Man left quadriplegic by falling tree determined to make a difference

Image 1 of 4

Michael Heinrich's determination is inspiration for anyone who meets him.

"I'm not going to let anything stop me from what I want to do and what I want to accomplish."

His life changed forever in April of 2017, just two weeks’ shy of graduation from the University of Michigan.

He was riding his motorcycle through north campus when he was crushed by a falling tree.

"I heard a crack, I thought there are cars all around, (I thought) what is this and by the time I realized it was a tree falling - I was already on the ground," Heinrich said.

"You're two weeks from graduation and you don't know if he's going to live or die," said his mother Deb Heinrich.

Michael spent 17 days in intensive care and 81 days in rehab. A spinal cord injury left Michael a quadriplegic.

He's made amazing strides gaining movement in his arms but he can't move his legs. The young man who was once captain of his high school football team - is now confined to a wheelchair.

"He was extremely active," said his father, Tim Heinrich. "He was hunting, he was fishing. One day he said he was going to learn to scuba dive so he learned to scuba dive down here in Ann Arbor.

And now he's learning how to live a different life. Dad, Tim, and mom, Deb, who's a nurse, left their home in Ludington to come to Ann Arbor to live with, and help care for their son.

A young man who studied civil engineering and built submarines - now plans to go to graduate school there to study architecture.

"What I want to do, is help people who are in my type of situation and build new structures as well as retrofitting others so that way everyone is, feels that they can access every building," he said.

It's an amazing story of perseverance and strength - of turning a negative into a positive - but attorney Dean Googasian says there's an underlying question of how was this allowed to happen.

He says the tree that fell on Michael was diseased and dying - and shouldn't have even been there.

"It's a tree that should have been removed and it should have been removed years before," Googasian said.

It's why he's filed a lawsuit - saying Michael and his family deserve answers, and justice.

The lawsuit alleges gross negligence on the part of three people who are currently or formerly employed by the university in the Forestry Department

"Michael is entitled to whatever medical care that he requires - and assistance that he requires for the rest of his life," Googasian said.

As for Michael - he definitely wants answers. But they don't change his new reality and that new reality hasn't dampened his spirit. He seems - more determined than ever.

"I'm going to go above and beyond to make this world a more accessible place," he said. "Despite what happened - I am going to make a positive impact on the world."