TROY, Mich. -

It should have been an ordinary meeting to discuss an upcoming hospital research project.

But for Dr. Dave Donaldson and engineering student John Katona, it turned into so much more.

As Donaldson immediately realized, the men had crossed paths before nearly nine years ago, on a night Katona can't remember, and Donaldson will never forget.

It was nearly 5 o'clock on a Friday in April 2005. Then 17-year-old Katona was driving down Adams Road in Oakland Township, on his way to his part-time job.

Tired from pulling an all-nighter, the straight-A student fell asleep at the wheel and crashed head-on into an oncoming truck.

A few cars back, Donaldson, a Troy Beaumont emergency room doctor, was on his way to dinner with his wife and three children.

"We saw smoke coming from the engine, and we knew it was a bad accident," said Donaldson.

Without hesitating, Donaldson and his wife, a nurse, jumped out of their vehicle and raced to the crash.

"What I saw was quite shocking to me. It was a young man who was obviously very badly injured," said Donaldson. "My biggest concern at that point was he just wasn't breathing, and I knew again I needed to do something quick."

Reaching through the broken glass, Donaldson performed a maneuver called a jaw thrust to open Katona's airway and waited for rescuers to arrive.

"I was afraid that if I let go, he would lose his airway, you know permanently, so I did not want to let go under any circumstance," said Donaldson.

As the Oakland Township firefighters worked to cut Katona out of the car with the Jaws of Life, Donaldson continued to hold on tight.

"Obviously I didn't have any protective gear on, so I do remember one of the firefighters putting, it was either a large coat or blanket, around me as I held onto his airway," said Donaldson.

A medical helicopter was called, but it needed more open space to land.

"We boarded an ambulance and drove that quarter of a mile. In the ambulance ride, just that few minutes, unfortunately John began to have a seizure," said Donaldson.

Donaldson was able to intubate Katona and as the helicopter flew away, he called ahead to the Royal Oak Beaumont emergency room to let them what to expect when Katona arrived.

"The receiving physician, when I talked to him, he could sense that I was anxious and I was not my normal self," said Donaldson. "He didn't realize I was actually calling from the middle of nowhere on Adams Road and not from another hospital."

Katona was severely injured, but thanks to Donaldson and the rest of the rescuers, he survived.

"I broke my neck, and I had a head injury," said Katona. "I was told that I probably wouldn't have lived if someone wasn't there."

He gradually learned the accident had left him paralyzed from the chest down.

"I was in ICU for a month, and then I was in the hospital for two months, and then did rehab for another three months," said Katona.

Determined to continue his life, Katona returned to high school for his senior year and graduated on time.

Unable to play guitar any longer, he turned to electronic music and now plays in the band Dog & Panther. The group had a song appear in one of this year's Super Bowl commercials.

His attitude about his injury --

"If I give up, live off the government, take aid and don't do anything, my life is going to be worse than if I try harder and try to do great things."