As told by David Mercaldo, writer for Living Beyond TBI
Moment 1: Before the Accident
As I stare out at the bright, young and eager faces that are my son’s sixth grade class, I think to myself, how exhilarating and equally eager I was in my venture for knowledge. This very thirst for knowledge was what drove me into my career and enabled me to propel my life to success. My son’s teacher begins introducing me to the class.
“Frank Jr.’s father, Mr. Frank Alton*, earned his Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in International Business. He was soon hired as an employee at Grumman Aerospace. Hard work lead to a better job opportunity at SIAC. Mr. Alton currently works at the New York Stock Exchange.”
I regain my focus and I question the class, “Do any of you know what the New York Stock exchange is?”
My eyes scan the room and fall upon my son, Frank Jr. For a moment, I have a great feeling of gratitude. I am so blessed to have two sons, and I am humbled that my son is so proud of his dad that he invited me to his school for career day.
Soon after completing my presentation to the class, I begin to make my way back to work on foot, as walking always calmed me. Approaching Long Island Railroad Hicksville station, I glance at the cross walk and gaze at the blinking sign. I decide to wait for a few minutes. My supervisor approved my visit to my son’s school, and I am not in any hurry. The white glow of the pedestrian walking sign light flashes. I look to the right and see no cars coming. I look to the left and see no cars coming. I begin to cross the street.
In the corner of my eye, I see that a car is coming way too fast, but there is no time for me to move out of its path. A feeling of dread washes over me. I begin…
Moment 2: First Memory after the Accident
Why is it so dark, still and silent? Did I fall asleep on the LIRR and miss my stop? My boss is going to have my head if am late. Fighting to bring myself to consciousness, I open my eyes to a man in a white coat. I notice to my left Maggie* and the boys are standing over me.
As a doctor flashes his light in my eyes, he says, “Mr. Alton look to the right for me, and blink once if you are you able to feel this.
I blink once.
“Good.” The doctor says as I feel something cool and hard against my lower leg. I look over to my wife Maggie and wonder why she is she crying as she begins to speak between sobs.
“Honey you were hit by a car.” I think to myself, “Was it the car in the parking lot. I must have been hit at night. This can’t be that serious.” Suddenly everything is so loud and my head begins throbbing. Several voices begin shouting, which does not help my sudden headache. Hit by a car?
The doctor begins to explain to me how severe my condition is and how critical it is that I remain calm as I am just coming out an induce coma. I recognize my dad’s voice in the background.
“Hey son, you gave us quite the scare we thought we were going to lose you, at least you’re just in time for the summer weather.”
“Summer weather? Dad it’s January it must be freezing outside.”
My father’s face looks weathered. He looks at me with sadness slowly, enveloping his features. “Son it’s June and its been a little over a year since your accident.” Dread and panic flood over me, as begin to wondered how I could have missed an entire year? How could I have missed so much?
A feeling of sheer terror fills me when realize I can’t feel my legs!
Moment 3: A Breakthrough in Recovery
I sat outside my hospital window seeing the other patients in wheel chairs with their families. As my wife and two sons begin to approach me with loving smiles, I decide that today will be the day that I defined the kind of man that I am. I am not what any doctor has told me. Today I am mentally preparing myself to overcome my injury!
My family’s faces light up shocked and cheerful. I stand up on my own, without any aid, and begin to walk towards them. I raise a foot and place it forward and take a complete step. I take another step and another. I am walking!
Moment 4: Recent Reflective Memory
As I enter the Cradle of Aviation Museum walking on my own, I reflect on my life as a TBI survivor.
It has now been 11 years since the accident. I want my story to be shared as a reminder of the challenges survivors of traumatic brain injuries face and an inspiration for those survivors. I have many to thank for my work in recovery continues. I thank my family, friends, all medical professionals and people at Living Beyond TBI.
What helped me the most through my journey were the inspirational words from a medical professional, “Remember YOU are the patient,” she said.
Her words were meant to always remind me that I am an individual.
I think of her saying, “You are your own person. You are not your injury. You are not helpless. You are a patient; you aren’t a victim of your injury. You are a person whose possibilities range far and wide.”
* Names & places have been alerted to protect identity.