The quiet comeback
Westside man hangs in there, 6 years after hit-and-run driver left him for dead
Mike Firestone doesn't remember what happened to him the day he bicycled home from his job at the Westside Farm Crest Oct. 13, 2000.
It's probably a good thing.
What he does remember is waking up from a coma over two months later in a Thornton medical rehabilitation facility with no idea how he got there or why his neck was being stabilized.
Only from accident reports and what others told him did he piece together the grisly details: A vehicle had plowed into his bicycle from behind, leaving him unconscious on the road.
(The driver, an illegal immigrant who had allegedly been drinking, left the scene, but was incriminated by the bicycle spokes sticking out from the radiator. He has since been sentenced to jail time, after which he is to be deported.)
Firestone's injuries included a shoulder dislocation, a doubly fractured vertebra on his neck, two punctured lungs, various broken bones, loss of hearing in his right ear, and a subdermal hematoma (pressure on the brain).
“That night in emergency I walked right by him,” said Cecie Weldon, manager of the 1st Stop (formerly Farm Crest) store at 21st Street and Colorado Avenue, who had been Firestone's boss previously at a 7-Eleven and at the time was training him to be a Farm Crest assistant manager. “I didn't recognize him,” she said. “He was one big roadburn from the head down.”
Initially, she said, doctors were pessimistic if Firestone would walk again or even live.
“He did a really good recovery,” said Weldon, who was made his legal guardian. “We told him we were holding his job for him. I think that's what kept him going.”
Firestone returned to work at Farm Crest in February 2001, and has been there ever since. He works just 10 hours a week - all that he he's allowed under his disability pension's income rules - but, living nearby, he stops in frequently to see what's happening and to volunteer in small ways. “He's always here first thing at 6 a.m. to give me a full report,” Weldon said with a smile.
The way Firestone sees it, he's gotten over most of his injuries - and is OK with his hearing aid - but he knows he's not the same. “My equilibrium is messed up,” he said recently. “When I'm walking, I can kind of feel myself sway.”
An offshoot of that condition is the inability to drive. That's been a disappointment for the former Army Reserves truck driver (and 15-year Army veteran).
Another strong area for him in the Reserves was computer work, but nowadays he is not fast enough on a cash register to keep the public happy - so Weldon chiefly assigns him to stocking. Much of the time he's in the cooler (including scrubbing its tiled floor three times a week, Weldon noted with pleasure). He takes pride in easing the workload for the clerks at the registers. “I take care of it so other people can devote their time on the outside,” he explained.
Firestone is philosophical about what happened to him. For one thing, he feels lucky to be alive. “Some people might not have made it,” he said. “I thank God I lived.” He also got a kick out of the time, not long after his recovery, when he walked into his doctor's office. “Their jaws hit the floor,” he said. “I could tell they were surprised.”
He also learned the hard truth about his now-ex-wife. They had been having a tough time before the accident; afterward, she was worse than unsupportive, Firestone recalled. Eventually, he got a divorce. That's why Weldon became his guardian.
Asked what's been the hardest aspect of coming back from the accident, he said it's the way people perceive him. “Because my balance is out of whack, I don't always respond right, and people who might not have known me before think I'm ignoring them,” he pointed out.
He continues, in quiet ways, in quest of his former strength. One strategy is working out with the weights and exercise equipment he has in his apartment; another is playing video games, which he believes improves his eye-hand coordination.
All in all, he said, “I take it one day at a time. I try to build back gradually. There's no way I can come back in a snap.”
Westside Pioneer article