‘Out of the Fire’: Carmel resident’s book recounts survival, recovery after near-fatal car crash


For Mike Kinney, it was finally time to share his inspiring story of survival.

The Carmel resident released a book in mid-October about his dramatic rescue and recovery from a near-fatal automobile accident. The book is called “Out of the Fire: How an Angel and Stranger Intervened to Save a Life.”

The accident happened on Aug. 16, 2002, when Kinney and his friend, Matt Blickendorf, were on their way to Blickendorf’s parents’ lake house in Cicero. Kinney, then a 17-year-old Noblesville High School senior and a member of the varsity swimming and diving team, was following Blickendorf, a Carmel High School junior. The two friends had met through Northview Church in Carmel.

“Matt saw me swerve off the road in his rearview mirror and helped pull me out of the truck,” Kinney said. “I was wedged underneath my dash and my car was on fire. I was unconscious. He tried to pull me out. He burned his arm trying to get me.”

A motorist, John Kirby, stopped and helped Blickendorf pull Kinney out.

Blickendorf witnessed the violent impact of Kinney’s truck slamming into a telephone pole.  Kinney would later learn he had narcolepsy.

“When I first saw Mike through the passenger window illuminated by the fire already burning under the dashboard, unconscious with his limp body leaned forward against the seat belt with his chin resting on his chest, I actually thought he was dead,” Blickendorf said. “It was only after I managed to get the mangled driver’s side door open and heard his gurgled breath sounds that I realized he was still alive. And that was when my motivation and determination to get him out increased infinitely.”

Blickendorf said he and Kirby pulled Kinney from the wreckage and set him in the grass next to the truck. Blickendorf said Kinney’s legs were on fire.

“I took off my shirt and smothered the last flames away,” Blickendorf said. “John said he was worried Mike was still too close to the truck, which he assumed was going to blow up any second, so we pulled Mike away from the burning truck into the soybean field.”

Kirby left Blickendorf and Kinney alone in the still and quiet field, waiting for help. Blickendorf prayed earnestly for healing, then looked up to see the silhouette figure of a man walking toward them with an old-school black doctor’s bag.

“To this day I believe it was Jesus himself. Not because I made out his facial features or because he looked like American renderings of Christ, but because he had the attributes of Christ I’ve read about in the Bible. He answered my call and, in that moment, demonstrated that he is personal. I remember him kneeling opposite me on the other side of Mike, opening that old doctor’s bag, and working on Mike,” Blickendorf said. “I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life — it’s the moment that forever cemented my belief that Jesus is the one true living God. Then the sheriff’s deputy walked up and started talking to me, and that silhouette of a man was gone, but Mike was alive, and I knew he was going to make it.”

Kinney said he likes to joke that he was Blickendorf’s “first save,” since Blickendorf, a Carmel resident, is an emergency room physician for Community Health Network.

Kinney was flown by medical helicopter to Methodist Hospital for a long recovery from a significant brain injury, a shattered eye socket and burns on his legs, back and arms. He needed several surgeries.

“I was in cognitive rehab, learning things and rewiring my brain over the next 14 years,” he said.

Kinney said NHS officials went to great lengths to help him graduate on time in 2003. He also was motivated to get back to swimming the 100-yard freestyle in a high school meet.

“I had a sharkskin suit that covered the burns on my body,” he said. “I got an ovation from the crowd, and that’s something I’ll never forget. I had a lot of support from the community and the swim team. My times weren’t near as good as my junior year, but the fact that I was able to swim at all was amazing.”

After graduation, he attended Anderson University, majoring in marketing.

“I had a second accident two years later on the exact same day, Aug. 16, in the afternoon, and that’s when I learned I had narcolepsy,” he said. “That’s what had caused the first accident.”

In his first accident, Kinney just figured he had fallen asleep because he was tired, and it was 11:30 p.m. He had swimming practice earlier that day, then led worship at Northview and had gone to a Carmel High School football game with Blickendorf before leaving for the lake.

Kinney spent several hours a day playing guitar while in college. He plans to release a song he has written about the accident.

“It’s been a journey to figure out how God wanted me to use my music to help people,” Kinney said.

Kinney shared his story several years ago at NHS with Blickendorf, and it had an impact on a girl who had contemplated suicide.

“She sent me a note that she felt God had saved my life to save hers,” Kinney said. “That gave me a lot of hope over the years.”

Kinney said he wanted to thank people for the support they showed him.

“I want them to know the impact they had on my life,” he said.

Blickendorf, who said he often sees injuries like Kinney’s in the emergency room, is thrilled his friend shared his story.

“What distinguishes Mike’s story is the persistent and unrelenting grace of Christ meeting him in his deepest times of need, whether Mike was full of faith or full of doubt,” Blickendorf said. “That’s the story worth reading, because each of us yearns to know if there’s really a God who cares about us. We yearn to know a hope beyond the struggles in this life. Mike’s story answers these questions with a resounding ‘Yes.’”

Kinney works in new sales for Fischer Homes. He and his wife, Liz, have three young children: Jack, 6, Henry, 4, and Caroline, 11 months.

For more, visit mikekinneystory.com.

Guitar hero

Mike Kinney created a device called a Kinney Capo to help others with limited mobility or skills play the guitar. He received a formal patent in 2018. After his accident, Kinney used partial capos to simplify chords when playing the guitar.

“About a year after the accident, I had a dream going into my birthday, which is May 20, about a capo,” he said. “A capo is something musicians use to change a key to a song and put it on the neck of a guitar. The dream of developing a capo that allows you to play individual strings selectively. The reason it was inspiring is it made the guitar more like a piano and removed limitations. For me, that was important because I felt I was facing more and more limitations after the accident. This capo gave me hope I could make it through these challenges and rise from the ashes.”

May 19 is The Who’s legendary guitarist Pete Townshend’s birthday. Townshend had sent Kinney a signed guitar with the saying “This is the Phoenix” while he was in the hospital.

“The Bob & Tom Show” encouraged radio listeners to send guitar picks to Kinney.

“People were sending me picks with scriptures and encouragement,” Kinney said. “(Bob and Tom)  reached out to Pete Townshend’s team in London for a guitar pick and he sent me a (Gibson) guitar. That inspired me.”

At the time, Kinney didn’t even know about Townshend or The Who.

Kinney’s guitar had burned because it was in his car during the accident. Tom Griswold, of Bob & Tom, had already given Kinney a guitar like the one that was destroyed.

Kinney said he wanted his capos to help beginning guitarists.

“I was hopeful this device would make it possible for me to share my story with more people and they could find hope through the story,” he said.

Learn more at KinneyCapos.com.