Lying in a hospital bed in 1976, San Diego resident Bill Guth pretty much summed up the key to life.
“If you’re gonna be unhappy, what’s the point?” the then-17-year-old told 39 Alive. “You gotta be happy, and I sure have a lot of help being happy with all the love that I got around me.”
The hospital room was full of family and friends, plus a KNSD camera crew and 39 Alive reporter, John Britton. The story was about Guth’s friends throwing him a 17th birthday party at Alvarado Hospital.
They even spelled out “Happy Birthday Bill” backward in fireworks outside so that he could read it in a mirror from his hospital bed.
The teenager had broken his neck in a car crash, and would never walk again. But he still had a lot of life left to live.
Fast forward to 2017, when his mother, Gail Guth, emailed NBC 7 to tell us she’d found an old tape with the story we’d done on her son four decades earlier.
"And there was this wonderful, big tape that said 'Channel 39 News,'" said Gail. "I thought it was lost until I was cleaning out the drawers and found it."
So, we went to talk to Bill to find out what he’s been up to for the past 41 years. One thing was clear: he did not let that injury define the rest of his life.
“I haven’t climbed under a rock,” said the now-58-year-old. “I sure haven’t stayed in my bedroom that whole time.”
Bill spent three months in traction at Alvarado Hospital and another six months in a rehabilitation center. Despite losing most of the use of his hands, he taught himself to use a pencil.
After getting out of the hospital, he went on to graduate high school on time with the rest of his class in 1978. He’d eventually get his teaching credential from Sa Diego State University and go on to be a special needs teacher for a decade with the San Diego Unified School District.
Bill also found love. He's been married for 17 years, continuing his role of teacher with his wife, Patti Guth.
“He’s educated me,” she told NBC 7. “I used to be impatient. I’ve learned to become patient.”
Bill’s mother said pretty much the same thing.
“I learn something every day from my son. He’s a remarkable person,” she added, beaming with pride.
Bill never actually saw that TV news story that aired more than four decades ago. So, we sat down and watched it with him for the first time, and he tried to think back to what that 17-year-old kid must have been feeling.
“I imagine he was pretty scared,” he said.
We asked Bill what he’d tell that kid if he could go back in time.
“You can do it. Keep a stiff lip. You can do it,” he said.
And he did do it. This teacher’s most important lesson has been perseverance.
“Well, things are possible,” he said. “It’s been quite a road, and it’s actually been a fun trip all in all. My life is very happy now.”
Which is pretty much what that optimistic teen said in his first TV interview 41 years ago. This is archive footage of Bill's original story: