In this episode, host Gordon has a conversation with Pavel Ythjall as he tells his story about the miraculous survival of a tragic car accident with his wife. Pavel shares the challenges he and his wife have faced in the seven years since the accident, including his recovery from a broken neck and his wife’s paralysis from the neck down. Pavel’s story is both inspiring and heartbreaking as he discusses the trials and tribulations of their life after the accident. Gordon and Pavel talk about the healing and power that comes from simply being present with people through their pain.
Meet Pavel Ythjall
Pavel Ythjall is one of the top contemporary fitness photographers in America. He came to the United States from Sweden to pursue the American dream. He was well on his way when tragedy struck. Kat was a major in the US Air Force. An American born and raised in Belize, she was an avid fitness enthusiast, marathoner, and triathlete, earning pro status with the International Federation of Bodybuilding. Today, Kat runs a family home command station for Pavel and their four Yorkies, managing her caregivers while taking online classes for a second master’s degree in psychology.
Miracles Come From Unexpected Sources
We often think of miracles as a divine intervention, something that is beyond our understanding and control. But sometimes, miracles come from the most unlikely sources. Take the story of Pavel Ythjall, for example.
Seven years ago, Pavel and his wife were in a tragic car accident. Just one year after they got married, both of them broke their necks. Pavel was lucky enough to be able to get back to life, but his wife remains paralyzed neck down. It was an incredibly difficult time for the couple, filled with trials and tribulations.
However, what was miraculous was who showed up for them. Their families didn’t want to be a part of it, but doctors, friends, and even strangers who heard about their accident on Facebook, came to their aid. This created a whole new family of people who wanted to help them, and it was truly a miracle.
This story is a powerful reminder that miracles can come from unexpected sources. We often think that we have to rely on divine intervention to get us out of difficult situations, but sometimes, the people around us can be the ones to provide us with the help and support we need. It’s important to remember that no matter how difficult life can be, there are always people willing to help us, and that is a true miracle.
Support Each Other in Tough Times
It is not always easy to accept help from strangers, especially when we are struggling with difficult situations. We may feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help, or we may not even know who to turn to. But it is important to remember that there are people out there who are willing to offer us their support, and that we should not be afraid to reach out and ask for it.
Pavel emphasizes the importance of being a good caregiver. It is not always easy to take on the role of a caregiver, especially when we are dealing with our own struggles. But it is important to remember that being there for someone in need is one of the most powerful forms of love and support. It takes courage and mental fortitude to be a caregiver, and we should be grateful for those who are willing to do it.
In times of difficulty, it is important to remember that we are never alone. There are always people around us willing to offer their support and help us through. It is important to be open to receiving help and support, and to remember that even strangers can be the source of a miracle. Together, we can help each other through tough times, and that is something to be thankful for.
Finding Meaning In The Midst of Tragedy
Gordon and Pavel also mention Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which is a powerful reminder that even in the worst of times, we can still find meaning and purpose. Frankl’s story of surviving in a German concentration camp is a testament to the human spirit and its ability to endure.
Pavel’s story is also a reminder that good people still exist, and that even in the midst of tragedy, we can still find meaning and purpose. We can still choose to take our tragedy and use it as a way to help others, and in doing so, we can make a difference in the world.
When tragedy strikes, it can be hard to see the silver lining. But if we look close enough, we can often find the opportunity to make something out of our tragedy.
Pavel’s story is a reminder that even in the midst of tragedy, there are still good people in the world. The people who helped Pavel and Kat through their ordeal are a testament to this. From the therapists who worked with Kat to the people who supported Pavel and Kat emotionally, they all helped to make their journey a little easier. They are a reminder that there are still people in the world who are willing to help others in need, and that is something that we should all be grateful for.
Pavel’s wife, Kat, remains paralyzed from the neck down. Despite this, she was able to use her strength and determination to become a licensed family therapist and work full time for Space Force. Her story is an inspiration to all of us, and it is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope.
Pavel is still a caregiver to his wife. Pavel realized that his wife had always been an adventurer, and that taking care of her was like a crusade of doing good. He was able to find a way to make his tragedy into an adventure, and it gave him a sense of purpose.
Pavel has worked hard to document their lives together, creating a short, fast-paced, and very emotional documentary. This documentary is now available on Netflix for everyone to watch and gain inspiration from.
In addition to his documentary, Paul has also created TrueLoveTheBook.com, where people can connect with him and learn more about his story. Through his website, Paul offers support and advice to those who are also in the role of caregiver. He is available to connect via email, text, and messaging, and he is always open to talking to other caregivers.
