Teen Who Survived Surfside Condo Collapse Helps Start Foundation for First Responders and Victims With PTSD

“I truly believe that God puts people in situations that help us build character."

Surfside Condo Collapse
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jonah Handler fell from the 10th floor of the Surfside condo that collapsed a year ago killing 98 people, including his mother. His rescue, by a man who saw his hand poking through the rubble, was nothing short of a miracle.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, his father Neil likened his teenage son's story to his Old Testament namesake.

"Plucked from the jaws of death," Neil said, referencing the tale of Jonah and the Whale. "I truly believe that God puts people in situations that help us build character."

But the modern-day Jonah's survival came with a heavy burden. Despite therapy, the now 16-year-old is still grappling with the damage caused by loss and trauma.

"When a thunderstorm rolls in, the terror and the fear that I see in my kid's eyes, because that sound reminds him of the collapsing of the building, is, as a parent, the most powerless thing I ever experienced in my life," Neil told CBS News. "Because I can't do anything. And I look in his eyes, and he's paralyzed with fear."

Today, father and son are finding purpose in the unthinkable by starting Phoenix Life Project, a foundation to help families and first responders dealing with PTSD.

Phoenix Life Project will have its inaugural gala on Saturday, June 25, the day after the anniversary of the collapse. The guest list will include families of victims and first responders who dug through the rubble.

"I don't think it was luck. I really believe he's a miracle," Neil told the AP. "I believe he was chosen for something."

For more information visit phoenixlifeproject.org.

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