By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Lives can change in a second. And for umpire Bill Szabo, that’s exactly what happened.

“Last year was a light year. It was about only 75 [baseball games], but I usually average no less than 120,” Bill said.

He loves to umpire games, but his schedule was interrupted one afternoon last September when was in a car accident on Interstate 35W. And it was a very serious one at that.

“I just saw my hands, my elbows, just like a puppet they were in all different directions,” Bill said. “I tried to move my head, I couldn’t move.”

He was taken to a hospital, and his family flew in to say their goodbyes.

“Did I think he was gone? Yes,” said his wife, Jodie. “It’s like walking through a tunnel … it’s just not real.”

They were ready to take him off life support, but he decided to fight — and for a very good reason.

Bill Szabo and his granddaughter-turned daughter, Ella (credit: The Szabo Family)

The day before his accident, the Szabos had officially adopted their granddaughter as their daughter.

He saw 2-year-old Ella as he lay paralyzed, ready to accept death.

“I had basically had it in my mind, because if I was going to be quadriplegic I just wanted [a request of ‘do not resuscitate’],” he said. “And when Jodie said her goodbyes, and ‘It’s OK,’ and then when she said, ‘Don’t worry about Ella, we’ll make sure that she always remembers me’ … I immediately changed my mind.”

Ella coming into their lives changed their lives in ways they could not imagine.

“Every time I got to wake up in the middle of the night, and there’s pain, I think of her. I think of Jodie,” Bill said.

He is making progress, but it’s slow, and he does not know what the future means to him.

He misses the game he loves so much because the game is special in so many ways.

“Every game is different, every game,” Bill said. “You can tell sometimes the pitchers, you know, are warming up. You’re going, ‘OK, it’s going to be a good game.’ Or other times you’re going to go, ‘This is going to be a long game.'”

But the reason he’s here at all is because of the granddaughter that has become their daughter.

“Neither one of us would’ve thought we’d be raising a child, but oh my God, it’s the best thing, and it was so much fun and I’m missing a large part of it,” Bill said.

But he aims to give back. And there is no doubt in the minds of people who know him well that he would not be here if it wasn’t for Ella.

“She is pretty powerful,” Jodie said.

If you’d like to help Bill, you can visit his GoFundMe or CaringBridge site.

Mike Max