MIRACLE ON 91ST STREET
"It was after 12:45am. I was sleeping on my couch when Joe D called to tell me that you got hit really badly and that you were pronounced dead but they brought you back to life and you were at Jamaica hospital and to get there now. I made it to the hospital and we met in the lobby. Everyone was crying; it was horrible! All I remember everyone saying is we have to get him to a better hospital. We stayed until the CT scan results came in but we couldn't see you. It was a sad, sad night. We all prayed like we never prayed before!” Carla M-Franklin Square, NY
"I was waiting tables in an Italian restaurant upstate when I got the news about Joey's accident. After my mother received a phone call from Joey’s sister, she immediately called me at the restaurant to tell me Joey was in a bad car accident and was in the hospital. I remember my throat swelling up and not being able to ask about the details. A rush of thoughts and questions went through my head. Was he already dead and they just weren't telling me? Was he in pain? Was he going to be crippled? I pulled myself together and got back to work. I guess the thoughts of what Joey was going through preoccupied my mind. I was screwing up orders and customers were complaining. This waitress, Colleen, who I was good friends with, knew something was wrong. She pulled me aside and asked is everything ok? Trying not to cry, I just looked down at the floor and told her my best friend had been involved in a very serious car accident. For the rest of the night, she helped me out with my tables and got me through my shift. After the restaurant closed, I gave her a ride home, which gave us a chance to talk. Once we were in her driveway, I broke down and cried. I told her how Joey loved to dance and what if he never can after this. It helped having her there to let it all out. Colleen and I dated for several months after that. Joey and I joke about how he was ultimately responsible for this love connection. Over the past thirty years Joey and I have had some great times and I'm glad he’s still around to laugh about this. After all he’s been through, he’s an inspiration and a true friend." Michael H-Rockland County, NY
"I was in my dorm room at Stonybrook University when my girlfriend called me and said 'JP died.' I was so con¬fused, knowing JP was a young and healthy guy. So I asked her, 'What are you talking about? Are you sure?' She then told me he had been in an awful car accident and had died. I was really upset and trying to deal with all these emotions while going to classes and studying. I was so happy when I found out a few days later that you were still alive. It was a very odd experience, trying to come to terms with the fact that one of your friends died and then finding out he was still alive." Jason K - Freehold, N.J.
"I was working that horrible night at Lenny's Clam Bar. We were going out after work and I was trying to get JP to join us. This was the most devastating scene I have ever witnessed, for we really thought we may have lost a good friend. I re¬member praying and crying out to Joe D in the restaurant. We all stayed quiet and somber for the next month working at the restaurant not know¬ing if you were improving. All we could do was hope and pray for you our great friend. "
Tom C- St Louis, MO
"I remember Anthony T telling me that he heard the boom from his bedroom and ran out to see the accident a block away and he thought about that he just chatted with you the day before. I remember being panicked and rushing to the hospital to get straight answers, to clarify rumors about brain dead or coma or paralyzed. At the hospital I saw you with the tracheotomy and all the equipment, but somehow you didn't look uncomfortable, your face was always looking leftward towards the door as if to greet your friends and family. And though I was still worried, I had my faith that you would pull through. Most of the days I was there, I remembered talking with all of your family, but I found the most comfort and looked forward to speaking to Mike’s wife Diane, I think she had the most faith and my outlook for you was best at those moments. Your CPA results came in and my hopes and prayers eventually came true that you would still be able to practice. There were times I cried and other times that I left and we talked about stories about you, kind of like a funeral." Greg S-Amityville, NY
"The morning after the accident, my friend called to let me know there was this horrible car accident on her corner and someone was killed. When she described the car I said, 'that sounds like Joe Parenti’s car' and she said, 'Yes, I think that was his name.' I called the local rectory to find out if anyone died the night before. The priest let me know that you were alive and in the city hospital. We drove together to the hospital but only he was allowed in to say a prayer since you were in critical condition. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway with your mom when he came out of your room and told me, 'He’s in very bad condition.' I told him, 'If he was meant to die, he would have died last night. He’s gonna pull through this.'”
