It’s funny how life can change in an instant.
The best and the worst of what the universe hands us takes only a moment: New life entering the world. A bride and groom saying “I do.” A team scoring the championship goal.
And then there are the moments we wish could be reversed.
Like the day all-star Medina High School athlete Nick Newman Jr. went for a spin in an all-terrain vehicle with his friend, Aaron Radka, following a shift at Burger King.
Newman ran his ATV into Radka’s along Route 31, ejecting them both. Radka was transported to Medina Memorial Health Care System with a broken arm. Newman was flown by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, where doctors discovered he was paralyzed from the neck down.
His parents, Holly Deyo and Nick Newman Sr., rushed to his side, along with his stepmother, Melissa Newman, and his sisters, Allison Zinkievich, 18, and Elizabeth Newman, 9. His 21-year-old brother Andrew Zinkievich took an emergency leave from his station in Hawaii with the U.S. Army.
It wasn’t until three days after he first woke up that Newman realized the full extent of his condition, he said. To this day, he has no memory of the accident or the day leading up to it.
“I really didn’t realize when I first woke up,” Nick said in an interview at his former place of work Sunday. “I didn’t have finger movement.”
Two weeks after the accident, Nick was transferred to The Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the best spinal cord injury rehabilitation hospitals in the country.
It was the best decision they made, Nick Sr. said. The medical staff there maintained a positive attitude that rubbed off on the entire family, and Nick Jr. was able to find comfort in patients with similar injuries.
His roommate, 35-year-old Chuck Wayne from Atlanta, who was in a motorcycle accident about the same time, was one of his favorites.
“He called me ‘Cuz’ and he called my dad ‘Unc,’ ” he said. “We’d be up until 3 in the morning playing X-box and listening to music.”
Physical, occupational and recreational therapy quickly helped Nick regain feeling and movement in his arms, chest and hands. Special machines and electrodes kept his muscles working.
During recreational therapy, he took field trips out in the community to learn how to use his wheelchair. They took him to his most familiar stomping grounds: Out to a restaurant and to Blockbuster to rent a movie. He even took a weekend deer hunting trip at a local 10,000-acre ranch on ATVs.
When it was time for him to return home, they sent a representative to speak with his teachers to ease the transition.
“It’s a great place,” Nick Sr. said. “They have the best robotics in the country. ... They had him swimming and kayaking. He went scuba diving.”
Back home in Medina, the community planned fundraiser after fundraiser to help with Nick’s medical bills. The Medina Teachers Association sponsored a dress down day, raising a total of $1,334, said Student Association adviser Julie Webber.
Technology teacher Mike Weyrauch had his students make cutting boards, which they sold for a $286 profit. A spaghetti dinner and Chinese auction Dec. 13 raised nearly $4,000. Tops Markets and Harris Beach Law Firm provided the food, and members of the community donated items for more than 100 baskets.
Medina junior Deja Ubiles raised $650 with a raffle for Sabres tickets and a limo ride by Mac Limo. Allison Zinkievich and an aunt sold $3 silicone bracelets that read “Nicholas Newman stay strong.” More than $1,000 in cash donations and hundreds of get well cards poured in, as well.
“Everybody came together to help out,” Webber said. “(The students) care about their friend and saw it as an opportunity to help behind the scenes. ... It helped them feel like they were doing something.”
Nick’s co-worker and classmate Kelsey Huwlyer organized a fundraiser she appropriately named “Nickels for Nick.” She distributed plastic containers with professional labels donated by Garlock Office Supplies throughout the Medina area, hoping residents would donate their spare change after making a purchase.
When she wrapped the fundraiser up last week, she had collected $1,187 — the equivalent of 23,740 nickels. The largest contributor was Burger King, with $304.
Since returning to school a few weeks ago, Nick is doing extremely well, his dad said. He has gradually caught up with English, U.S. History and Math B so that he can graduate on time next year. In the Allied Health program at Niagara-Orleans BOCES, he was given credit for writing papers about his experiences in therapy.
His friends help him out at school and make sure to swing by to pick him up when they get together to hang out. When Nick is feeling well — the medication he is on for painful spasms often makes him sleepy — he is on the sidelines at lacrosse practice, giving the team tips.
“He came back, and it was like he was never gone,” Ubiles said. “He’s still the wise guy I’ve always known.”
Twice a week, Newman travels to Strong for outpatient therapy, where he continues to make strides. He is able to move his fingers and shake someone’s hand. Sunday, he controlled his knees and was able to press his feet down, he said.
“We hope that he gets to the point where he can be mobile. ... He’s going to drive again as soon as he’s ready,” Nick Sr. said. “We have to keep him in shape for anything new that does come out.”
At home, Nick’s family had to make the rooms wheelchair accessible, and his bedroom was moved to the first floor. They also recently presented him with a 6-week-old golden retriever named Toby.
His goals have changed, too. Before the accident he aspired to become a dentist. Now, he dreams of becoming a trainer for a sports team in the field of biomechanics.
“I can still feel my legs. I can feel the nerves and deep pressures,” Nick said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to come back soon, it’s just a matter of time.”
Contact reporter Nicole Colemanat 798-1400, ext. 2227.
It’s funny how life can change in an instant.
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