Danny and I first met in middle school at Mt. Paran Christian School in Marietta, Georgia. Although we did not always run in the same circles, we were great friends through high school and into college. We were the kind of friends that although months pass, we would pick up where we left. Danny always made me laugh and made me feel important. I knew he was special and that I would want to marry someone like Danny. Although, I had no idea that we would eventually fall in love and I would become Danny’s wife.
Because Danny and I had been friends for so long, our dating relationship progressed past the “getting to know you” stage quickly. We realized early on that we were meant to marry and when we decided to get engaged, it was truly a blessed union. Danny and I were married October 27, 2001 in the church we both grew up in, with the Spirit of God present. I still cannot imagine a more perfect wedding day than ours. It was so much fun!
We thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company and I believe our strong foundation as friends carried us through the first years of marriage. We bought our first home, got a dog and lived with enthusiasm.
Danny introduced me to the world of motorcycles. We bought the first Harley before we were even married. Danny’s 1997 Sportster 1200 Custom became our stress relief. We rode whenever we could and had a blast. I eventually decided to take the Rider’s Edge course offered by Harley Davidson and fell in love with riding myself. We purchased my 2003 Dyna SuperGlide in late 2002. It was difficult for Danny to see me ride. I know he was always concerned for my safety and felt responsible for me. Danny was an excellent rider. In fact, I would tease him that I felt safer with him on his motorcycle than I did riding with him in his truck. Danny rode with skill and oneness with the bike, which makes the events of August 16, 2005 all the more baffling.
August 16th was one of the most difficult days of my life. Earlier in the year, Danny and I had chosen to move to Arizona. In June, I began my new job while Danny stayed behind to sell the house and pack up Southland Choppers to move to Phoenix. I was at work when I received a phone call that Danny had been involved in a terrible accident and it was serious. 33 weeks pregnant, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket, to be by Danny’s side. I didn’t know what I’d find when I got there, but there was no way to be prepared for what I found.
My longtime friend, my husband, and the father of the child I carried, lay in a coma in Neuro ICU. It was almost 3am, approximately twelve hours since the moment of impact. Danny had sustained many injuries; the worst being two skull fractures and traumatic brain injury. There was swelling and bleeding in the brain. To relieve the pressure and fluid, doctors had inserted a tube in the front of Danny’s skull. Danny was on a ventilator, wore a large neck brace and had severe road rash. His left femur was broken near the hip and several ribs on his left side. There was internal bleeding of Danny’s spleen and left kidney. To look at Danny’s face, while swollen with tubes coming out of it, he still looked like Danny; beautiful. Yet, the unknown was more than I could bear at the moment. I was 33 weeks pregnant with our son and my husband lay in critical condition.
People rallied behind us when they heard of Danny’s accident. Customers brought food and drinks to the hospital and we had so many constant visitors that we claimed the waiting room. It was amazing to see the outpouring of the Church and those that knew Danny. He touched so many people’s lives. I used to urge him to be safe; warning that if something were to ever happen to him, it would change the lives of so many people. His life was not his own, especially now that we had a child on the way. This time has been a testament to how much of an impact Danny made on all our lives.
Danny remained at North Fulton Regional Hospital for three weeks and so much happened during that time. Physically, Danny began to heal; the broken femur was repaired through surgery, the internal bleeding stopped on its own and the road rash began to fade. However, we learned that Danny’s brain had sustained major damage. Specifically, doctors diagnosed it as a diffuse axonal injury; similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome. Unfortunately, because this type of injury occurs at the cellular level, even a MRI could not tell us the extent of the damage. No one could tell us what was going to happen and that was and is still extremely frustrating.
I was in the room when Danny opened his eyes for the first time. The nurses were using painful stimuli to measure his response. When he opened his eyes, the spirit in his eyes was not there; a blank stare was all that remained.
The last days at North Fulton Danny began to show signs of improvement. He had begun opening his eyes more and there was some recognition. He began to track voices and movement with his eyes, squeeze his right hand and most importantly, he kissed me back. Doctors had performed a tracheotomy, so Danny’s mouth was finally free. Leaning over my large pregnant belly, I kissed Danny with hope that it would strike a cord of memory. I would take his hand and touch it to my belly, again hoping that he and the child inside me would connect. I felt very much alone. I stood in the middle of two men; my now dependent, disabled husband and our soon to be born, dependent son. I was the lone soldier in a fight for both of them and my strength dwindled.
