Brussels attack survivor on the "real gift" that aided recovery

Brussels bombing survivor

Doctors predicted it would take more than a year and half for Sebastien Bellin to walk again.

The Brussels terror attack survivor did it in four months.

“It’s a question of motivation,” Bellin said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

The Long Road Home

After terrorists bombed the airport and a train station in the capital of Belgium in March, an image of Bellin, injured and bleeding on the Brussels airport floor, was widely circulated. CBS News followed his remarkable recovery journey for eight months.

“The attacks happened on March 22, and my oldest daughter Cecilia’s birthday is July 22. And I’m not great at math, but when the doctors told me the news, the first few days, there’s so much negativity that’s given to you. ‘You’re not going to be able to do this. You can’t do that.’ Because they want to give you the worst-case scenario, not to build your hopes up. And so when they told me I wouldn’t walk for over a year, I just said, ‘No, that’s not possible,’” Bellin said.

Bellin set his goal for July 22 and walked on Cecilia’s birthday.

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Sebastien Bellin with daughters Vanessa and Cecilia Sara Bellin

“These are kind of milestones that you look back on and say, ‘Well, that’s really what made it.’ When you’re walking for your daughter, it’s definitely a different motivation,” Bellin said.

The former basketball player, a husband and father of two, was on his way home to Michigan when he was caught in the bloody attack. He said he didn’t let fear overcome him – even when he was losing 50 percent of his blood and dealing with a shattered hip and leg.

“I just accepted the fact that, look, you’re not getting out of this, you’re not walking out of here,” Bellin explained. “And then when you accept it, then it no longer controls you, and you start being able to focus on things that maybe other people lose track of. So a scarf, a suitcase to elevate your legs, a baggage cart in the back where I became mobile again – they’re all things that I noticed that really saved my life.”

His past experiences and imagination may also have helped prepare him mentally for the attack. He described how the night before, while sitting at a restaurant, he envisioned a Paris-like terrorist attack, which had happened several months earlier. Minutes before the first blast at the airport, he thought it was strange that one of the gates was closed.

“I always say in our family, invest in experiences. So the more experiences you have, the more you tend to have the luggage, or the tools, to overcome things. And in the 38 years I’ve lived on three continents of the world, I speak four languages, these are all experiences that somehow fed me to believe that there something wasn’t really right,” he said.

Bellin also credits luck to his survival in a tragedy that killed 32 people.

“Again, I’m lucky, in a way, that I was so close to death,” he said. “Because there was dead people around me. There were body parts on me from other people. So… the closer you are to death, the easier it is to overcome because you realize how lucky you are.”

It has been a learning experience for his two daughters, Cecilia and Vanessa, as well.

“My wife is a teacher, so I kind of nudge her and say, how do we move on from this?” Bellin said. “I think the big thing is to say, ‘Look, really terrible things sometimes happen, but you can overcome it.’ … So it’s in the hospital for three months, and then it’s on crutches, and then it’s this, and then it’s that. And then it’s being able to get back in the gym and do all those things. It’s step-by-step progress. So they see that anything overwhelming can actually also be tackled by taking it one step at a time.”

Likewise, Bellin and his family are moving forward one day at a time.

“There’s so much clarity,” he said. “There are so many wonderful things. Just getting up in the morning, whether it’s Vanessa tapping me on the shoulder, whatever, it’s the best thing. Life just takes a completely different turn for you. That’s why I’m saying it’s a real gift. I took a lot of, let’s say, heat for saying that because there’s a lot of people that died. A lot of people that lost. But for me, it really is a gift, because life is simplified.”