He was able to talk to others about his experience and the book he wrote, True Love and Suffering; A Caretaker’s Memoir of Trauma, Despair, and Other Blessings and also make a documentary, Moment of Impact
Taking care of his wife gave him an opportunity to do something meaningful and help others. Pavel and Kat’s story is an example of how we can make something out of tragedy. It is important to remember that tragedy can bring us closer to others, and that it can even give us an opportunity to do something meaningful. We can choose to take our tragedy and use it as a way to help others, and in doing so, we can find meaning and purpose in our lives.
Well, hello everyone and welcome to the podcast and I'm really excited for you all to get to hear from somebody I've recently become acquainted with. And that's Paval y'all. Paval welcome. Thank you, Gordon. Thank you. I'm happy to be here. Happy to share. Yes. Yes. And I, I, I learned about Paval from some fellow podcasters and got to listen to his interview and you've got an amazing story.
Thank you. Yeah, it's an amazing in the sense that well in many different ways, I guess, but both me and my wife are unlucky to, to both, both break our necks. But we were lucky in the sense that we got an enormous amount of, of help and love and the trials and tribulations after these seven years.
I've become sort of my, my passion and purpose now to share with other people and see if we can't get more people help, so to speak. Yes. Yes. And I think This is just a relevant topic for, for any of us going through what we go through in life. And I think you know, I dare, dare I say on the tail end of Covid and, and really people being aware of when life gets hard, you know, how do we help people and how do we, how do we live into the really the power of being present with people?
Yeah, that's a good, it's a good question, Gordon. I don't wanna put, take your podcast down too much. But after our accident what was miraculous in a way was to see who shut up for us. Like we were two strong athletic people in the, in the, in the prime of our lives. But with broken necks, you, you're very vulner liberal both mentally and physically, and both of our families did not show up for us.
So yeah, our blood families that. They just didn't want any part of it for different reasons. Right. But who did show up was doctors friends that heard, heard about our accident on Facebook that had gone through similar things. So it became, we became a whole new family of people that wanted to help.
Just by, by word of mouth. And that was miraculous. Yes. Yes. So maybe a good place for us to start is as I start with most everybody on this podcast is tell us a little more about yourself and how you've landed where you've landed. Wow. Okay. I'm from Sweden and immigrated to America 14 years ago.
Hollywood, you know, America, Hollywood. Mm-hmm. I was a photographer and always dreamt about Comedy America. And I did, and I, I found success pretty fast here in America. America loves hardworking people and I'm certainly that. So I was in, I was in an, on an upward tra trajectory in the fitness business, shooting for all the big magazines, and that's also how I met my wife Kat.
She was an, a major in the air force. Just a, a force of nature. Also a triad leaf, a marathon runner, and a, a bikini fitness pro. So we met on a rooftop in Hollywood at a, at a fitness party. So that, that was the, the love, the love, the, the true love and, and just the dreams, right? And then we just, one year after we got married on an island in Belize.
So that's the happy background. And then the tragedy. Yes. And so for folks that might not be aware, I know that you and your wife were in a terrible car accident, and it's a miracle that you're both alive. It is. It truly is. We were both in a, in a big S u v a Range Rover which are a big, heavy cars.
We we were going down to a couple of friends in Laguna Beach over the Christmas holiday, so it was a happy time for us. We were very ha newly in love and we were happy. Going down in the car, cat leaned over to put on some Christmas music. And, and we just heard a, a crack, like a big, big sound underneath the car.
And the hu course shook and the car started sliding and it started sliding towards the, the side of the road. And it cut up gravel. So there was gravel and dust and, and just a cloud everywhere. And then we hit one of those street signs that says Laguna Beach, 45 miles or whatnot. And the car started rolling.
And I remember I remember vividly how. Bounced my head in the windshield and I, I thought this is gonna hurt. And after that it's, I just blacked out and I woke up upside down with blood just pouring down my face. And I, I looked over at a cat and like, how are you babe? How are you? And she's like, go get help.
I've broken my arms. But she hadn't broken her arms. She had decapitated herself instantly on impact. She just couldn't move. And so her military training, Believed her to think that she had broken her arms, which is logical, but mm-hmm. Yeah. Instantly paralyzed. Yeah. And from there on yeah, the story continues.
Right, right. So it's been quite a recovery part, process for you guys. Yeah. So one of the, one of the things I know about your story is, is that when, when it came down to it, the people that you thought you could count on really weren't the people. That ended up being there for you in the long run.
Yeah. One big part of our story is the, the caregiving part of the story, so, mm-hmm. This didn't, it didn't become, become like a it didn't show itself until after we got home. So cuz when you're in the hospital, you're taking care of 24 7. Like my dad said, the hospital is the easy part. You got doctors and nurses.
