By Carl Schleiter
You know that saying “You never know when that train will hit you”?
It was 9 p.m. on a beautiful, warm August evening in 1996. I was sitting with Brian, my partner at Paradise Limousines, in the car I had just bought—a 1986 steel-blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville fully restored by Brian. I was 42 years old.
A souped-up Camaro came racing toward us at almost 100 kilometres an hour. It crashed into the side of the Caddy, ripping off the front left fender and the chrome bumper. The driver kept going but then stopped at the end of the street. His engine was smoking, and my car was in bad shape and smoking as well.
When the Camaro crashed into us, I had hit the steering wheel and had the wind knocked out of me. Both my and Brian’s mobile phones flew through the air. It was like a start to a bad movie.
We were in front of the Thunderdome nightclub in Edmonton, in plain view of a crowd of 1,500 waiting to get into a Steppenwolf concert. Brian and I climbed out of the car and ran over to the Camaro. The driver was not hurt but seemed comatose—as if in a trance. Turned out he was on PCP.
The crowd surrounded the car. Police, fire, and EMS were at the scene in three minutes flat. The driver was young, about 20 years old. He was unresponsive to the cops’ questions, so they handcuffed him and took him away.
I was asked if I was okay. I didn’t feel sore or ill, so after the accident site was cleared—my new car towed away—Brian and I decided to go to Boston Pizza. Then Brian drove me home. I woke up coughing at 2 a.m., and my T-shirt was wet. At first I thought I was sweating, but then I saw that the T-shirt was red. I was coughing up blood profusely. I called for an ambulance.
EMS took me to the hospital at the University of Alberta. X-rays and an ultrasound revealed I had a broken rib cage. The doctor told me, “Don’t laugh, cry, or fart and it won’t hurt.”
It took six months of bedrest and taking painkillers before I felt good enough to return to work. (Although I stopped taking Percocets after the first month, once doors were appearing on the ceiling.) Brian never suffered any long-term effects of the accident, thank goodness.
We were now in 1997, and launching the huge Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylon Tour. I wasn’t totally recovered; in fact, there was something terribly wrong. But as the saying goes, the show must go on, so I was trying to ignore the lingering pain and now dental issues—my teeth were falling apart and my gums were bleeding. I was visiting my dentist Dr. Bob Brown on a regular basis for reconstruction. He suspected something else was going on, and he was right.
Dr. Bob, an avid concert-goer and a former client of mine, made my surgeries as fun as they could be by singing Tom Petty tunes during them.
I flew to Seattle for the Rolling Stones’ Nite Out official party for the tour and upon arriving rented a Mustang convertible and bought groceries and wine. I also rented a beautiful ocean-view apartment.
I was anticipating another Nite Out with a couple of thousand Stones fans when the phone rang. It was my doctor’s office, asking me to come in. I said I was in Seattle getting ready for a two-thousand-person party and that I couldn’t come in right away. The nurse I was speaking to said I had no option but to return. I asked if she could tell me what was wrong. She responded, “Come back immediately.”
[I was anticipating another Nite Out with a couple of thousand Stones fans when the phone rang. It was my doctor’s office. The nurse said. “Come back immediately.”]
I remembered having seen, on my drive into town, a woman with two girls standing near the highway, holding a sign that read “Help my children please.” I drove back and give her all the groceries (I kept the wine), and then flew to Edmonton.
Upon arriving at the doctor’s office, I was told I had cancer CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and needed treatment immediately. I went to the University of Alberta Hospital that day and received 12 blood transfusions, as my hemoglobin level was at 40 (normal levels for a male are from 140 g/L to 180 g/L). I underwent two years of intense chemotherapy, as well as dialysis and several operations as an inpatient. I was also blind for a year. Twice while I was at U of A Hospital, my creatinine level was at 999 (1,000 is fatal). While in treatment for those two years, I had 12 doctors and countless nurses working to keeping me alive.
I did regain my vision. I had lost 50 pounds, and I guess you could say my life was crumbling just like my bones were. The doctors were not hopeful, and everyone was concerned I wasn’t going to make it. I was desperate to get healthy and so was interested when a Native friend, Mike, told me of a healer he knew.
In my Datsun 280Z, I snuck out of the hospital and drove to the small town of Turin, where John the healer lived. It was a 12-hour drive, during which I was in excruciating pain—the lymph nodes throughout my body were the size of golf balls.
In John’s home on his kitchen wall was a newspaper clipping, an announcement of a lottery winner. I asked John about it and his response was “Yes, my grandkids asked me to play. I won. I only played once.”
