Detroit coach takes victory walk after horrific car crash
DETROIT (AP) — The boxes are packed and they have come to say goodbye — doctors, therapists, trainers, aides and administrators — all the people who helped put him back together.
“It’s graduation day!” one says, bopping her head into the room.
Hugs all around.
“You are gonna miss us!” another says.
Greg Piscopink, a Brother Rice assistant football coach, is about to go home after spending eight months at Maple Manor Rehab Center of Novi, recovering from injuries he suffered in an Aug.15 car crash, the Detroit Free Press reported.
He is getting antsy, sitting on his bed, waiting to be discharged. He wants to leave now — right now — and go down the hallway and turn the corner, past the front desk and walk into the sunshine. Tall and proud. That’s been his goal for months since he arrived — to walk out of this place.
“Remember, you couldn’t even sit up in the bed?” asks Jessica Rau, Maple Manor vice president of operations, who stopped by his room to say goodbye. “We are proud of you. Look at how much you have progressed. It’s phenomenal. Night and day.”
It feels like the last day of high school when seniors are walking around giving hugs and taking pictures and signing yearbooks and everybody is reminiscing about the past.
“When you have someone who walks in — no, he couldn’t walk — rolls in on a stretcher, can’t sit up, can’t move,” says Lisha Slinde, a physical therapist, while looking at Greg. “I’m so proud of you.”
Piscopink was injured in horrific car crash on I-75 when his son Gregory, then 16, fell asleep while driving home from football practice. The car went off the road and crashed into a tree. Piscopink was trapped. His brain was bleeding and there was a tear in his aorta, the main artery that carries blood away from his heart to the rest of his body.
He started out in a coma and couldn’t communicate for about a month because his mouth was wired shut and he had a tube down his throat. Greg began to open his eyes and respond to commands, blinking once for yes, twice for no. He had nine broken ribs. His right femur was cracked, his right hip socket demolished, his pelvis broken. The bones in his face were broken in two places, his jaw in three spots. His left arm was shattered from his shoulder to elbow. His left leg was broken in several spots. His left foot was broken and his right foot dislocated.
“When he first got here, he was in bad shape,” Mike Gorney, an athletic trainer, says. “But he had a lot of perseverance. He went through a lot of pain, a lot of frustrations. We just had to show up. He did the work.”
But now, his personality is back. The bones have healed, at least most of them. And he has shown incredible progress.
“I’m ready to go,” Greg says.
“Heck yeah,” says his wife, Jennifer. “It’s time.”
There is a plate of cupcakes on a table — a few days earlier, he celebrated his 45th birthday party.
“Forty-five and alive!” Jennifer says.
Greg stands for a picture with a group of therapists. But it feels more like a photo of longtime friends because they have spent so much time together.
Max Dickerson, an athletic trainer, stands behind Greg, with his hand on his back, just to make sure he doesn’t fall backward.
“All right, Team Pisco!” Slinde says.
She gives him a graduation balloon and some candy.
“Thank you guys so much, seriously,” he says, hugging Slinde.
Greg continues standing while holding onto a walker — a tremendous accomplishment on its own. Eight months ago, they had to use a hoist to pick him out of bed because he couldn’t even roll over. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk. But he recovered after a series of baby steps. A former football player at Farmington Hills Harrison and Grand Valley State, he was known for his toughness and determination and will to win.
And this was the greatest competition of his lifetime — Greg against his own body.
The recovery was painfully slow. He had surgery in early December on his Achilles tendon. During that operation, doctors broke up scar tissue by manipulating his left arm, right knee and hip. When he woke up, he was left in so much pain that Jennifer called it the worst 24 hours since the accident.
By early January, he was standing on his own but he couldn’t take any steps. His legs were too weak. But he kept working, kept getting stronger, and he took his first step while holding parallel bars on Jan.30.
“You stay working hard OK,” Slinde says.
“I’m going to,” he says.
Greg turns and does a one-armed hug with Dickerson.
“Hit me up,” Dickerson says.
He hugs Gorney, the athletic trainer.
“See ya, bro,” Gorney says.
