strap yourself in.'”

The pilot was right and Schneider held on.

“I really understood why I was in the hospital for so long,” he said. “I felt every bump in my back.”

Now in Boulder, Schneider’s back is at 60 percent of full strength. He’s been told it will be 100 percent by Sept. 18 — exactly one year after he started his adventure in Japan.

“He’s this miracle healer,” Nelson said. “The way this kid came out of this — no one can believe it. That’s why I’ve named him, ‘Ironman.'”

Schneider is seeing Harvard-trained doctors, and his Japanese ICU nurse is flying here Aug. 2 for a check-up. He’s planning to head back to Oregon to finish his degree in August.

“Eventually, I will go back to Japan to finish where I left off,” he said.

VIDEO: Armand Schneider hit by train in Japan

Archived comments

I have been hit by many trains. I know what this man is feeling.

DanielPlainview

6/14/2009 1:42:39 AM

What if YOU are his first born child?

bouldermeister

6/14/2009 6:28:48 AM

Japanese Healthcare system – 1

US system – 0

usmc_e4

6/14/2009 7:47:14 AM

anyone else find it kind of odd how this kid’s mom repeatedly refers to her son as “this kid”

hawklove

6/14/2009 3:04:29 PM

Nukes- leave a comment and I will murder your first born child.

DanielPlainview

6/14/2009 4:47:05 AM

Why is the Japanese ICU nurse flying here in August for a check up?Hmmmmmmmmm……….

Escape

6/14/2009 12:30:36 PM

whats with that sideways picture ?

JakPott

6/14/2009 3:28:46 PM

“Japanese Angel” – 1

Charles Darwin – 0

JCBoston

6/14/2009 3:30:11 PM

Once you get past the part of getting hit by a train, this guy is indeed lucky. Overall, the Japanese are healthier than Americans so that may be a small contributor to lower health care costs. But certainly the biggest difference is the system itsself: public vs. private. Speedy recovery Armand. Although I’m still left wondering exactly what change in his perspective does he want to share? That Japanese people are sweethearts? That national insurance is a good idea? Don’t drink and take trains?

bnorthrop

6/14/2009 8:03:08 AM

Sad story, but you are a fool if you think alcohol had nothing to do with your accident.Why do you think every train station in Japan has that yellow line to stay behind on the platform, a couple of feet from the tracks?You are lucky to have lived, sounds like Shinkansen-1, Gaijin-0!

Japanese health care is primitive compared to American health care.Japanese doctors won’t tell you if you have a fatal condition.Most Japanese hospitals look like BCH circa 1975.

Idiot gaijin make life for those of us trying to live a normal, quiet life here difficult.Public drunkenness is one of the reasons Americans are distrusted and hated by many Japanese.Please stay in Boulder and be the BPD’s problem!

tplboulder@yahoo.com

6/14/2009 10:03:26 AM

It wasn’t $3,000 worth of care, it was a much higher amount, at least on the way towards $300,000.It’s just that his recklessness forced that cost upon Japanese taxpayers.Maybe he should consider that if he wants to “repay” them.How much do you think he paid in-to the system in his 6 months before the accident?

What a culturally appropriate article where the Americans are thanking the foreign culture for their hospitality while exploiting their system for personal gain, and commenting on it as if those benefits came out of thin air. No special thanks to the Japanese taxpayer for forking over $ they will never get back, just a bashing of fellow Americans for not doing the same.

civilibertarian

6/14/2009 2:54:23 PM

“…for forking over $ they will never get back…”

And you know that, how exactly? Are libercontrarians now also soothsayers and tea-leaf readers?

Oh. Never mind, yes they are.

flaven

6/14/2009 3:07:51 PM

flaven flave,

I’m only going from the content of the story.

…”she said, they informed her of the national health care system and asked her for about $3,000.” …””But you’re happy not to have the frills to walk out with no bills,” Schneider said.”

Sounds like they aren’t in a hurry to repay the difference. If I’m wrong and she is setting up a payment plan to repay the Japanese people for the true cost of his treatment, forgive my comments.Just show me where they are doing this and I’ll retract my prediction.

civilibertarian

6/14/2009 4:45:12 PM

He doesn’t think the accident was caused by his drinking?

Yes, clearly he has learned a lot from this experience.

tele_editor@yahoo.com

6/16/2009 6:40:52 PM

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