By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Eric is completely dependent on public assistance for his medical needs and on his parents, who are both in their 60s, and his grandparents, in their 80s, for emotional support and day-to-day care. An aide comes in eight hours a day, five days a week, to look after him so his parents can go to work. Eleven years after the accident, Eric's medical bills are in the millions. Still, at the time, none of the many nurses, doctors, and surgeons who saw Eric on the night of March 3 believed he would survive.
When the Brodys rushed in to the intensive-care unit at Broward General, they learned that Eric was in a stage five coma on the Glasgow Scale, indicating "very severe brain injury." He'd been intubated and dosed with codeine. He required immediate brain surgery. The rescue workers had taken 20 minutes to extricate the unconscious boy from his crumpled Concord; Eric's hands were fractured, his legs lacerated. CT scans at the hospital revealed that the right temporal bone of his skull had fractured and that there was diffuse white matter injury. But most disturbingly, his brain was bleeding, and Dr. Arnold Lang performed emergency surgery to relieve the pressure. Chuck Brody says now, "His brain was going to explode inside his skull."
The Brodys agreed to further surgery to repair the shattered bone and remove blood clots, despite a list of risks that included death and paralysis. The hospital's rabbi was off-duty, so a Catholic priest was found to pray with the Brodys. Chuck and Sharon huddled in the waiting room with the priest, Sharon's parents, and some of the kids' friends as they waited through the surgery.
"They told us Eric probably wasn't going to make it," Chuck says.
When Eric finally came out of surgery, he was in stable but critical condition. But he did not emerge from his coma. The Brodys slept in the waiting room that night and every night for the next two weeks. Eric developed a slew of hospital complications, including staphylococcus, hypokalemia, pneumonia, gastroparesis — maladies the Brodys struggled to comprehend. On every evaluation, his prognosis was listed as poor.
His parents refused to believe it. A nurse urged them to talk to Eric. "We'd talk to him about anything, the weather, what was on TV, what was happening in the news," Sharon says. "We talked and talked and talked. From day one, I knew he was going to get better. I said if he didn't come out of it, I was going to kill him," his mother adds wryly.
Eric's friends David and Jason came to visit every day. So did his girlfriend, Katie. The family pinned up photos on the wall of his room. "We'd say, 'Look Eric, this is your sister, Michelle. Here's your brother, Howard. Here are your grandparents.' We played music, the heavy-metal stuff that he listened to. We played the Offspring." "You're gonna go far, kid."
Chuck vaguely remembers that Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Deborah Bjorndalen showed up at the hospital at some point to ask them some questions. He doesn't recall what she said. But for many days, they had no clue what had actually happened to Eric that night.
The details of Eric's accident began to emerge in bits and pieces. A Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, speeding to roll call in his cruiser, had plowed into Eric on the passenger side as Eric was making a left-hand turn into Windward Isle, just yards from home. They learned that even though Sunrise police had originally responded, those officers were sent away, and that the Broward Sheriff's Office was conducting its own investigation. The deputy who had hit Eric was named Christopher Thieman; he had survived with a few minor injuries. Apart from that, they were too distracted to focus on the nuances, too busy asking themselves, "Why us? Why our son?" They still hadn't seen the police report.
On April 10, Eric was transferred from Broward General to HealthSouth Sunrise Rehabilitation Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Sunrise. He remained in a coma for six months. There were complications. Eric rubbed his feet raw. He developed bedsores on his buttocks so severe that doctors recommended plastic surgery. He ran a persistent fever that would not respond to antibiotics. The site of his tracheotomy got infected. He had anemia. He moaned constantly, turning his head slowly from side to side.
Eric's eyes began to open, but he wasn't responding to commands or visual stimulus, and his movements were deemed purely reflexive. Eric had been admitted to HealthSouth for a comprehensive rehabilitation program that was supposed to include speech, occupational, physical, and respiratory therapies. But that sort of high-level coaching seemed like a receding dream. Eric's girlfriend, Katie, found the sight of him, bristling with tubes and strapped to a bed, too hard to take; a couple of months after the accident, she stopped coming to see him. At one point, Sharon remembers, a nurse brusquely advised her to face facts: Her son was going to remain a vegetable. "She told us, 'You're going to have to put him away.' "