He performed a ritual that involved taking a white crystal-like substance and dabbing it in water on a saucer four times. We sat and watched the crystals all move toward me. I asked him if that was it, and he said yes and that he would see me later. I drove back in a daze, questioning why I had travelled all that way to see John. I was less confident than ever of his healing powers.
On the long drive back to Edmonton, my lymph nodes shrank so much that they were virtually normal by the time I arrived at the hospital. Although I was now beginning to believe in John’s healing powers, I was clearly not out of the woods yet. I had to continue dialysis and with the regular blood transfusion.
My mom phoned me later that week and told me a strange story. On the previous Tuesday at 2 p.m., while she was lying down, she felt like she was floating and looking down at herself—as if her spirit were in flight. I told her I had to call her back. I called John the healer and asked him what time I had been at his house and he said 2 p.m. I told him that my mom had called with a strange story, but I didn’t tell him what she had said. He said, “Yes, I know, I called her spirit to come heal.”
I was stunned at the time correlation but wasn’t about to tell anyone about it. Everyone would think I was delusional, and at times the drugs did make me delusional.
One of the other patients on my ward was Irene, who also needed dialysis. I told her that I felt like I was 80 years old. She responded, “Sonny, sometimes I feel like I’m 160 years old.” We laughed.
That conversation has stayed with me, that moment when we both laughed and were so connected on dialysis, cyborg-like—I felt like I was part of the machine and the machine was part of me. It was life-saving.
I saw John four more times over the next two months. Then one day, I was called to Dr. Mant’s office at the U of A (Dr. Mant is a world-class oncologist and headed the team treating me). I sat down and he looked at me and said, “We have 12 doctors on your team, and we can’t explain it, but we don’t want to see you anymore.”
I wasn’t going to argue with him—I was cancer-free. I thanked him and all the other doctors and nurses that day. I packed up my belongings and left the hospital. Before I left he said, “The CLL you have is aggressive and will probably return.” I thanked him and everyone at hospital for their efforts.
I then called my lawyer Jake Chadi and asked him to settle my case against the impaired driver. I collected my cheque, cashed it at the bank, stuffed the cash in my duffle bag, and went to see my mom to tell her I was flying to Toronto that evening. All in 48 hours.
I flew to Toronto in 1998 to build a new life.
John the healer came back into my life in 2001 when I was working with Steven Segal on his music career. I produced a show for Steven at Toronto’s Brunswick House, for two thousand fans. He is a decent guitarist and I spent time with him in Toronto and Los Angeles, helping him on a few other shows. In Toronto, I had my friend (and housemate for a time) David Rotundo and his band The Blue Canadians back Steven up. The crowd loved it.
During this time, Steven was filming the movie Exit Wounds and had a terrible accident while doing a stunt jump off a building and onto a moving car. Steven knew of my connection to John, so he flew him in from Turin. After a healing, Steven was able to return to filming the movie. The sad part was that John died shortly after returning to Turin.
Since the car accident and leukemia diagnosis:
- Over 350 blood transfusions
- 50 platelet transfusions
- Dialysis for a year
- Blind for a year
- Creatinine level at 999 (1,000 is fatal)
- Bone marrow transplant
- Test patient for the University of Maryland Medical Center
- Over $6 million in medical expenses in 15 years
I am 62 now and still active in the entertainment field. I am cancer-free.
By the way I found the $500,000 in U2 tickets I lost in Miami (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, you’ll need to read Part 1 of this article, in the previous issue). They had fallen out of the trunk of my car during loading. After five hours of panic, an Avis driver found them at the depot. I rewarded him with cash, since he wasn’t a U2 fan and had six children. He was thrilled, as was Richard Robertson, who was with me the whole time as a witness. Richard now works with the Zoomer shows. When we discovered the envelopes missing, Richard asked me, “Does that mean I am out of a job?” I replied, “I don’t know about you, but I’m grabbing the first flight to Columbia..." Luckily, that didn't transpire.
My thanks to the medical teams at the Cross Cancer Institute, University of Alberta Hospital, Princess Margaret, and Mount Sinai. (U of A was a two-year stay for me, Princess Margaret was a five-year stay, and then I did four years as an inpatient in an isolation room.) Most of all I thank my brother Del, who was my bone marrow donor and who passed away from a heart attack shortly after donating his bone marrow to me.
Because of this experience, I have raised awareness for numerous charities and contribute as much as I can in both time and money. I produced a brilliant Dan Hill show in Calgary for Jewish Family Service, raising $250,000 for multi-ethnic families in need.
I guess this article is kind of like Dan’s lyrics—“Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much.” I hope my honesty here isn’t too much.