Jimmy Bucknell repeated the string of words. Considered each one carefully. Thought about the way one rolled into the other, forming a neat structure and recognizable flow. An exercise he was confident with, a simple but necessary step. He repeated the words again. The same string the doctor told him, over and over, until, satisfied at last, the doctor left the room.
Five minutes later, that same doctor returned.
Jimmy couldn't remember they had ever even met.
"The doctors would ask him to repeat the words, and within a minute he had no idea they had ever told him anything," Jimmy's father, Jim, explained. "His ability to form short-term memories was completely taken away by the accident."
The accident. Every parent's worst fear for their teenage son came true for Jim and his wife, Beverly, on a dreary spring night in 1998. A late-night phone call, a panicked rush to leave, a mangled car and their world clinging to life pinned beneath thousands of pounds of thrashed metal and immovable concrete as the rain fused with tears in the cold night.
For Jim and Beverly, the first miracle came from the heroes on that terrible scene that night. First responders used the fabled Jaws of Life to pull Jimmy from the wreck. Paramedics rushed to his side and did their best to breathe life into the seventeen-year-old, who was fading fast before their eyes even as he was being rushed to the hospital.
When his parents arrived, things were bleak for Jimmy. Severe head trauma and two collapsed lungs topped the list of physical injuries. Even worse, he had gone 25 minutes without oxygen as his body shut down. Jim and Beverly looked at the broken frame of their son and couldn't bring themselves to listen to doctors who gently told them the harsh reality that Jimmy was unlikely to make it through the night.
Doctors placed the Durango High School senior—who was just a few months from graduation—into a drug-induced coma to limit the damage and give the swelling in his brain a chance to subside. Nothing more than a topdecker's chance, but something for the traumatized parents to hold out hope for.
For Jim and Beverly, the second miracle was seeing the light of day with their son still alive next to them. As doctors furiously worked to save his life, Jimmy slowly improved. But the world he woke up to wasn't the same one he remembered.
The physical toll ran high. Jimmy couldn't walk on his own. He couldn't fully breathe without assistance. Moving more than the few feet between his hospital bed and the bathroom was out of the question.
Those problems had nothing on the mental toll. A Magic player through and through, Jimmy was just coming off the high point of his career—an appearance at the Pro Tour in Chicago the year before. Now he couldn't brush his teeth on his own.
"The first meeting with the therapist, what they told me made me angry at the time," Jim recalled. "They told us it would be six to twelve months before he could leave the rehab center. I refused to believe that. I couldn't fathom that he wouldn't be able to recover from this.
"But we weren't facing the same realities the doctors were. As time went by and the days turned into a week and we were seeing very slow progress, we begin to come around to the doctors' way of thinking."
Every day was more of a struggle than the last for Jimmy, who fought to relearn how to perform simple tasks once taken for granted. But though he couldn't brush his hair, the former Pro Tour Chicago 1997 competitor did remember one thing.
He knew he wanted to play Magic.
"They played every hour of every day they could for a week," Jim says today, as he thinks back to the day eighteen years ago when Jimmy's friends showed up to the hospital with a few decks from Magic Anthologies and an unyielding optimism that their loyal friend and playtest partner would enter the battlefield once again. "His friends put aside everything in their lives to spend their time up there, [playing] Magic with Jimmy on his hospital bed."
Jim and Beverly, who had never shared their son's hobby, did their best to learn to play with Jimmy, though Jim softly laughs now about how his son still played circles around him. For weeks they would play on a small hospital tray, usually next to half-eaten containers of gelatin.
That was when, for Jim and Beverly, the third miracle happened.
"One day I woke up and everything was just back," Jimmy recounted. "The accident took away my ability to make new memories; it was exactly like the movie 50 First Dates. I would introduce myself to someone and then ten seconds later introduce myself again like we had never met. All those memory issues, and then the next day it just came back.
"The doctors couldn't explain it. Some of them had been around for 40 years, and no one had ever seen anything like it. Would it all have come back anyway, eventually? Maybe, but I really feel like it was [thanks to] playing Magic every day, making my brain focus on things and being analytical. If it wasn't for that there's no way my brain could have recovered like it did."
Jimmy's father puts it bluntly.
"Magic, to be quite honest, was his savior," he said. "It really was pretty miraculous. Within a matter of days, things were coming back to him. Within a week, the doctors were flabbergasted by how quickly he had recovered. As far as I'm concerned, it was those kids and that comradery that brought everything back."
His memory back, Jimmy began to rebuild his life. He learned to walk on his own. He went back to school. He graduated with his friends.
And he kept playing Magic. Jimmy made it back to the Pro Tour, bringing things full circle three years later when he competed in Pro Tour New York 2001.
Today, Jimmy's life has moved in other directions. He works as a broker and trains regularly in the gym. He no longer plays on the Pro Tour, though he does log into Magic Online as often as he can to get in a draft or two. And when he visits family, the painful memories of his time in the hospital rarely come up in conversation these days. When they do, there's one point on which Jimmy may disagree with his parents.
It was no miracle that gave him back his life.
It was Magic.