“I Love You, Have a Great Day!”
 

“I love you, have a great day!” the last words my husband would speak to me for three weeks on that early morning of Tuesday, August 11, 2010. It was our normal routine to always kiss each other goodbye and say, I love you. After he left for work, I proceeded to wake up and get ready for my day. It was a day unlike any other I have experienced. The call came at 9:55 AM. Unfortunately, I was blow drying my hair and missed the first three calls from my husband’s grandmother(Nan) and mother. “Dan fell at work. He is injured. You have to get to Hackensack Hospital as soon as possible,” Nan said rather calmly.

Three words we were all thinking were, “Is he dead?” Only my mother-in-law said it out loud to her crying mother once we arrived at the emergency room.

Daniel survived and after about two months in the hospital was moved to Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, NJ.

As the wife of someone who survived a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), I never would have expected my life to change in the way that it did. Statistically, not all spouses remain with their loved ones after a serious injury. Some simply cannot handle the stress and any changes that may occur. Our daily lives have taken a turn from how it was before. Our typical gender roles also changed. For example, Dan stays at home while I go to work. He has taken on more of the household responsibilities as well. This caused a reaction in the way we communicate as well. Dan is home and more available, so our daily conversations typically revolve more around our house and my career. I have noticed that his self-confidence is not at the level it was before. He definitely doesn’t know how he will achieve his life goals. This is why he has started working on himself and trying to help others who have gone through similar experiences.

Most married couples have day to day marriage struggles. When you live with someone who has to deal with personal struggles everyday, you realize the small stuff doesn’t matter. In the same capacity, you grow to appreciate them more as a friend, caretaker, and partner.

Amber - Wife

“Doing Great Things”
 

I gave birth to Danny when I was very young. I always thought I gave birth to him at such a young age because he was meant to be here to do great things in life. I didn’t know the springboard for those actions would come from a twenty-foot fall off a telephone pole that would almost take his life.

Danny doesn’t remember anything of the accident or the months that followed, but I do. I really don’t like to revisit those memories. The first five days after the accident, Danny’s brain continued to swell. We had to remove part of his skull so his brain could swell outward away from the brain stem, which if crushed would end his life. Nothing is worse than standing vigil over your son wondering if he will be alive or dead tomorrow or the next day. I stayed by my son’s side throughout those first five days because I was not going to let him die alone. I brought him into this world, and I would be there for him if he needed to leave it. I couldn’t believe I went through everything I went through at having a baby at such a young age only to have his life end like this. Fortunately, by some miracle, he lived.

Not only did Danny live, he thrived. With the excellent care he received from his doctors and nurses at Hackensack Hospital to the outstanding therapies he received at Kessler, they gave me my son back. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years for him to recover from his brain injury. Is he exactly the same as he was before? No, but they pretty much brought him back to the person he was before.

However, Danny did change as a result of this injury. It awakened something in him, a vengeance to give back to his doctors, to Kessler, to others who may also suffer the fate of a TBI injury. He wants to raise public awareness of the effects of a TBI injury. He wants to raise money for Kessler Institute so they can continue their research to find better treatments and cures. He wants to change legislation to make it easier for future TBI patients to get financial assistance. He wants to make a difference in this world and leave it a better place.

So now on March 30th, 2015, Danny will embark on a solo cross-country bike ride. Why? To raise awareness. To make people look and listen to what he has to say. Do I want him to do it, absolutely not. I want to wrap him in bubble wrap and keep him safe. I don’t want to relive another minute in a hospital with him. Sometimes he takes this as if I’m not supporting him on his ride, but that’s not true. He just doesn’t know what I lived through at that hospital. Nothing in life is worse than having to bury your child. I don’t want to have to do that, and I’m scared to death that could happen. Can I stop him? Absolutely not. He’s too stubborn. He’s found his life’s work. Am I proud of him? Absolutely. I knew when I gave birth to him that he would go on to do great things. Well, he’s doing it.

Barbara - Mother

“The day Danny got injured will live with me forever...”
 