Trauma people. You got everything you need 24 7. You just ring a little bell or blowing a little pipe and someone will be there for you. So it was, even though that was really hard, obviously the, our worlds fell apart. It was when we got home that, when, that's when the real struggle started. Mm-hmm. Because all of a sudden you're, you're alone.
It's me with a broken neck, my wife with a broken neck, she can't move and we need 24 7 care. And you just stand there to drop the ambulance drops you off and you're like, what? What do I do now? And that's when really when my world fell apart and her world fell apart and suicidal thoughts came up and all that.
Oh, sure. So we just went down to really deep, deep rabbit hole of blackness in the beginning. Right. So Right. So there, but that's, and I, that's when I discovered that none of our families had the opportunity or. To come and help, but then in some way I understand it. There's, there's so much sorrow and I mean, people have so much trouble just dealing with their every everyday problems.
So coming to help us and seeing the sadness every day just, just takes an enormous amount of courage and, and mental fortitude. Something we've built up both of us now. But in the beginning it was, it was, it was hard, right? So, yeah. So that was the start of it. What did happen was that while our families were not there for us, strangers started appearing.
So I've just, just premiered a documentary about the heroes in, in a, in a book I wrote. And I screamed out on Facebook. I was just really screaming out for help and, and in my blog post and people that have gone through similar stuff contacted me and asked how they could help and, and one after the other.
So, and after. Not too long. I had a whole bunch of people around me, loving, caring people that went grocery shopping, that came to dishes that came and helped take care of Kat and people that were just there in the morning to listen when I was angry or disappointed or just needed to talk to someone, so.
Right, right. Yeah, it's a, it's as I've shared on the podcast before and we chatted just briefly about, and just my own journey of being a care. For my wife who has had a brain tumor and is, you know, in a wheelchair and, you know, dealing with dementia and that sort of thing it really takes a toll on people in, in just the, the caregiving mode and just thinking about what it means to have support and so, I think you're exactly right in that I think maybe people hold back on providing support because they don't know what to do necessarily.
And it's not that you need 'em to necessarily do anything, but just be right. Present, right. That is so right. Gordon, I remember one time in a hospital, one of my big, big body building friends cuz I was shooting fitness and his, his name is Matus and he's from former Jigo. He doesn't necessarily have all the words, but he came by my bedside and he just sat there and I asked him to put his hand up on the railing and I, I put my hand on on his, and that's what I needed.
I just needed someone there like mm-hmm. And, and he's a big guy and he just, his size felt comforting, to be honest. Mm-hmm. So I just held his hand and then he just sat there and that's all I needed to, to get me through that hour or that day. And So, yeah, I try to be cognizant of that. Now the night when I help other people.
I also want to add that you being a caregiver might relate that it took me quite a while to be a good caregiver myself. I, I readily refused in the beginning cuz being a caregiver would, it would mean that I would've to give up all my dreams. And, and I was lucky in the sense. I had my mobility, so in a way I could just leave Cat and continue my journey.
Innately something inside me, it's told me not to do that, but, but I still, I still held on to the, to the dreams I had, like I wanted my previous life. I didn't wanna change it, so it took me a long time to, it actually took me until Kat said, she looked me straight and eyes and said, what if it was you?
What if this happened to. And then, then empathy came in and I'm like, yeah, what if this was me? Mm-hmm. What would I want my wife to do for me? And that it switched me. It really switched me. And from that point on, I pride myself to pride myself of being, I mean, a, a good, as a good of a caregiver as I can be.
But I'm, I'm present. I'm there for her and I'll fight for her, you know, every second of. Right. Right. Yeah. That, that, that resonates and I think something that you kind of allude to there is moving, moving from the resentment of it all. Yeah. To more acceptance. Yeah. And so, yeah. So what was that process like for you of just kind of moving from that, those two places?
I think one thing. Saved me in the sense is that the way I looked at things. So my wife has always been a, an adventurer and she made me adventurous. So we, before me we met, I was from Sweden. So I'm very organized and structured and I get things done, but I'm may not be the most happening person in the world, may not.
And she made me adventurous. We got married in Belize and we did all these trips. So in a. In a way, me being a caregiver be, be, became like a, a crusade of good or a crusade of doing good, a crusade of helping others. And that in itself became adventurous. Mm-hmm. Now I'm talking to you, Gordon. I've written a book, I've done a documentary, I'm gonna do a feature film.
