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Faith Forged: Surviving the Unthinkable

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“I had a board meeting in Washington,” recalls Geralyn Ritter, “I had other meetings, jumped back on the train, headed back home that afternoon. And I remember just sitting down in the seat, pulling out my phone and starting to text Jonathan, ‘leaving Philly, home soon. Can't wait to see you guys.’ I stood up and I was trying to reach into my bag to get something to read. I remember thinking, 'we're going fast.' And then we started rocking and I remember feeling like I was tipping forward, standing there in the aisle, holding the luggage rack. I remember hearing my own scream. I remember a flash of recognition that we were tipping and I remember screaming. And that's my last memory.”

CBN news reports, “Authorities say the train involved was going much too fast just before it derailed, at 106 miles per hour. At least 7 people are confirmed dead and several are still missing.”

“I saw something in the news that said Amtrak train derailment,” recalls Geralyn’s husband, John Ritter. “And I knew she was on an Amtrak train and it started to look like it was a bad, bad situation.”

Geralyn Ritter was in the front car of Amtrak 188 when it went off the tracks in Philadelphia. Her husband, Jonathan, tracked her phone to the crash site then rushed to the chaos at the scene in hopes of finding her alive. He says, “My son, Austin, had throughout the night, he was sending messages to people in the hospitals, calling them and doing all this stuff. And he was saying, 'Dad, you got to find her.' And eventually, apparently he fell asleep four or five in the morning. And at 6:30 I sent him a text. I said, ‘We've found her. She's alive.’ So to find her was this tremendous rush of joy. And then it was pretty clear that this was not a foregone conclusion she was going to live.”

Geralyn had been life flighted to a trauma hospital barely clinging to life. Doctors were doubtful she would survive the coming days due to the severity of her injuries. Three days later she woke from a coma. Unable to move and on a ventilator: she was only able to communicate through blinking. She recalls hearing, "'You've been in an accident. Do you want to know what's happened here in the hospital?’ And I blinked once, and, ‘You hit with such force that all of your abdominal organs were thrown up into your chest. Your chest was crushed, your rib cage were crushed. And that's why you, you have to be on this ventilator. You can't breathe on your own right now.’” 

She had a host of other injuries including a broken pelvis and bleeding spleen –amazingly, she did not suffer a traumatic brain injury. John recalls, “How do you go out hard enough out of the train to break your pelvis in half and not have some kind of serious traumatic brain injury? That is a miracle.”

While immobilized and in tremendous pain, Geralyn turned her heart and mind towards God. She says, “The only thing I can do right now is pray. It was the only thing I could do. And He held me. I remember being in so much pain, but physically held. Over and over we just gave thanks that I was here, that, that I was still alive, and that whether I could walk again, it didn't matter. But maybe I would still be me. And we held on to that our hope, as our, as our gratitude. And it's what I think kept us, kept us out of that abyss.”

After eight surgeries and five weeks in the hospital ICU, Geralyn was released to continue healing at home. When her son showed her photos of her train car, she was reminded of God’s mercy and goodness. She says, “I don't know how I survived that, but that's how great God is...that, that, that debris field of twisted metal and the fact that I am here at home, that is how great God is.”

Over the last several years Geralyn endured a grueling recovery, more surgeries, and setbacks. She remains thankful God sustained her through all of it. She says, “The crash strengthened my faith in so many ways. I know, I know with every fiber of my being that I wouldn't have made it through without my faith. There were too many moments that were so hard and there were too many moments where I thought, I can't keep doing this. The spiritual strength that God gave me to get through some of those low points, but also the strength that came from our community of faith, from other people of faith reaching out to me. And many of them probably have no idea of the impact that they had. But it told me I wasn't alone in going through this.”

“We take this as a miraculous gift that she was able to live," says John. “And then I get the rest of her life, and that she gets to raise her children, and I get to be her husband for longer.”

“I can be an active mom with my boys,” says Geralyn. “I saw my sons graduate high school. I saw one of them graduate college. I have a beautiful life and I'm very, very grateful for it.” Geralyn’s book, Bone by Bone, tells the story of her faith, her struggles with her recovery, and the grace that miraculously kept her alive. She continues, “I struggle with the word 'miracle.' It's a complicated word. I prefer the word 'grace.' Grace is an undeserved gift. And those other eight people, they didn't deserve to die. I don't believe that anymore than I deserved to live. I was given a gift and I can accept a gift.”

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About The Author


Jarrod Anderson is an award-winning writer, director, and producer for CBN Films. He has worked on dozens of films and documentaries that have garnered widespread acclaim, including "Pocahontas: Dove of Peace" which received two Emmy nominations. When he is not working on a story that he is passionate about, you'll find him spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter.