JUAB COUNTY, Utah -- Ask friends and family to describe John Vrana, and you’ll hear that he’s independent, determined and caring.
He also always puts his family first, and it’s those characteristics they say drove him to fight his way out and survive when John lost his balance and fell into a machine at an animal processing plant.
“I thought he was going to die,” Ashley Vrana said, describing what went through her head when she learned what happened to her husband.
She thought she’d have to say goodbye to John after he fell into the machine, which is at her family’s factory.
"One leg got sucked in, and it pulled the other leg in," she explained.
The machine, which is used to render animal parts, tugged him in deeper. But John put up a fight.
"He used his upper strength to pull himself out,” she said. “He took his belt off, and he tied his leg real tight, and then he drug himself 30 feet to where someone could hear him call for help."
Ashley’s brother, who works at the plant, was the first to see John. Other coworkers rushed in to help.
“Everyone kind of worked as a team, to keep him alive,” Ashley said.
They called 911. John, called his wife.
Ashley immediately drove out to the plant.
“He grabbed my hand and gave me a kiss,” she said, recounting those moments before he headed off to the hospital.
She didn’t know what would happen next. John was flown to a hospital in Provo. A few days and two surgeries later, he is doing OK, and Ashley said she is thankful for that.
"Having him alive is the only thing we care about right now," she said.
Especially because she’s expecting. She’s four and a half months along with twins: a boy and a girl.
That’s what John thought about as he struggled to get out of the machine.
"He said that we were the reason he pulled himself out," she said, placing her hands on her stomach.
And the reason, friends said, John will persevere.
"He is so excited to see those twins,” said John’s longtime friend Randy Thacker. “He loves Ashley so much… I know that John’s going to handle it."
They also know his attitude and character will make a difference, too.
"The stronger he’s stayed, the stronger I've stayed,” Ashley said, adding, “He's been nothing but positive since he woke up."
Randy echoed: “He was totally positive--making jokes. And he is so strong. He is so strong."
John has one more surgery to get through on Monday. Ashley said months down the line, they hope to fit his legs with prosthetics.
She said John is determined to walk again, and get back to leading a normal life with his favorite activities, like boating.
Family and friends have offered up support. They’ve started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the family for one year while John is out of work and they transition their household to accommodate a wheelchair and their two new children.