So there was a way to swivel it for my mind to cope with it, I guess. Mm-hmm. This took a while. It took 3, 4, 5 years to really swivel it, but now I'm. I I usually tell people this, if I had the choice of the accident happen or not happen, I would want it to happen if it was only happening to me. And God knows I've gone through some bad times.
I mean, I had a halo mountain on my face. My, I broke my neck, I stroked out. Both my shoulders are dislocated, so I've, I've been bad, but it made me a better person and being empathetic and being able to, to help another person and see the gratitude and. It's just there's no other feeling. There's no nothing that makes you feel better than helping other people.
It just, mm-hmm. The stepping stone to get to that point is really high. And that's people, that's why it's so hard. But once you get there and I think you're there yourself, Gordon, it's just, it's beautiful. There's nothing better, even though you're tired you know, wept out and maybe whatever you are, it's just, it's just this beautiful feeling of being able to help.
And it's cuz they're meaningful. It gives you purpose. And that, and that's what drives me now. So, yeah. Sorry, I forgot what you asked Gordon. Oh, well, it's just that, yeah, just thinking about moving from resentment about things to, to acceptance of things you know, but what, as you were saying saying all that one of the things that I'm reminded of is, is that, you know, when.
When there's a tragedy of some sort or there's some sort of catastrophe. You know, the thing that seems to be the redemptive part of it is when you see all the people that show up. Yeah. To help. I mean, I'm thinking like, you know, In recent years, you know, hurricanes and natural disasters and that kind of thing, people showing up for that has a way of grabbing at us or, or touching us in a way.
Yeah. That, that just kind of puts all the other nonsense of life to the side. Yeah, it does. And it's, I I, I do call it like a, a calling to adventure because it is, it is an adventure. It gives you a sense of purpose and a, and you're doing something and it's, it's. Above and blind and is going outside your little box.
So yes, so caregiving can be an adventure, and I agree. We, it was, we just saw that little girl in Turkey, right, rescued from the ruins and it engaged the whole Turkey and it against the whole world. I think we couldn't grasp 40,000 being dead. It's just like the number's too big, but that little girl, it just mm-hmm.
Everyone wanted to help, so, yeah, for sure. Yeah. Yeah, and I have the best, I mean, I have the. Most intimate relationships with other caregivers. Now, other people that helped Johnny Courier, a local person here in Los Angeles, he started Next Step, which is an organization for people with paralysis. He started that organization after being paralyzed himself.
Mm-hmm. So it's like a self-fulfilling thing and he now helps, I mean, thousands of people and, and it's, I it's miraculously to see what we can. We can do it so much. Good. You know, if we want to, so, yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, the one thing that occurs to me in just thinking about, just kind of putting on my clinical hat here for a little bit, you know, when in, in my work with people that maybe, maybe struggling with depression or any sort of thing like that, There's this inward focus that comes with that.
I mean, you're really consumed with your own stuff, but when you can start turning that outward and really focusing on others, that tends to go away, tends to. The other thing that comes to mind is, is just how much meaning that brings for people. Yeah. And I think that's what you're, you're hitting on there.
Pav is The tragedy that you've, that you've had and you and your wife have had, there has been some meaning that has come out of that for the two, the two of you. I make an assumption for your wife as well, but yeah, no, for sure. I mean, we. I mean, you have a choice. I think you have a choice, Gordon.
When thumb something happens to you, you can either go down the, the abyss and maybe never get out. Right? Or you can try to make something out of it. And we, we were strong enough to try to, to make something out of it, so to speak. And I think, I think therapists have a huge role in tr trying to help people bridge that little bridge, that bridge because it's not easy at all, so to speak.
When it comes to my wife, She's just a force of nature in that after the accident, all she can do is move her, her, her neck and her shoulders. But she works with a stick in her mouth called a stylist, and she's now almost a licensed family therapist. Mm-hmm. So she's doing a practicums. She also works full-time for space force.
So, so there is no, it's interesting to see like we're living. Day and age where we complain about everything, or many people complain about everything, and as you said, live in words. Mm-hmm. And I have wants, but when you look at Kat, my wife, and you can see what she does with her one finger, her stylist and voice control.
She works full-time for space force and you know, national defenses. And then she said almost a family therapist. Then it makes me look at myself and say like, excuse me for swearing, but stop being a little bitch Pavel. Just, just get to it. You know? Right. Just, just get to it, you know? Yeah. So, And that has her accident, has empowered so many other people, it makes them be better.
So yes, that there has been something positive, even though Kat might not agree, she has brought out the best of us. And I think that's what caregiving does too, Gordon. It brings out, it brings out the best of us. Yeah. You know? Yeah, I love that. I love that. So, yeah, another another thought that comes to me is just thinking about when people.
