Man who survived jumping off Golden Gate Bridge bringing message of hope to Lawrence

“I always tell people that hope is there, that it has always been there. It’s a matter of fighting for your mental and brain health.”

“I always tell people that hope is there, that it has always been there. It’s a matter of fighting for your mental and brain health.” by Jeff Burkhead

Kevin Hines spends 300 days a year on the road, sharing his story around the world.

His motivation is simple.

“It’s seeing the positive reactions from people who tell me their lives have been changed,” Hines said in a phone interview from his home in Atlanta. “That’s what motivates me.”

Seventeen years ago, the then 19-year-old Hines took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge, climbed over the four-foot-high railing and plunged 220 feet into the water, crushing three vertebrae on impact. The moment he cleared the railing, his immediately regretted what he had done. He didn’t want to die.

Hines is one of the lucky ones. He is one of about 2 percent of the people who have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. Not only did he survive, he found a new purpose in life.

Hines will bring his message of hope to Lawrence in a public event at 7 p.m. Friday, June 16 at the Lied Center. Following his presentation, Hines will facilitate a panel discussion at 7:45 p.m. of local community members, including Officer Amber Rhoden from the Lawrence Police Department mental health team; life coach and author Jay Pryor; and others.

“I always tell people that hope is there, that it has always been there,” Hines said. “It’s a matter of fighting for your mental and brain health.”

Hines had no fight left in him when he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. He had lost hope and the voices in his head were telling him he was worthless and deserved to die. He started hearing voices in the fourth grade but didn’t tell anybody “because it was so scary.” By the time he was 17, the voices had intensified and they were telling him his death was inevitable.

Hines, who is bipolar, just wanted the voices to stop. He wanted the pain to stop. That’s why he jumped. Hines said, on average, someone jumps from the bridge every six to 10 days.

“I always say what people like me go through is brain pain, a pain that affects our entire life and and it affects every person who loves us,” Hines said. “You may feel like you are in this dark tunnel like I did when I jumped off the bridge. You may feel this hope or light is gone forever and suicide is your only option.”

But that’s a lie, Hines said. There is hope, and there is help available.

Those four seconds it took for his body to plummet into the water, after he cleared the bridge railing, changed Hines’ life forever. As well as countless other lives that have been changed because of his story.

“I’ve been lucky enough over the last almost 17 years to travel around the world sharing my story with people from all walks of life,” said Hines, 35. “Next to marrying my wife, it’s one of the greatest blessings of my life.”

Thanks to a miraculous serious of events, Hines survived jumping off the bridge. A woman who witnessed him jump, immediately called a friend in the Coast Guard and a rescue boat was dispatched to the area where Hines was bobbing up and down in the water. His body racked with pain and struggling to breathe and keep his head above water, Hines said a sea lion helped keep him afloat until help arrived. At first Hines had thought the sea lion was a shark and feared he would be attacked. But a man who was on the bridge and saw Hines jump took pictures when he was in the water and, Hines, said, “In the pictures you can clearly see the sea lion. I was kept buoyant by this thing.”

Hines sustained serious injuries when he hit the water — the fall from the bridge is equivalent to jumping from a 25-story building.

“When I got to the hospital there was a doctor who wasn’t supposed to be there, but he stayed on to do my surgery,” Hines said. “He and his team performed a surgery that was the first of its kind. I had shattered my L1 and L2 vertebrae into tiny pieces and the doctor restructured it with titanium. That’s the only reason I get to walk.”

Today, Hines follows a routine he developed during his recovery that combines therapy, medication, exercise, sleep and diet. He has a new book coming out in September titled the “Art of Wellness,” which includes stories from five people around the world who all live with mental illness and they all follow a regimen for their mental health.

Hines still struggles with his mental illness. But he has learned how to manage the disease, and he doesn’t try to do it alone. He has built support systems. And he wants to let people know they are not alone in this fight for what he calls brain health.

“My point is we can never do this alone,” Hines said. “It’s been almost 17 years since I jumped off the bridge. It started a fire in me to want to try to help as many people as I could. My message is if you work extremely hard to better your mental health, you will get better.”

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