Doctors weren't sure if Cam Chowen was going to live or die.
He was in the intensive care unit of a Miami hospital, with bleeding on his brain. If he did survive, those same doctors told his wife that he'd never be the same again and would need permanent, full-time care.
Chowen beat the odds in every way imaginable. He made a full recovery and is back at work and back at play.
For Chowen, 'play' means drag racing. And, earlier this month -- with his family members as thankful and jubilant witnesses -- he powered to the top of his sport when he set a National Hod Rod Association record and won his first-ever Wally award, drag racing's most prestigious trophy.
"It is very special," said Chowen, a 54-year-old Prince George resident who first got behind the wheel of a drag car in the late 1970s. "To go from basically, don't know if you're going to live or die -- right at that threshold -- to actually keeping your job and going back to work and now this, is amazing. This is almost the zenith [of drag racing]. There are more things you can do and bigger races to win, but to set the national record really is telling me that I am OK. For a guy who has been racing all these years, if I had any doubts about my mental capacity, they've been answered."
Chowen, a systems specialist at Canfor's Northwood Pulp Mill, established a new NHRA record in the stock eliminator category while he was at the NAPA Auto Parts NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Fall Challenge, held Sept. 6-9 in Woodburn, Ore. Later in the meet, he was handed his Wally as the stock eliminator Division 6 champion.
Given what had happened to him 20 months earlier, his accomplishments were nothing short of miraculous.
Chowen's ordeal started in January of 2011 while he and wife Janie were in Barbados, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.
While they were at the beach one day, Janie stepped on something that turned out to be a stone fish, which carries a venom that is dangerous and sometimes fatal to humans. Her foot started to swell and she was in tremendous pain. Chowen, being the good husband, came to his wife's aid by sucking the poison out of her foot. He then spit the toxin into the water and took her to a clinic for treatment.
Late the next night, Chowen was in bed but not feeling well. He got up for a bathroom break and was on his way back to the bedroom when he suddenly blacked out. He fell straight backward and slammed his head onto the hotel room's concrete floor. Doctors later surmised that traces of poison still in his system may have triggered the incident.
Knowing her husband was seriously injured, Janie contacted their insurance company and arranged a flight to Miami, where Chowen was hospitalized. He spent several weeks in ICU, with Janie at his side.
They were difficult days.
"She was being told the whole time I was basically done," Chowen said. "First it was whether I was going to live or not. Then when it turned out that I didn't die, they said, 'Well, if he does live, he's going to be needing full-time care forever.' Then it was, 'Well, maybe that's not going to happen, he's just going to be moody and violent. That old guy is basically gone and he's a new person now and it's not going to be that good.'
"Really, none of that transpired," Chowen added. "I was off work for four months, most of the time waiting to see neurologists, and back to work in June. They were very good to me at Canfor, here at the pulp mill, giving me time to get back into the swing of things, but everything is basically back in place."
That includes Chowen being back in the cockpit of his 1994 Z28 Camaro drag car. In Woodburn, he was racing in front of Janie, their daughter Jen, son-in-law Keith and grandchildren Isaiah and Jude.
In his record-setting run, Chowen ripped down the quarter-mile strip in an elapsed time of 10.47 seconds at a top speed of 127.69 miles per hour. Later in the day -- to prove that he hadn't just gotten lucky -- he was required to repeat the performance. So, he did. In near carbon-copy fashion, he rocketed to a time of 10.50 seconds. Both clockings were faster than the previous record, a 10.52 posted by Washington State's Caleb Hansen earlier this season in Seattle.
After the two blistering passes, Chowen had to sit and watch as the Camaro went through an exhaustive tech inspection to ensure the record was legitimate.
To cap off his glorious race meet, Chowen blasted through six rounds of eliminations and claimed his Wally, named for NHRA founder Wally Parks. In the final round -- with the Wally waiting at the finish line -- he stopped the clock in 10.70 seconds and defeated Mick Alley of Idaho.
For the entire Chowen clan, the weekend was unforgettable. Through tears of joy and celebratory hugs, it signified a return to normalcy for a family that had gone through more than a year of turmoil and uncertainty.
"To think that I almost lost my dad a year-and-a-half ago and then to see him come back from that and do something that's very mental and physical and do it to near perfection is just so amazing," said 29-year-old Jen.
"I'm definitely not surprised," she added. "He's been racing since he could drive, as far as I know. So he's definitely got it in him and it's pretty awesome."