Push your cart down the aisles of the Dillons grocery store at 37th and Woodlawn in Wichita and you may just get a hearty "Hello," followed by a smile warm enough to melt the frozen veggies.
The man on the other end of that greeting gets around with a cane and his hands don't look quite right, but this store manager has quite a story. He may just be a walking Christmas miracle this holiday season.
By all accounts, Steve Martinez shouldn't be alive to tell his tale, though. Last February, he was stricken with an E. Coli infection that caused all his vital organs to shut down. His body temperature soared to 107 degrees and stayed there for days. His condition was so grave, his doctor put the chance of survival at less than 10%. As her husband of 18 years lay unconscious in a coma, Linda Martinez, was told to expect the worse.
"It was about three o'clock in the morning when they told me that he would die by noon," says Linda.
Linda refused to give up hope. For more than two weeks, family, friends and co-workers prayed and held vigil at his hospital bedside. On one night in particular, Linda recalls nurses started unplugging some of the medical equipment in her husband’s room, expecting he wouldn’t have a need for it for much longer. That's when, according to Linda, a mystery doctor entered the room (to this day no one has been able to identify him) and asked the nurses to stop what they were doing and give Steve a chance to live.
"I personally think that was a divine intervention; that a higher power took over and led the way for me to recover," says Steve.
After eventually waking up and learning of the story, Steve says he felt more empowered than ever before in his life and was determined to live as normal a life as possible.
The effects of the infection cost Martinez both his legs, a thumb, and three fingers. His rehabilitation was long and painful. With the help of physical therapists (Steve calls them his Pain Pixies) he was able to walk on prosthetic legs within weeks of being moved out of intensive care.
At a time when most patients would suffer catastrophic depression, Martinez remained calm and upbeat, causing physical therapist Waneta Yoder to think, at first, he was in denial.
“Steve is really honestly one of a kind because of his drive, because of his sense of humor, because of his whole outlook on life. He didn't let the trauma define him. He came through stronger," says Yoder.
According to Linda, Steve used to have grumpy moments and bad days like all of us. Since his near death experience, she says, “He goes to bed happy and wakes up happy. He celebrates brushing his teeth.”
Through it all Steve Martinez has kept an incredible sense of humor, often dropping things on his shoes and hollering as if he’s pain, or joking about the great parking spaces he gets now. He’s never asked “why” or “what if” because such questions are “irrelevant”. His disability all that comes with it is simply an ongoing series of challenges.
“So I'm going to take that challenge and tell people my story and let them know that no matter what, even if the doctors have given up, that there's always a higher power; that there's always someone that can make a difference."
Within six months of his illness, Martinez returned to work. He has always been a popular manager with the employees of his Dillon’s store because of his respectful approach to others. Since his return, Martinez is more of an inspiration than a boss.
"People should have faith this time of year. Faith is very very important and we have a living testament to faith here at the store," says Dillons associate Dave Wilson.
Friend and fellow store manager Diane Robinson says she too believes faith in God is what made Steve’s survival and recovery possible.
"There's no bitterness. No anger. No nothing. He just accepted that God had a plan for him. That's what is so amazing to me. I wouldn't have come out with that attitude like that. And God does wonders with people."
Christmas is supposed to be a time of miracles and for those closest to Steve Martinez, having Steve to celebrate this holiday with is their miracle.
“I've learned to appreciate life. I've learned to appreciate the people around me...and just every day is a fantastic day," he says.