The day Danny got injured will live with me forever, I’ll never forget it. It’s been years, but any time I think of that day the emotions & tears still well up. Danny is my nephew by blood, but he is so much more than that. We seek each other out for advice, keep each other sane, drive each other crazy, and share many similar tastes and interests. He is my brother, a best friend, and confidant. 

I was in a training class at work when I received the call from my mother. It wasn’t out of character for her to call me during the day on my cell, but something told me to take the call. She was calm, cool, and collected as she told me Danny had gotten hurt at work and was on his way to the hospital. He had fallen, but I shouldn’t worry. She was on her way to the hospital and would call with more info later. I don’t think she knew the extent of his injury yet when she called. I hung up and returned to my class feeling concerned, but not overly worried (maybe he had fallen & broken his leg)…until my phone rang again shortly later. I didn’t recognize the number, and I certainly didn’t recognize the voice on the other end. It was my sister, but didn’t sound like my sister. The shock she must have been in. She told me to get to the hospital, Danny was badly injured, and he may not live the next 24-72 hours. The rest is a blur of shock and tears getting to the hospital until I was standing by Danny’s unconscious form in the ER stroking his hand, and later sitting in a private room with my family as the doctor doled out the diagnosis and forward plan. By then I was calm, I was scared, but I knew he would make it. There was no way we were losing him. Danny has always been a strong minded and determined individual, and a fighter. It was these attributes that would help carry him through his recovery and to where he is today.

To say his recovery was difficult would be an understatement. It was an indescribable rollercoaster of emotions.  Fear and despair would turn into hope and excitement as Danny’s vitals would improve, only to be dashed away in the next instant as some new issue would arise threatening to take him away from us again. Long days and nights were spent at the hospital, it was our home away from home. I’d try to go to work, only to need to leave and be with him and my family again at the hospital. I needed to be there, what if that day was the last day I’d ever get to see him again, to talk to him even though he was unconscious and couldn’t talk back. I needed to be there.

When Danny was finally awakened from his drug-induced coma it was such an immense relief, but the emotional rollercoaster didn’t stop there. Before it was survival mode for me, coping with my own personal emotions as we waited, watched and hoped Danny would live. Once he was awake, it was a whole new level of emotions as we stood by his side and supported him through the many challenges he would begin to face as his body and mind healed. I know I struggled to contain my own fears and emotions as once again progress would breed hope only to revert back to fear as set-backs occurred. I shared his frustrations, and sometimes his anger, as he strived to be understood when he couldn’t speak; his confusion and frustrations as he regained his memory of who we were and relearned basic skills; and wished I could take away any of the fear and pain he felt from the countless scans, needles and surgeries he had to face. And through it all he fought, he fought to live, he fought through all the challenges & setbacks he experienced in the hospital & rehab, he fought to regain his life, and he continues to fight to this day.

So I wasn’t surprised when he decided to take on the challenge of this cross-country ride. I knew he would carry through with it and I have no doubts that he will accomplish his goal. Am I worried about him on this ride? Of course I am, but who wouldn’t worry about someone they care about taking on such an immense challenge. But I’m more proud than worried. I’m proud of all that he’s accomplished, I’m proud of how far he’s come, and I’m proud of his upcoming cross-country ride to raise awareness of TBI. I’m proud of Danny, and I admire his strength and determination. The work and dedication he had put towards this ride and raising awareness about TBI is so inspiring. He is my greatest inspiration in pursuing and achieving my own goals, and I hope he will be an inspiration to many others.

Throughout the planning of the ride, I’ve tried to provide support, encouragement and advice whenever Dan has needed it. I’ve promoted his cause and his TBI to Victory site by sharing it with anyone I meet and on my personal Facebook page. I’ve sent out countless FB invites for others to like and explore his website and Facebook page to learn more about his ride. I will kick start the ride with him in NJ, and am working on getting my other cycling friends to join us. If possible, I also hope to fly out and meet up with him at some point along his route to possibly ride some of it with him. But ultimately, I’m here for him. Whether it’s promoting or helping with the ride, giving input and advice, or just being there to listen, I’ll always be here for him.

Michelle - Aunt