PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Aaron Levine didn't feel like a miracle.
After three weeks in an induced coma, the oldest survivor of last year's deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia struggled to accept how severely his injuries had limited him.
His 80-year-old shoulders and ribs were crushed, his right lung was punctured and spinal fractures left him partially paralyzed. Machines kept him breathing and fed. It would be months before he could walk or move his hands.
The May 2015 crash that killed eight people and injured 200 more had turned Levine — an active lawyer, art collector and world traveler — into an invalid.
Aaron and his 77-year-old wife, Barbara, of Washington, D.C., were heading to New York for an art show when the train left the tracks. Investigators said the train entered a sharp curve at 106 mph — more than twice the posted speed limit — when it crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board is meeting Tuesday in Washington to determine the cause.
A few days after the derailment, the Levines were supposed to jet off for Europe.
Instead, Aaron lay in intensive care in Philadelphia considering what his life had become and how it would end. He called one of his sons and asked him to research assisted suicide.
"I thought it was all over for me," Aaron said in a recent interview. "I'm 80 years old. The end of my career. And now I'm totally decimated. So, I figured, I wanted out."
Aaron's son wouldn't oblige.
Fine, the old man said. He didn't need help. He would jump out the window instead.
"My son said, 'You can't get to the window!'" Aaron recalled, a stroke of humor balancing the darkness. "After that happened, I kind of had my mind set — I decided to live."
Aaron doesn't remember the crash.
The walls of the train car — the second car behind the locomotive and the mangled business class car — caved in on him as it hurtled off the tracks and came to a rest on the side where he and his wife were sitting.
According to an NTSB report on the medical response, Aaron was the oldest person to survive the crash. At first, it wasn't clear if he would.
"They said I had one foot in a coffin and the other on a banana peel," Aaron said.
Barbara, thrown from her aisle seat, screamed for him. She couldn't move. Her pelvis was fractured in five places.
The Levines said they may attend Tuesday's NTSB meeting in Washington, but are hesitant to believe the investigators' findings. The couple worries about crumbling infrastructure and a lack of adequate funding for public transportation.
Aaron, who made a career of representing women harmed by defective pharmaceuticals and medical devices, wants someone held accountable.
"It wasn't an act of God. It was an act of stupidity," he said.
Emergency responders took crash victims to eight different hospitals using ambulances, police vehicles and city buses, depending on the severity of their injuries.
Barbara went to Hahnemann Hospital near downtown on a bumpy ride in the back of a police wagon. She and her family tracked down Aaron at Temple University Hospital, a trauma center closer to the crash site in North Philadelphia. Two days after the crash, Barbara was transferred to be by his side.
Temple University Hospital received 39 patients, more than any other hospital. Aaron was the most critically injured and the last to leave, almost 80 days after the crash.
Aaron was 15 when his family moved into Barbara's family's Brooklyn apartment building. Her father, a pharmacist, filled prescriptions for his father, an optometrist. They married a week after her college graduation and settled in Washington while he finished law school. He started his own firm there in 1967.
In the 1970s, his litigation helped get the Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine contraceptive, pulled from the market after it was found to cause severe inflammations and the loss of fertility.
Aaron and Barbara had three children — two lawyers and a doctor — and now have five grandchildren.
Now, they are among dozens of passengers suing Amtrak to cover the cost of their recoveries. The Levines' costs include a $3.5 million bill from Temple.
A year after the crash, Aaron's condition has improved, along with his outlook.
He can walk short distances and lift his hands to his head. He's resumed working on a limited basis but isn't sure he'll ever be able to try a case in front of a jury again. And, with regained movement in his hands, he's back playing the piano with Barbara — his accompanist on trumpet — by his side.
Last week, the Levines hired a driver to take them to New York, to complete the trip to the art show they had started when they boarded the train a year ago at Union Station in Washington. Sean Kelly, a friend and gallery owner, saw Aaron in the hospital the day after the crash.
"I think it's fair to say that none of us thought he was going to make it," Kelly said. "He's like bloody Superman to have survived this."
Follow Mike Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/michael-r-sisak and at twitter.com/APEastRegion.