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BOARDMAN A lesson learned the painful way



Published: Sun, July 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Similar injuries leave most people paralyzed, doctors said.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

BOARDMAN -- Some people might say that township resident Ron Rossi had it all -- a happy marriage, good job, nice home, two children and good health.

After an accident nearly killed him, Rossi said he's learned to appreciate his good fortune more than ever. Now, he wants to tell others to be thankful for the blessings in life and not to take senseless risk -- including refusing to wear automobile safety belts.

Rossi's new understanding started in near tragedy more than two months ago, in the early hours of May 10, when he and a family friend left a fund-raiser in Vienna Township. The two men got into a Ford Explorer and headed for the highway that would take them home.

The accident: Several minutes into the trip, Rossi's friend, who was driving the SUV, lost control of the vehicle on an off ramp of state Route 11. The vehicle flipped over and landed in a ditch.

Rossi was ejected through the windshield.

"The next thing I knew I was laying in a ditch alongside Route 11. I was taken by ambulance to St. E's and, when I woke up, they told me I had broken my back in several places, my neck, my leg and some ribs."

Rossi had not fastened his seat belt when he got in the car. His friend, however, used his seat belt and was not injured.

"I have told my wife and other people that I have a bad habit of not wearing my seat belt when I'm on the passenger side and this was one of those occasions where I just neglected to put it on," he said. "Had I worn the seat belt, I probably would not have been ejected and injured so bad."

Photos of the wrecked Explorer seem to confirm Rossi's suspicions. The front passenger seat was virtually untouched in the accident.

Grim prognosis: Hospital personnel told Rossi's family that it would be a miracle if he was not paralyzed from the neck and back injuries. He underwent surgery and was placed in a body vest and halo, a steel device that is attached to the shoulders and encases the head with four bars and a circular ring, to keep his back and neck from moving during the healing process.

Two months after the accident and, with the help of much prayer and family support, Rossi has the full use of his arms and legs. He is up and around, though moving much slower than before because of the halo and body vest he continues to wear. Still, he said, not wearing a seat belt was not worth the pain, suffering and stress he and his family had to endure.

Hard lessons: Rossi now takes the time to speak to anybody, especially young people, about the dangers and risk of not wearing a seat belt. He is considering taking that message into the schools to pupils once he is completely healed.

"I wish I could give them all a picture of myself when I went into the hospital so they could see me in the halo, my blackened eyes, broken legs and blood dripping from my ears and nose so they can understand the importance," he said.

That is a picture his 17-year-old and 23-year-old sons will never forget. Both have a picture of Rossi in the hospital taped to the dashboards of their cars as a reminder to buckle up.

Rossi's wife, Sandy, remembers the horror of May 10. She offers advice about showing care for loved ones.

"I tell everyone I know not to leave a person mad because you just don't know what might happen," she said.

Sandy Rossi recalled that the couple had a serious disagreement the day before the accident. She said they did not speak at all the day of the accident for the first time in their marriage.

Then came the call from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

"You just don't realize what you have until you almost lose it," she said.

For anyone who still does not see the benefit in buckling up before driving, Rossi said they need only to take his experience in its totality. First, he said the halo is far from comfortable and had to be screwed into his head for stability. The screws occasionally must be tightened at the hospital.

As an afterthought, he added that the screws were put in place while he was still conscious with only a local anesthesia.

The body vest cannot be taken off, meaning his wife must bathe him around the vest and take care not to hurt body parts that are not quite healed. The combination of the vest and halo makes sleeping or riding in an automobile far less enjoyable than before.

Rossi said understanding the pain, the fear of being paralyzed and the hard road to recovery should be enough to make even the hardest skeptic strap in on the highway.

Rossi is expected to make a complete recovery.

"Obviously God spared me for a reason," he said. "I don't know if that reason is to deliver a message about seat belts or some other message he wants to convey through me, but there is definitely something I am here to do."

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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