Willy Amos of Mt. Pleasant is the poster child for Hy-Vee's “Helpful Smile in Every Aisle.” And it's genuine. If it wasn't for his wheelchair, you would never know that he is paralyzed from the waist down. As Store Manager for the Hy-Vee Drugstore in Mt. Pleasant, you will see Willy out front working with customers, or in the back unloading a truck, stocking shelves, or building displays. He's a human dynamo on wheels, with a smile on his face all the time ― because he's having fun. Customers tell him to slow down or he's going to get a speeding ticket. Willy just laughs and asks how he can help them.
It was Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, the year of major flooding in the spring. Willy and a friend were in tree stands with compound bows, deer hunting. It was a beautiful fall day in the middle of rutting season. There was a lot of activity and Willy's friend had already taken a shot at a deer and missed. They decided to move their tree stands for afternoon hunting. Evidently Willy didn't get his tree stand secured properly. He fell 25 feet, landing on the back of his neck. Unconscious for a few minutes, he came to and knew he was hurt badly. He was having trouble breathing and he had no feeling in his legs. Crazy thoughts went through his head like, “I'm going to die here alone in the timber.”
His friend found him. Willy used his friend's cell phone to call his wife to tell her goodbye and that he loved her. The friend dialed 911 and then had to leave Willy alone so he could direct emergency personnel.
Willy drifted in and out of consciousness. He remembers crying out to God, “Please save me!” He heard people coming toward him, shouting, “Hey, Willy!” hey did an assessment. Willy thought, “This is not the way I want to live.” He knew all the emergency personnel and asked one of the policemen to shoot him. The policeman told him to calm down, that they were going to get him out of there. They had to carry him 300 yards through dense timber. When Willy heard the sounds of Life Flight, he thought, “Man, I'm really in bad shape.”
Not only did Willy not have any feeling in his legs, but he also had two collapsed lungs. Chest tubes were installed on his flight to the University of Iowa Hospital, where his wife was waiting for him.
Eight hours of surgery later, he revived long enough to ask the surgeon if he would ever walk again. The surgeon didn't mince words. “Nope,” he said. “You severed your spinal cord and will never walk again.”
Willy thought, “Okay. Now I need to focus on what to do next.”
Six months later, after state-of-the-art rehabilitation at Great River Medical Center in Burlington, Willy Amos went back to work in a wheelchair at Hy-Vee. They welcomed him with open arms. Willy could have taken disability, but it's not in his nature. He had started working at Hy-Vee when he was 16 years old. He's been there 31 years. It's the only job he's ever known. It's who he is.
Willy had been an athlete in high school, playing both baseball and football. He has three kids, two boys and a girl. He has always coached their baseball, basketball and softball teams. When his daughter, Rylee, asked him who was going to coach her softball team, the Hotsticks, he said, “I am.”
And he does. From his wheelchair he hits infield and outfield practice, and still coaches third base just like he always did. Once, the opposing team coach came over and asked who was coaching? Willy said, “I am.”
Even in a wheelchair, Willy looks to be more fit than most people. Would he trade places with someone else? No, he doesn't think so. This November will be the ten-year anniversary of his accident. You can find him in an aisle of Hy-Vee Drug Town in Mt. Pleasant, smiling, of course. He believes in the philosophy of former Hy-Vee CEO, Dwight Vredenburg, “If there's a customer in the store and the store is on fire, help the customer first, then put out the fire.”
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at email@example.com or find him on Facebook. Curt's stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.