June M - Howard Beach, NY
"I received a phone call from my mother telling me some-thing happened around the corner. She was explaining the details then she said I might know the person. She mentioned your name. I was in shock. I remember coming to the hospital and wanted to come see you right away but we were told to wait a few days. When I finally got back to the hospital that week, I remember seeing your brother and the rest of your family. I couldn't even look at you, I didn’t even recognize you. I remember meeting up with friends talking about you and how you were my first friend in school." Michael S-Bethpage, NY
"It was Tuesday morning, December 6, 1988, about 7:30 am, but I remember it as if was just yesterday. I was working in my office at a new company as a young Engineer. My phone rang. It was my mother. Listening to my mom for just 10 seconds, my mouth dropped, my face went flush, and my eyes reddened and teared. I hung up the phone and started to leave my office. My associate a few feet away said, 'Tony, what is it?.' I couldn’t talk. I mumbled something to him like 'gotta go…accident,' and ran out of the office. My mom had told me, 'Your good friend, Joey Parenti was in a terrible collision late last night on 91st Street. He had been revived several times and he is in a coma at Jamaica Hospital.' I don’t remember the 20 mile drive to the hospital. With my emotions in high gear, and my brain in complete disarray, not processing, the drive probably took 5 minutes at 100 mph, rushing to see my best friend. I couldn’t get there fast enough. I remember walking into the waiting area being met my Joey’s family. I was in full tears, unable to speak, but all that came out was 'wha…, wha....' His brother, Mike, also my best friend, just hugged me. We sat and prayed. Over the following weeks and months, and years, all close friends and relatives were by Joey’s side supporting his long, slow, very difficult, journey to recovery. From hospital to hospital, institute to institute, I was by Joey’s side, just like the 10 years before as childhood pal. And today, we’re still best friends…26 years later." Anthony M - New Hyde Park, NY.
The following is from David L, my occupational therapist from Rusk. When I contacted him and told him I was writing a book, he sent me this-
I have known Joey Parenti for over 24 years. I admit I have not been in touch with him, but I have thought about him often. He is one of the greatest teachers I ever had and much of what I have achieved as a professional, I can attribute to his influence on me. It has been almost 24 years since I first started as an occupational therapist. As part of our training, we had to complete 6 months of clinic based internships. During this time we worked full time (though without pay) in various settings and were under direct supervision from a licensed therapist. I had requested to be assigned to a rehabilitation hospital located near my family in New York. Prior to arriving at NYU Rusk Institute I had several other clinical exposures on a part time basis as part of our academic course work. But I was still pretty "green" in terms of my understanding of what an occupational therapist did and who I was as a health care professional. Looking back it seems hard to remember how naive I was about a lot of things. Although I had been a teacher for 5 years prior to going to graduate school for occupational therapy, I didn't feel "grown up" and I was starting a career all over again. I felt like I knew very little about what I was really supposed to do to provide "rehabilitation in activities of daily living" to the clients I would meet. And I was a nervous wreck about being evaluated on my "hands on" clinical skills. Rusk Institute is very well known on the east coast as a premier rehabilitation hospital from its early beginnings after World War II. I arrived all polished and dressed in my required uniform of navy blue khakis, white collared shirt, and white tennis shoes. I felt I even looked new. It was my very first week that I was assigned to work with a new patient recently admitted. He was a twenty-three year old young man who had been in a terrible car accident that had resulted in orthopedic and neurologic injuries. I cannot remember how long after the accident Joey was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital. I am certain his stay in acute care was quite long. I had not had a lot of exposure to patients with brain injury in school. I remember feeling anxious when I was told I had a new patient to work with. Most of the patients I had worked with previously had been older women with injuries from falls and older folks who had strokes. Certain details stand out about Joey and our time working together. (By the way I distinctly recall calling him "Joey" - not Joe as he goes by now). I have told certain stories about him many times in professional presentations, to my work colleagues, and to the countless occupational therapy students I have taught in my later years. When I completed my internship, I had to do a case presentation about one patient I worked with. When I returned to school, I presented my experience of working with Joey for those three months. Ten years later, I was walking through a convention hall at a professional conference and my professor to whom I presented that case study stopped me. I had not seen her in ten years but she recognized me. After a brief hello she said "I still remember the story of that young man you worked with on your internship." You really learned a lot from him". Even the first time I told my story of working with Joey, people seemed to pay attention and be moved. These are my recollections that I hope provide and additional perspective on this extraordinary man who has an extraordinary story.
