Michael Nepola was loving life as a high school kid. Then he made one bad decision: to drink and drive. Telling his story, he beseeches people not to make the same mistake he did.
One Bad Decision
[♪U2's "Bad" playing♪] [child laughs] [♪"Bad" continues♪] [♪♪] [car tires screech] [glass shatters] [phone rings] [phone rings] [phone beeps] Hello? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. [phone beeps] Mike's been in a car accident. [♪Lisa Gerard's "Now We Are Free" playing♪] It's hard to even describe what it's like to get that phone call. [siren wailing] [male speaker] I have a victim here of a high speed motor vehicle crash, crashed into a culvert. A 17-year-old male was ejected out of the sun roof about 25 feet. He's tachycardic, heart rate 130, blood pressure 70/41, unequal lung sounds. [male speaker] There was a fear that Michael would have such a devastating brain injury that he would be comatose forever and would not survive. So the first day I remember when he was taken from the emergency room to the CAT scanner. And even before we established the severity of his injury I remember walking to his father and the rest of his family and saying that Michael has a very severe head injury and this looks very, very serious and it's a life and death situation. I wanted to brace the family for what I knew was going to be a very, very difficult time. [female speaker] Your first thought is that this person's not going to do well, this is not going to go well, the person is going to be badly injured, and they might die, and most likely they'll die. That's our first thought. And then when they come in and you see them, you think, "Oh, God. Can we help him? Can we possibly save this person?" [♪"Now We Are Free" continues♪] Your life forever changes. Forever. [♪♪] I am Michael Nepola. [♪♪] I should be dead. [♪♪] On July 25, 2008, I only had a couple beers. [♪♪] I thought I was okay to drive. [♪♪] It was one bad decision [♪♪] When I arrived on scene, I immediately noticed a vehicle facing toward me, off the roadway with significant damage and smoke coming from the hood. [M. Nepola] I am here to tell you that if you drive and drive, something will happen eventually. [♪♪] At that time, a woman approached me yelling and screaming that there was a person in bushes that were adjacent to the car. I found Michael, who was laying on his back well into the bushes. He was covered in blood, his clothing was ripped apart and he was just sprawled out on his back. As I climbed into the bushes, I began speaking with him. He was semiconscious at the time, his breathing was extremely labored. He was able to tell me that there were other occupants in the car and that he had an injury to his neck area. He pointed to his neck, I found a puncture wound that was profusely bleeding and at that time Michael began to lose consciousness. This boy was badly hurt. Frankly, the prognosis was if you looked at him, and we tend to talk between us and the paramedics, he wasn't going to live. Getting such a phone call, I think you really can't even imagine what it feels like. I just recall going numb because it's the one thing that I've always dreaded, getting a phone call about my child and not knowing what happened... [♪♪] if he was alive, how hurt he was. I kind of forced my way through the trees and managed to get to the patient, and it turned out to be the driver who had been ejected either through the window or the sun roof. The driver was unconscious, the face was covered with blood, he was not responsive when I reached him. The first thing we were concerned about was any spinal injury, so a fireman managed to throw me a cervical collar. I put a collar on the patient. I also checked his head. Somebody was shouting to me to make sure that there were no penetrations, branches or whatever that might have penetrated the young boy's head. I checked the head. No obvious penetrations but again he was covered with blood. When we got to the scene, Michael was in the back of an ambulance... [♪♪] being intubated. [Michael] I was lucky. I only had a severe traumatic brain injury... [♪♪] which I will live with forever. [♪♪] I was only in a coma for 17 days. [♪♪] I was only in the intensive care unit for three weeks. [♪♪] I was only on life support for 19 days. [♪♪] I only received 207 staples in my head. [♪♪] I only fractured 5 vertebrae and broke 5 ribs. [♪♪] I am only deaf in my left ear. [♪♪] I only broke my family's and friends' hearts. [♪♪] I only saw the "white light" once. The skull itself was pretty much broken into bits, and we had to take out all those bits and pieces and immediately underneath the skull there was another large blood clot which was removed. And in Michael's case, the covering of the brain or the dura was actually torn and some pieces of brain tissue were actually coming out through that, suggesting that there was a fairly severe injury. [♪♪] The doctors, the trauma doctors, Dr. Kaul and Dr. Rajaraman, came and showed us the first CAT scan of Michael's brain, and it had swelled to completely one side of his skull. He could have died at any minute. They had to perform an emergency craniotomy on him to relieve the pressure. And they don't give you any guarantees. There was no guarantee he'd survive the operation, no guarantee of anything at all. And I remember after they brought him into the operating room, I just froze, like my whole body actually froze and I curled up in a ball. And I think sometimes nobody really understands or certainly those who haven't experienced it understand what it's like to go through that when your child is injured in that way and may not survive. Your life forever changes. Forever. [♪♪] I'm lucky to be alive. It could have been worse. [♪♪] I had two friends in the car who were wearing seat belts. They could have died, but they walked away. I could be paralyzed or in a wheelchair. [♪♪] I could be unable to speak. [♪♪] I could be dead. [♪♪] One bad decision changed my whole life forever. [♪♪] We're lucky that Michael was strong enough to survive with the help of the care at Hackensack. And it's been a long road, a long road for my son, back. He had to relearn how to walk and how to talk, and a year later he's still struggling to relearn how to use his right side, his right arm, hand. But he's a miracle, he's a real miracle. [♪♪] Before the accident, I had a great life. [♪♪] I made first team All State in golf as a sophomore... [♪♪] drove a hot car, had a great girlfriend. [♪♪] I liked to have fun, maybe party a little. Life was good. [♪♪] I never thought anything would happen. [♪♪] One bad decision rocked my world. [♪♪] The road to recovery is hard. After about a month at Hackensack University Medical Center, I was sent to Children's Specialized Hospital for seven weeks of rehabilitation. He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk, he couldn't move the right side of his body. He couldn't do those simple things that we all take for granted on an everyday basis like sit up at the edge of your bed, walk to the bathroom, brush your teeth, brush your hair, talk to your friends on the phone. Anything that you can think of that you do in your normal day Michael couldn't do without the help of somebody else. I had to learn to talk again. I had to learn to walk again. There were days I wished I had died. [♪♪] Today life is really hard. Most of my time is spent working to get better. I still have trouble speaking sometimes. I go to physical therapy, but I still walk with a limp. [♪♪] I still don't have the full use of my right hand and arm. [♪♪] I try to play golf, but I might not be as good as I once was. I go to occupational therapy so I can do simple things like text my friends, play video games or tie my sneakers. My car insurance is now $18,000 a year. There is no guarantee I will ever be a hundred percent. I was lucky, but not everyone is. [♪♪] So please, if you walk away with anything today, remember these four things: (1) Don't drink and drive; (2) Don't text and drive; (3) Don't ride with anyone that has been drinking; (4) Wear your seat belt. [♪♪] I got a second chance. Not everyone does. Life is sweet. [♪♪] Don't mess it up. [♪♪] [♪Enya's "Only Time" playing♪]
Posted on BrainLine January 4, 2010