Maryann Soucy and Daniel Spradley went bowling on their first date in 2005. Last week they bowled again – Danny’s first outing since August.
“I used to be so athletic. I worked hard,” says Danny, currently in Rehabilitation at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain. “I struggle now to put on my shirt,” a task he wrestled with for five months after being told he would never move his arms again.
“I can’t put on my sweater. My muscle strength isn’t there yet,” Danny says. But “I’m hoping to be home by June 16. My goal is to be somewhat self-sufficient” by then, his 28th birthday.
He and Maryann are planning their wedding for the summer of 2008. “That will give me plenty of time to heal up more. I dream about me walking again. I do think I will be able to move my legs again in the next year.”
“I don’t understand how he does it. He has handled this injury so well. I feel so incredibly lucky to have him,” says Maryann, who rescued Danny when he broke his neck in a pool last summer.
Maryann, who grew up in Torrington, met Danny in October 2005 while working in Florida. They were introduced at a party, and Danny, a native of Fernandina Beach, asked her out on a date. The oldest of four children, Danny worked in construction and was close to his family. “Danny is just a perfect gentleman,” Maryann said.
In March 2006, however, she became homesick and moved home.
“She just really hurt me when she left. I tried calling her. The calls got shorter and shorter,” Danny said. He went to work in North Carolina. “I just had to get away. Everything reminded me of her. In the end of July, I took a week off to spend time with my Mom. Out of the blue, she called. I didn’t expect I would ever talk to her again.”
“It was the first time I’d called him,” Maryann said. “I needed to figure myself out first to be in a healthy relationship. That’s what I wanted, but I wasn’t in a position to do that when I was in Florida.” Maryann invited Danny to Connecticut. She sent him a plane ticket, and when he arrived, he applied for jobs.
“On the eighth day, we had dinner, and it was just starting to get dark,” Danny said. Mya, Maryann’s 4-year-old daughter, wanted to swim. “I went to jump in the pool first. I dove into the pool. I don’t remember after that.”
“Danny has an awesome sense of humor. It looked like he was doing a handstand in the water,” Maryann said. Then his arms moved along the bottom in front of him. She thought he’d been underwater too long and shouted: “Danny, enough. It’s not funny.”
He didn’t move.
“I jumped in the pool and held him up, and he was completely blue from his neck up. One arm I had cradling his neck and head, and the other arm was across his side. I went to the edge of the pool to the ladder. I gave him two rescue breaths. He coughed up water. He started moaning. He was aspirating water.” Maryann told Mya to get the phone and called 911. “The EMTs came and put a neck brace on him. They lifted him out on a board. I just stood in the pool and watched. I was in shock.”
Danny was taken by helicopter to Hartford Hospital. When Maryann arrived, “He was lying in a room with a metal ceiling. He was on a metal table. His hands were three times their size. Everything about him was three times his size. He had an inflatable plastic blanket over him that looked like it was connected to a dust buster,” she said.
She called his mother in Florida, and the two stayed with Danny for more than a month while he was in a medically induced coma.
“They told us he was paralyzed from the neck down and he would probably always be on a Ventilator,” Maryann said. When he came out of the coma, Maryann and his mother told Danny his prognosis every day for two weeks before he could understand. Throughout Danny’s convalescence, Maryann worked, made dinner for Mya, put her to bed and drove to the hospital to stay with Danny until midnight.
“One night I just asked her if she would marry me,” Danny said. “I was a little nervous. I was thinking I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She’d always come in and make me happy.”
“I was so glad he was still here. He’s a very strong person. He’s very motivated,” says Maryann, 23, who’s been with Danny through every phase of his recovery. “He can move his arms now. His fingers could come back. It could be tomorrow or in six months. It was not a complete injury to the spinal cord.
“I’m just so thankful that he’s a part of my life. He’s such a good-hearted person. He thinks about other people before himself,” Maryann says, massaging Danny’s aching shoulders.
“It’s hard. It’s not my nature for someone to take care of me. There’s probably not 10 days since I’ve been here that I haven’t cried,” Danny says, straining to keep his head erect after three hours of holding himself upright in his wheelchair. Fighting pain that pervades his neck, shoulders, back and arms, he says with a smile, “Just now I’m beginning to wheel myself just a little.”
“This makes you realize,” Maryann says, “how precious life is.”
Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant
By MARY ANNE LYNCH
Special to the Courant