The King Of Second Chances

Dr. Beck Weathers might be the nation's foremost expert on second chances. CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.


"Well I was about as dead as a human being can get and ever have an opportunity of coming back," Dr. Weathers recalls.

Dr. Weathers first made headlines three years ago. He and some fellow mountain climbers attempting Mt. Everest got caught in a ferocious blizzard. Eight died.

"I always thought I was philosophically prepared to die up there, but when it came right down to it, I just wasn't ready," says Dr. Weathers.

He survived but frostbite claimed his nose and both hands.

"I saw him and I thought, 'Gee his plastic surgeon has a lot of work ahead of him,'" said Dr. Greg Anigian of Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.

Dr. Anigian turned out to be that surgeon.

"It was the most challenging, technically demanding, personally demanding operation and problem that I faced," Dr. Anigian says.

Weathers after surgery
He constructed a new nose for Dr. Weathers using tissue from his ear and ribs, growing it upside down on his forehead to match the skin and then flipping it down into place.

To save Dr. Weathers' career as a pathologist in Dallas, surgeons amputated his right forearm and fit him with a prosthesis. On his left hand, they fashioned a mitt by cutting off his fingers at the knuckle and wrapping them with skin and muscle from his back.

"This is an amazing mix of two centuries of surgery. I have [the] Civil War's on one hand and Star Wars on the other," Dr. Weathers says.

It took nearly a dozen surgeries for Dr. Weathers to become functional enough to resume his work. Physically, he was done scaling mountains. Emotionally, he still had a challenging climb ahead. "I was, as they say in Texas, lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut," he says.

Dr. Weathers steadied himself in part by sharing his story - about a man who obsessively pursued mountaintops with a self-centered, single-minded focus that left friends and family behind, a climber who scaled six of the seven continent's highest peaks and who finally succeeding in finding himself only when he failed.

"The things that made me miserable and driven have largely disappeared. I got that monkey off my back and I am a vastly happier person and much more at peace than I have ever been in my life," he says.

Dr. Weathers came down Mt. Everest missing parts of his body - but whole in a way he never imagined. "Would I like to have my hands back? Sure. Would I like to have my hands back enough to go back to who I was? No," he says.

The king of second chances knows something about silver linings as well.

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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