Go through a tragedy and their, and they find meaning with it. I, I was reminded of Victor Frankl's book, the Man Search For Meaning. Yeah. Yeah. And just what he went through and being a part of the German concentration camps and Yeah. As a, a Jewish person and how he came out that in, in many senses, more whole than he was when he went.
Right. And that's, irony is probably the wrong word, word here. Mm-hmm. But yes, I've, I've read that book several times and in a way it saved me just, just a, just a purpose part that as long as you have something to or hope, actually in his part, I think he was hoping to, to come back and meet his family, if I remember it correctly.
And so, as long as you have hope or dreams, dreams is the same sentiment, I guess. Jeromes, they're so important to have something. To look forward though, to look forward to plus living in the moment, obviously, so yeah. But yeah. Right. For sure. This is great. So Pavo, what, what advice would you have for people that are maybe going through hardships and going through just kind of as we like to refer to the trials of life?
How do they, how do they make their way through that? Yeah, good question Gordon. I wish I had an easy answer. I mean, I really do. It's. There is a lot of trials on the way. I think you have to what? So what? I can only say what I did. So what I did, I quickly realized I didn't have the, the mental capacity to deal with this.
I, I needed something. So I I, while I had this metal thing on my head, which was a halo, which fixated in my head to my body, I put on my headphones and I walked the beach and I listened to podcasts and I listened to everything. I mean, I listened. Rich role. Joe Rogan. Jordan Peterson, the the Earlie stuff, the, the stuff when he's professor and he talks to his students.
I listened to, to athletes, I listened to, to just about anything I could find to, to gain knowledge. And I did find knowledge. I found bits and pieces from here and there. I found some wise words from Jordan that I could implement. I found some wise words from from therapists that I could implement.
That all combined helped me to, to get outta my shell, so to speak, and, and move forward. I think, I don't want to be self-promoting, but I did write a book about my journey and I think that could help. It's called True Love and Suffering, mm-hmm. And that I know that has helped other people. I'm, I'm brutally honest and frank in it, and I think my honesty helps people cuz I, I do tell them that I failed, like I failed my wife.
I told her in front of, Military people. I don't, I don't want to be a caregiver. I don't want to help her. But I, I needed to say that in order to then be able to help her. So my honesty, I think helps people. It helps people to, I give like, it's, I guess I give it legitimacy to being honest, to being able to say that I don't want to help her.
Cuz you have to say it first and then you can like start overcoming it and want to help her, right? So I think. Yeah. In, in, yeah. My book is, is one way to start at least. Yeah. It helped me to write it and I know people have gotten help from it. Yes. Yes. So tell us about the documentary that's coming out on Netflix.
I had so yeah, so all these people helped me for seven years and I w I was so self-absorbed in the way that I needed to, I needed to be strong physically and mentally to be able to help. I realized that early, so I had all these people helping me and they didn't want anything back and that's fine.
But I realized that I needed to pay them back. Somehow. I needed to give back. So this is my love letter to some of the people that helped us. So the 10 closest people that helped us, I needed to, to show them something to I needed is a world to see them. I needed the world to see why they helped us and to needed to show the world that there are good people out.
And I forget who said it, it was an Indian doctor. I said, who said something like, when, when something good happens, it needs to be documented because there's just too few examples of it. So that's why I did it. So I worked pretty hard a, a year. Documenting their lives, edit, editing together a pretty short 40 minute documentary.
Fast paced, but very emotional and I think it makes people better watching it. They'll get inspiration from it. Right, right. And it's on Netflix, is that correct? It, it will be. Not yet, but yeah, it'll be, yeah. Okay. That's awesome. That's awesome. So, well Pavlo, I wanna be respectful of your time and I'm hoping that we can have more conversations here in the future, but tell folks how they can get in touch with you and connect if they would like to.
Thank you, Gordon. Yeah. I've really en enjoyed this and I hope to talk to you again. True love the book.com, that's where most things origin from. So true love the book.com, and then you can sort of find and connect with me there. And I'm, I'm happy to connect. I, I message and text and email people all the time and, and yeah, I'm happy to talk to other caregivers.
Awesome, awesome. That's, and we'll have the, the. The links and the show notes and the show summary for people to get to it easily. And, and I know I'm ready to connect with you just around caregiving, cuz I know that's a, an area of support that for those of us in this role of being a caregiver for a spouse is definitely needs the support.
Yeah. Yeah. Caregiving is, yeah. Yes, Gordon. Yes. Yes. Well, thanks again. Thank you.
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L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person. He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook . And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.