Greg calls them “Mike-and-Max,” like they are a singular unit, and he gives them all kinds of credit for his recovery. On Feb. 5, Jennifer posted a video of Greg walking through a set of parallel bars with Gorney. Greg held the bars firmly, and Gorney held his arm, to steady him and make sure he didn’t fall backward. It was slow and tedious, and looked like it took incredible effort, but he was doing it. “So proud of how hard this man fights!!!′ she posted on Facebook.
Three days later, she posted another video. Greg was walking down the hallway using a walker, although Gorney was holding him up, from the front, as if they were slow dancing.
But now, eight months after arriving, Greg is standing in his room and hugging Melanie Plank, an occupational therapist.
“Look at how good that left arm is moving!” Slinde says.
When a surgeon fixed his left arm, there were so many pins that the X-ray looked like a miniature ladder had stuck to his arm.
But it’s moving fine now.
“You gonna take a wheelchair?” Jennifer says. “Like a pregnant lady?”
No way. Greg’s already up and moving, using a walker to get across the room. He walks slowly, concentrating on each step. He still has a problem with his hip, which might require replacement surgery in a few years.
He leads with his left foot, and then the right one catches up, like a timid dancer. He turns the corner into the hallway and walks past the lift that they used to lift him out of his bed.
“Oh, that’s the thing right there,” Greg says. “That lifted me up!”
He wears a Tigers sweatshirt and blue jeans. His son, Gregory, is pushing a wheelchair, loaded up with stuff. Gregory, a quarterback, will be a senior at Brother Rice in the fall, and Greg vows to help coach the team. Maybe, he’ll work from the press box, if he can get up all of those steps.
“Bye!” came from voices inside rooms.
“See ya,” he says.
Now, he is moving fast. Both feet are working together — it always takes a little bit of time to get warmed up.
“Is walking hard for you?” one of the trainers yells from down the hall.
It’s an inside joke.
“Yeah, some people say it’s hard,” Greg replies, smiling. “Are you sweating?”
Another inside joke, like friends yelling across the room.
It would be impossible to list every person who made a contribution to this moment, either with their support or their prayers.
Greg is a teacher at Detroit Renaissance and after he ran out of sick time, other teachers combined and donated 100 days of their time to him so he would not lose his insurance.
Jennifer received hundreds of messages of support on Facebook.
A GoFundMe account was formed and 570 people donated more than $65,000 — just shy of their $75,000 goal to refurbish their house to meet Greg’s needs.
Right now, they have a bed in the living room to accommodate him.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Slinde says. “Would we want him not using a walker? Absolutely. But when you think of being extracted out of a car. The surgeries. The orthopedic complications. All the things that went on with it, to not moving. To getting up. Bit by bit, he worked so hard during therapy. He pushed every day. And this is what happens when you work hard.”
He turns the corner and heads toward the entrance.
“This is pretty big,” Gorney says. “At the end of the day, he’s walking out of here, tall and proud. I hope he will walk with a cane one day. And down the road, he will be able to walk on his own. We are just wishing him luck and hope he keeps kicking butt.”
He reaches the entrance and workers behind the counter stand and start clapping.
Through the first sliding door.
Across a carpet.
Through the second door and into the sunshine. It was beautiful and inspirational.
“Terrific — just a great success story,” says Jose Evangelista III, a doctor who stands outside watching and can’t stop smiling.
Greg gets into a white SUV and scoots into the passenger seat. He reaches for the door, but can’t grab it, so he scoots some more, reaching, scooting, until he finally grabs it, pulling it shut. Nothing has been easy for months. And it’s not going to be easy for a while.
His son jumps behind the wheel in the driver’s seat.
“You are going to drive me again?” Greg asks. “Are you sure?”
His son was driving when the accident happened. They talk about it all the time. They make jokes about it.
Still, Jennifer looks stunned, as the vehicle leaves.
“That’s the first time he’s driving him!” she gasps.
But it is the only ending that seems right. Both father and son overcoming every obstacle imaginable, some obvious, others lurking under the surface.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Jennifer says, and she can’t hold it in anymore.
Her eyes squeeze shut and her face tightens and everything starts bubbling up and the tears start flowing.
Finally, they are going home.
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com