First Posted: 5/1/2014
Her 17-hour days are tough. The progress overcoming paralysis is slow, but rewarding, for Karen Szatkowski as she cares for her 19-year-old son, Damon, in their living room where he sleeps in a hospital bed as a result of a traumatic brain injury.
Karen is happy to have her son alive this Mother’s Day because she recalls the phone call in 2011 after his car accident on Bunker Hill Road sent her speeding to the hospital where she was met by a chaplain at the door.
“You don’t usually get greeted at the door by the chaplain. I wasn’t a religious person but I screamed and begged to God for Damon to live,” she said.
Damon was unconscious, his brain hemorrhaging, but alive and the rest of his body was perfectly intact. He had been wearing a seat belt.
“I had to see him even as the surgeon warned that the outcome of surgery was not good, that he might die on the table and that most surgeons would not even try to operate. I yelled to him, ‘Live Damon, live!’”
The medical community was not encouraging afterwards. Karen heard words like “no hope” and “vegetable.”
“We disregarded some of these things and went with our gut many times,” Karen said. The family sang songs and stimulated Damon even when there was no response, always watching for little clues and signs of recovery. Karen, her daughters, Talia and Demetra, and her husband, Richard, never left Damon alone.
Karen clung to the small co-incidental things that happened along the way as the foundation for her hope that Damon would recover fully. “God winks” she calls them.
There were five weeks in ICU, six weeks in rehab. Months after the surgery, Karen thought she saw Damon’s eyes (though still closed) blink and asked him to look at his favorite Call of Duty poster on the wall. He opened his eyes.
‘They don’t know enough about the brain,” she says after her experiences co-hitting for speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and nurses.
On Mother’s Day in 2012, Damon smiled at Karen for the first time, though he didn’t smile at her again for another two months.
The determined mother, who grew up in Kingston as Karen Pyros, graduated from Wyoming Valley West and Lehigh University and then worked as an accountant, says, “There are no options here. We want him back in full. A full recovery,” she insists.
She wrote notes on Facebook, notes to tell everyone easily and quickly how Damon was coming along, and continues to post his progress on her Facebook site.
Now churches, synagogues and thousands of people pray for Damon’s success and someone has set up a Praying for Damon Facebook site. Karen says that the “power of love” – community love, not just motherly love – has contributed to Damon’s recovery and that God is in control. She does, however, wonder some days how broad God thinks her shoulders really are.
Damon smiles a lot and talks, even though some said he might never talk again. He says that going to his high school prom was his Mother’s Day gift to his mother last year and that an angel has guarded him through his accident and beyond.
“My mom gave me life and then brought me back to life,” he said.
Damon graduated from Dallas High School in 2013 with his classmates and now attends Misericordia University. He predicts he will walk in one year and proudly boasts that he had the highest score (104.5) in his math reasoning class. He is leaving this week to undergo three weeks of intensive left-body-side therapy at Hershey Medical Center.