It is great to hear some good news in a world that seems to focus on all the negative. This is a recent press release about our friend John Platillo’s son who came out of what seemed to be an impossible situation.
The 23-year-old music student at the Blackbird Academy in Nashville had woke up in a Vanderbilt hospital bed looking up at his parents John and Kristi Platillero and was about to learn some very hard truths. Francisco had been hit while riding his bike by a distracted driver in a fast-moving car. The helmet he was wearing saved his life, but his spinal cord had been badly injured and he was now paralyzed from the waist down.
And so begins Lionheart, Francisco’s new memoir detailing his incredible journey through intense pain, recovery, faith and romance, told with an accompanying soundtrack of original music written to accompany each chapter of the book. A good portion of Lionheart covers his recovery at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he had to relearn how to sit up on his own and do basic tasks we take for granted (like getting into a car). Each movement in his damaged but determined body became a mental and physical puzzle that Francisco had to take apart and put back together. Success would come after hours of deliberate movement, while failure would come in seconds, his legs collapsing underneath him, bringing Francisco and his spirit back down once more.
Yet Lionheart is so much more than the story of a young man at the peak of his life learning how to use a wheelchair. Francisco’s accident completely changes his life in really surprising ways. His story goes viral and he meets everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Martina McBride (whose husband John McBride was at David’s bedside after the accident), gets invited to a jam session with Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves, competes on American Idol and finally, in a full circle moment, returns to the road to participate in the David Francisco Ride For Hope on a tandem bike.
For him life keeps getting better and better, he falls in love, with an actual Disney princess. (His wife, Kristi Platillero, is an actress at Disneyland).
Lionheart is well written and deeply honest (and vulnerable), detailing the path from darkness to light in a very easy-to-read style that’s partially a testament to its excellent editing and organization by editors Steven Friedlander and Meagan Allen. The passages detailing his whirlwind romance with Kristi (who he met before his accident) are incredibly sweet and and familiar to anyone who’s been in a long-distance relationship. One of the best songs from Lionheart, “FaceTime Lover,” includes a rap verse from artist Swoope and details the moments they weren’t “technically dating” but were “intentionally, exclusively getting to know each other. In my mind, however,” Francisco writes, “I already knew I wanted to marry Kristi.”
There’s also a darker side of Lionheart that describes life in physical pain and the mind’s proclivity for hopelessness and pity. Francisco is a Christian and his spirituality shapes much of his outlook: his Facebook proudly proclaims “I believe in a God who redeems.” He also deeply cares about those who are watching him suffer and even when he gets upset with his loved ones, he finds a way to extract deeper meaning from the experience and give great advice.
In the second chapter of Lionheart, Francisco talks about his friend’s urge to tell him “Everything will be okay” only to be “reminded that my friends had no idea what I was actually going through because no one knew if I would recover.”
One time he got angry at his parent’s insistence he would get better and yelled at them, “I might not get better!” and broke down, weeping. He needed “less words, more hugs.” The episode is similar to one often shared by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. In that story, a woman delivering twins faced severe complications at birth and the second twin was born with the congenital disorder. Instead of sympathy or contrived hope, she would tell people, “Just say hello.” Just an acknowledgement and friendly greeting. That’s all her family really needed.
“Sometimes people just need to know that you’re there and with them — and that is what I needed,” Francisco writes. “I still need people when I get down. You can be tempted to offer words that might sound encouraging but kind intentions can do more damage than good,” he writes. “A simple embrace can change a heart.”