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Meet Matthew Cheatham, the green flag delivery honoree of the 106th Indy 500

GREEN FLAG DELIVERY
Posted at 6:44 PM, May 16, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — We are less than two weeks away from the 'Great Spectacle in Racing' in Speedway. One of the race’s most prized traditions will be carried out by a man who nearly lost his life six months ago.

“November 24 was my discharge date. That was the last time I been here,” Matthew Cheatham said.

When the husband and dad of two from Illinois referred to “here” — he means Indianapolis and specifically IU Health Methodist Hospital. On Monday, at the Downtown Heliport, emotions filled the space as a reunion happened between Cheatham, his wife, Jill, and the Methodist team who played a part in saving his life.

Last October, Cheatham was impaled through his chest by a tree after it fell on his car. It caused him to drive into a ditch.

He was the one who called 911. After he was taken out of the car that Monday afternoon, he said he did not remember anything until weeks later.

“I’m here. I’ve been told by different doctors that less than 5% of people survive from this,” Cheatham said.

A hospital in Terre Haute removed the tree limb from his chest before he was airlifted to Indy via IU Health Lifeline. Benjamin Chapman was his pilot.

“Yeah, this was a first,” Chapman said. Before Monday, he never reunited with a patient post-treatment.

“To see that he’s still kicking and living life makes it all that much more enjoyable,” Chapman said.

Cheatham spent more than a month at Methodist Hospital. His wife never left his side. Critical care nurse Taylor Cox was there from the beginning.

“I feel really privileged that I get to be a part of this journey and the story with them,” Cox said.

Associate Professor of Surgery at IU School of Medicine, Dr. Peter Jenkins was responsible for reconstructing Cheatham’s chest. The dad of two now lives with metal plates and fake ribs, but he is back to work and back to living his normal life.

“It’s mind-blowing. It’s so satisfying,” Jenkins said about seeing Cheatham again on Monday.

The surgeon added the tree was centimeters from Cheatham’s heart.

“It took a whole team to get him here and I think it’s just a little example of everybody across our state coming together to do our best for somebody,” Cheatham said.

At the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, Cheatham, his wife and Cox will ride in the Lifeline helicopter to deliver the coveted green flag.

“To see him walking across that field is just going to be a win for all of us,” Jenkins said.

When he steps off that aircraft, Cheatham hopes Hoosiers take this away from his story.

“I want people to know that there’s a lot of positive in the world. There are surgeons, doctors, nurses that are the best in the field. They’re there to help,” Cheatham said.