by Joseph Gabro
I Was Invincible!
I’ve been meaning to contact you for a while now and have finally been able to sit down and structure my thoughts into cohesive sentences. You wouldn’t believe how much you, your family, and Ryan helped me through a tough time in my life and it’s only fair to properly thank you for that. However, before I continue, let me share a little about myself.
My name is Joseph Gabro. I am 20 years old and currently attending James Madison University. Even though I went to the same high school as your son, I never had the opportunity to meet Ryan. Boy, do I really wish I had…
I wasn’t a good kid in high school. I mean, I wasn’t bad, either. I was just blinded by my immaturity and took things too far on occasion. I lived to make my peers laugh, even if it meant a cheap chuckle at the expense of others at times.
I had the reputation of a class-clown to most of the departments at Broad Run. Teachers constantly called my parents to inform them of the new inappropriate stunt I pulled in class that day. This continued all throughout high school and I loved every bit of attention it gave me.
I was cool. I was hilarious. I was invincible!
Then I Heard about Ryan’s Accident.
It hit me hard. Really hard. It was almost like I had just lost a best friend when in actuality I had no personal connection to Ryan whatsoever. I was so compelled and determined to try and keep track of his daily progress as often as possible. I prayed just about every night for his well-being and would constantly think about him and your family throughout the day. When your website launched, I began religiously checking to see whenever you posted a new blog post. I would read the numerous comments and stories people posted about all the amazing qualities Ryan had and began to realize how much of a better man he was than me.
What if that were me? Would people post how immature and childish I was? Would that one girl share the story of how I made a joke about her in the lunch line just to get a laugh from my friends? Would I not be cared about?
At this point in my life I began to realize what I had to do. I completely changed my attitude and behavior in an attempt to almost live like Ryan did. I should’ve known that wasn’t going to last. I mean hell, college was around the corner and I was going to have the freedom to do whatever I want! Woo Hoo!
Let’s fast forward to September 23, 2012.
A month of my freshman year had been wasted. I was drinking like a sailor, skipping classes, and back to my immature self. I was getting tired of the same environment so I decided to catch a ride down to Charlottesville to visit my friend for the weekend. I immediately got along with all his new friends and we were about to have a night to remember. Or so I thought…
I fell 17 feet off of a fraternity balcony that night and found myself in critical condition.
I guess I wasn’t cool. I guess I wasn’t hilarious. And I damn sure KNOW I wasn’t invincible.
I don’t remember anything and am not surprised. My injuries consisted as follows: a subdural, subarachnoid, and epidural hematoma, a fractured skull, broken orbital bone, 3 broken ribs, and a broken clavicle. I was unconscious when the paramedics arrived and barely hanging onto life. My parents got that dreaded phone call at around four in the morning and hurried to be by my side.
They informed my parents that I needed immediate surgery and that, even if done properly, was still at a high risk for never fully recovering. Open brain surgery went smoothly and I miraculously woke up from my coma 2 days later. Doctors then said it could possibly take weeks or months before I could walk properly and, again, I somehow defeated the odds and was up and about 4 days later.
In all, I was only hospitalized for 12 days. I don’t remember much from the hospital, either (probably because of the plethora of drugs administered into my blood), but reality set in when I arrived back home. I didn’t really understand how severe my injury was until I saw all the news reports and Facebook posts wishing me well. There were even hundreds of people I didn’t know messaging me with kind words. I guess people DID care about me. It’s a shame I ignored their kindness.
As doctors predicted, the traumatic brain injury I suffered altered my mood and feelings unbelievably. I soon sunk into depression fairly quick. I felt worthless. I stopped reading messages I received and would delete texts from friends concerned about me. I didn’t want to be alive. It’s hard when you’re having fun at college and then BAM all of a sudden you’re eating painkillers and going through therapy rehabilitation as a daily routine. Although I physically recovered extremely quickly, my depression was only getting worse.
I would wake up every morning and just look into the mirror. I didn’t know the person I was looking at. I would run my finger down the scar across my head multiple times as if to make my accident tangible in a way. I hated it. I wasn’t physically in pain any longer but I would still refill my painkillers in an attempt to heal the pain emotionally. Nothing worked. I was only becoming worse. But then something caught my attention.
It Hit Me All Over Again
I began to finally read messages I received a few weeks ago from strangers and friends alike. I came across a tweet that your daughter, Kari, made asking people to pray for the recovery of my friend and I. Then it hit me all over again. I had stopped following the progress of Ryan. I had stopped praying. And there [your daughter and Ryan’s sister] Kari was, humbly wishing and praying for MY well-being.
And what was I doing? Getting high off painkillers, hating life, and not realizing how lucky I was to be alive. I had officially hit rock bottom.
I immediately checked your website that day and began to catch myself up with where I last left off so long ago. I must’ve read 50 or so blog posts that day. Your words are infectious and I could feel the emotions pouring out through each post. They spoke to me and comforted me in a way. You taught me life lessons that day without even knowing it this whole time.
That day I asked myself, “What if I our injuries were reversed? What if I was in Ryan’s situation and he was in mine?” Well, judging from the beautiful things I’ve read about him from you and his peers, I knew for a fact that he wouldn’t be acting the way I was. It was from that day forward that I completely changed my life with Ryan’s strength and your relentlessness motivating me through the way.
A Life Changed
Currently, I’m back at James Madison University and maintaining a 3.6 GPA. Changing my attitude and being kind to others at all times has led me to have a much happier life than I can ever remember having (besides being a little kid running around outside with no worries on my mind, of course). I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for your indirect guidance through the articles on your website.
I look at myself in the mirror today and know exactly who I am and where I’m heading. Hell, I even like the look of the scar running down my scalp now! It’s truly amazing how much influence someone like you and Ryan have had on my life when I’ve never even met the both of you.
Sorry for making this so long, I just really want you to understand how much Ryan and your family has helped me recover from my injury. I’m a new man with new goals in life headed in the right direction.
Please let Ryan know that he helped save a stranger’s life by being the most strong-willed person I’ve ever seen.
And, of course, thank you for showing the courage and determination in your son’s battle to help me with mine.
Thank you, Ken
Thank you, Ryan
Thank you, Kari
Thank you, Sue
I’ll continue praying and hoping for the best because he deserves it more than anyone.