The first thing I remember was that although Joey was only 23, I did not feel much older than him. I was 29, but I was starting a new career and still in school, so developmentally I did not feel my age (whatever that means). I had not established a job, a living space of my own, or a committed relationship. Heck graduate school had not even left me time for dating! So when I met Joey, part of me saw him as a peer. The other part of me was terrified that I did not have the skill or experience to work with him and help him recover from his injuries. As an occupational therapist, I focus on helping people develop skills so they can return to doing all the things we do every day. When we are well, we perform activities that take little thought, like getting dressed and eating breakfast. Often while we are doing these types of activities we are thinking of other things. While I shower in the morning I may be thinking about the movie I am going to see tonight with my friend. I do not have to think about actually holding the soap and moving my arms and legs to wash them. Our brains allow us to do some basic activities on "auto pilot" while others require focused concentration - like figuring out your taxes. Our brains control the strength and movement of our muscles, the way things feel to us, and even how fast our heart beats or our eyes blink when we are performing a certain task. These "activities of daily living" include the basics of eating, grooming, dressing, bathing, toileting, and moving from one place to another (usually by walking). We usually "do" these basic tasks every day in order to go "do" something else. We go to work, to school, to the activities we call "fun". We even "do" these basic things in order to have relationships, think about how to solve our problems, and spend time sleeping and dreaming of our futures. We call the wide range of everyday activities we do with purpose, those things that mean something to us, our "occupations". So an occupational therapist uses these activities or occupations as a means to help restore someone's ability to participate again in their lives...their chosen"occupations". Joey's life had been severely disrupted. His injuries included physical limitations and mental and cognitive limitations. It was my job to find out who Joey Parenti was and help him "get back to himself" as much as possible. I didn't have a clue as to where to begin. Thank goodness I was smart enough to listen to Joey - because he was the expert on him. It turned out that the all the other therapists in the clinic who Joey worked with were female. I remember being told by my supervisor even before I met Joey that some of the staff thought he had been "inappropriate" when they were working with him. When people have brain injuries sometimes their judgment or ability to "read" a social situation can be affected. The female staff thought Joey's attempts at casual greetings or conversation about their lives, or his attempts at joking with them were examples of being "inappropriate" towards women. The female staff thought that working with a male therapist (me) would help Joey re-learn "appropriate" interactions with women (of course the assumption was that this behavior was new for Joey - that before the accident he was appropriate with women). So my job was to listen to Joey and learn about who he was. While we got to learn about each other, I also tried to help him regain other skills. Joey had orthopedic injuries to his neck and arms from his accident and hospitalization. He had lost ALOT of muscle mass and was weak and off balance. We worked on physical strengthening and increasing range of movements in his arms and neck so he could do his basic activities of daily living. While we worked together, Joey applied other skills he was re-learning with other therapists like walking and bending, even talking and swallowing food. Joey had a tracheotomy and needed to re-learn how to use his breathing differently to use his voice. Besides all these obstacles to these basic activities, Joey had difficulty with thinking. He had memory issues, difficulty with numbers, difficulty problem solving, and difficulty thinking clearly in a busy room or setting. His brain was injured and he could no longer rely on it to easily do ALL these things at once. Every little thing...and every big thing Joey needed or wanted to do took his conscious thought. It was a huge effort. It made him fatigue easily. AND it made his head hurt. So how did Joey re-gain himself? He shared with me who he was and what he liked to do before his accident. Because I learned from the expert - who Joey was - I was able to help him become who he wanted to be. When I met him he was quite thin, his muscles were atrophied and weak. He had difficulty turning his head and even holding it straight because of tight muscles. One day early on, Joey showed me some photographs in his room (yes, it was that long ago - before the iPhone). I'll never forget that day. It was the first time I learned that each patient, each client, each person I work with...is a person. I saw Joey as he was before the accident. He was a young man who worked out rigorously, going to the gym, and even practicing body building poses. He was quite strong and muscular and involved in many recreational activities. I saw a photo of him with his buddies in a car going out for a night on the town. And what I remember most about that day was thinking "He's just like me. That could be me hanging out with my friends. That could have been me in that accident". I learned that Joey also loved being with his family, eating meals with friends and going to school to become an accountant. The other thing I learned is that Joey loved flirting. He was 23 years old, a handsome muscular Italian boy from New York. He loved flirting with pretty girls making them smile and laugh. It was harmless flirting. Meeting girls, going out on dates, dancing, eating out with friends - these were his occupations. Knowing Joey meant that his attempts at social interactions with the female therapists were seen for what they were - just as a way he was trying to regain who he was - before the accident. So I helped Joey the best I could. He allowed me to practice different ways to help strengthen his muscles and stretch out his joints. He allowed me to challenge his balance and improve his ability to move more smoothly when he was doing his daily activities. And he allowed me to help him use adaptations and ways to improve his memory, his math skills, and his organization. It was not easy for him. It was frustrating and reminded him of all he had lost in the accident. But he wanted more challenges. He was determined to succeed. He took the best part of who he was...and applied it to regaining Joey.And I was privileged to know him during that time. And learn something from him. David L, Occupational Therapist, Los Angeles, CA