On September 6th, we were able to transfer Danny to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, to their Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Unit PREP Program (Pre-Rehabilitation Education). The Admissions Nurse had given me a list of things to pack for Danny’s stay at Shepherd. I remember writing Diaz on every sock, shirt and short. I felt like I was sending him away and hoped he wouldn’t feel abandoned. Knowing it was the best thing for him, we entrusted his recovery to the staff at Shepherd and they were wonderful.
Our first set back came on the second night of Danny’s stay at Shepherd. He had aspirated and was in ICU again. His fever got up to 105.7 and his blood pressure critically low. He breathed so quickly that it looked as if he’d just finished running a marathon. Again, Danny’s life hung in the balance and I banged on the door to heaven wondering why we were having to walk this road. How much longer?
Danny spent one week in ICU and then was transferred back to the ABI Unit. He was quickly put back in the therapy rotation. In the mornings, Danny was dressed and lifted into his wheelchair. He had physical, occupational and speech therapy everyday. We hung family pictures in his room for the therapist to use. Danny began to study the pictures and when asked where someone was, he would look at their picture. It was an encouraging sign that he was improving.
Monday morning, September 19th, I awoke early to make the trip to the bathroom; a common occurrence since I was now 38 weeks pregnant. Luckily, I was already in the bathroom when my water broke. It was a bittersweet moment since I realized that Danny was not going to be at my side for the birth as we had planned. I knew I had to make it through, but I cried for Danny because he was going to miss the birth of his son.
God gave me two gifts during my labor. The first arrived after 12 hours of labor when the contractions got stronger. A phone call from Shepherd Center; Danny had communicated. He gave a thumbs-up. Already emotional, I burst into tears. It was the first time that Danny had shown a voluntary response. My second gift was of course, Corbin Daniel Diaz. Corbin was born on Tuesday, September 20th at 10:06am. He emerged facing me, with one arm raised and I was blessed to reach down and bring him into the world. Again, it was such a bittersweet moment.
When Corbin was just five days old, I took him to meet his father. Danny was in his bed, knees bent. I placed Corbin on Danny’s lap and introduced him to his son. He just stared at Corbin. I wanted Danny to cry or say something, give thumbs up, just do something, but he didn’t. He just stared. I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be for me taking Corbin to Danny. I cried for Danny for he was missing out on his son’s life and I cried for Corbin for the father that was missing from his.
For me, the strongest evidence that Danny was emerging out of the coma, came on October 16th. Danny’s contacts at Killer Creek Harley Davidson had arranged a benefit ride in his honor. The ride would take the bikers past Shepherd Center and we got permission from Danny’s doctor to take him outside to watch the riders go by. I had prepared Danny for the trip, but as the riders drove by, you could see recognition come over his face and he began to cry. It was the first sign of true emotion to a stimulus that I had seen. Of course, we all burst into tears of joy and cried along with him. Thank you to all of you who participated. It was such a gift to me.
Danny spent a total of six weeks at Shepherd. He suffered pneumonia and MRSA, but progressed in small yet monumental ways. Danny gained movement and strength in his right hand and began to breathe without the additional oxygen. He continued his thumbs up/thumbs down method to communicate and graduated up to using his index finger for yes/no responses. Although, inconsistent, it was encouraging. Doctors felt that Danny was on the verge of breaking through, but there was a time limit in place for the program and Danny’s time was finished.
We spent two days in family training on how to work with Danny’s physical limitations and how to lead his recovery at home. It was not going to be an easy situation no matter how well we were trained. Danny’s parents and I were going to be the primary caregivers, yet I was also responsible for Corbin too.
On October 20th, we brought Danny home. It was so nice to all be together in one place. Danny spent two weeks at home before we hit our next bump in the road. Danny had pneumonia and spent a week in the hospital. It was during that week that I had to return to work. Danny responded well to the antibiotics and we brought him home again on November 11th. Nine days later, we went back to the hospital for another set of infections and again one week passed and home we went. Two days later, on December 1st, Danny started vomiting which he had not done since that second night at Shepherd. Fearing aspiration, we called 911 and went to the hospital yet again. However, this time Danny stayed for two weeks to receive the full round of antibiotics.
It was incredibly frustrating for us and even more so for Danny, I’m sure, to be back and forth to the hospital. It also set Danny’s recovery back. Who wants to do anything when they’re sick? Danny had some breakthroughs despite the rounds of infections. He cried when I told him the story of Corbin’s birth and continued crying with me as I told him how I was feeling. I also heard him tell me he loved me. He had mouthed the words several times, but this time, I heard him. It was such a happy moment.
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