Kyle David: A night that changed a family's life

David works to recover from crash that left him paralyzed
June 19, 2017

Franklin, an 8-month-old Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, cuddles up with Kyle David in his bed.

He looks a lot like any pet snuggling up with his owner, yet this bond is stronger than most. Franklin is a therapy pig, and he has played a major role in Kyle's slow recovery following a horrific traffic crash 18 months ago that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

It’s hard to imagine the changes that have occurred for the David family of Lewes since that night, Jan. 10, 2016.

Kyle was coming home from a day trip to Baltimore with friends. As he slept in the back seat of his Jeep, the driver ran a red light at the Route 16-Route 113 intersection in Ellendale.

The force of the collision rolled the Jeep five times and partially ejected Kyle, breaking his neck, crushing his C4 and C5 vertebrae, and tearing his aorta.

He was flown to Christiana Hospital where doctors repaired his aorta, repaired and stabilized his neck and tried to repair his dislocated spinal cord. But his injuries were so severe, he emerged from the surgeries paralyzed.

That set off a chain-reaction of events that caught the family off guard, and they are still playing catch-up more than a year later.

“I would sit under the tree in the front yard and cry,” says his mother Stephanie. “I’d call people not knowing what to do or where to turn.”

Their Edgewater Estates home was not handicapped accessible, and the family had none of the equipment needed for person who is paralyzed. It was winter, but they had no way to get him into the bathroom, so they had to bathe him outside. At 6 feet, 4 inches, Kyle has a large wheelchair that could not get through the bathroom door or down the hallway. They also had no van to transport him to therapy.

Friends would build a ramp leading to the front door, and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, where Kyle spent three months following his three-week stay at Christiana Hospital, donated a wheelchair accessible van and lift. 

Still, even after some recent work, the house is not fully accessible, and Kyle’s wheelchair still does not fit down the hallway.

Slow progress

The family room is now Kyle’s room, where he has a large screen-television. Seven months following the crash, Kyle finally learned to operate his cell phone again, and it quickly became his lifeline.

Using the phone, in turn, has helped him gain better use of his right hand. It also helps him to stay in contact with his friends, and he now maintains an active Facebook account where he keeps people up to date with his progress.

A 2014 Cape Henlopen High School graduate, Kyle said his spirits were lifted thanks to the tremendous outpouring of cards and personal notes he received from students and staff during his hospital stays.

His mother says Kyle, 22, has made progress over the past year. From the early days following the crash when he was on a ventilator, he is now able to raise his arms and even move a few toes on his left foot. Through extensive therapy sessions, he's able to move his fingers a little, his mother says with a smile.

Kyle is alert as he talks. “It’s about baby steps,” he says. “The doctors are thrilled when I was able to wiggle a few toes.”

Sussex program helps 

In early spring, the David family's fortunes changed thanks to work accomplished through a community development block grant rehabilitation program administered by Sussex County Community Development and Housing.

The home now has a handicap ramp to the front door and complete wheelchair accessibility in the bathroom, which is now equipped with a roll-in shower, rails, hand-held shower faucet, accessible vanity and a widened bathroom doorway.

“Without them I'd still be dirty, sitting in my bed with no real way to get outside,” Kyle said. “And they did the work really fast.”

When it's warm, Kyle sits outside on the front deck and even got some color on his cheeks during recent hot weather. 

It was a local man who is no stranger to helping others who put the wheels in motion to help the family.

Frank Shade, a retired Sussex County employee, learned of the family's plight and contacted county officials.

Shade said it was a woman’s purse that alerted him to the family's obstacles. “My wife was selling a purse through social media, and Stephanie was interested in it. That’s how I found out what they were facing,” he said.

A few months later, work was completed to widen the hallway and front door so Kyle's wheelchair can move through the house.

Shade is working on other projects to help the Davids as well, including obtaining a new van. The donated one they received has high mileage and has already broken down on the road.

“I don’t know what we would have done without him,” Stephanie said. “He came to our rescue.”

“You can’t begin to plan for something like this or have enough money in savings,” Shade said. “I can’t imagine what they are going through.”

He said the good news is that as terrible as Kyle's injuries are, the spinal cord was not severed. “It's possible with time his brain can start talking to his arms and legs again,” Shade said.

Trips to Philadelphia for therapy

Finances are tight, and without help from family, Stephanie says, she doesn’t know what they would do.

Up until a few weeks ago, they were making two trips a week to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital for specialized spinal cord therapy, a trip that costs them $100 each time. It's the same hospital where Stephanie underwent rehabilitation for a brain injury she suffered in a 1992 crash, when she was hit by a drunken driver. For now, the family has cut sessions down to once a week.

The only medication that relieves Kyle's daily spasms is medical marijuana. “I had smoked weed before and knew what it could do,” Kyle said. “My doctor was open to me testing it out, and it has worked. I want to stay away from opioids.”

While insurance would pay for prescription opioids, it does not cover the cost of medical marijuana at $1,600 a month. Kyle is registered through the Delaware Medical Marijuana Program and has a patient card. Until the dispensary opened in Lewes in late May, he would get his prescription filled in Wilmington during trips to Philadelphia.

Stephanie has been forced to cut back her work hours to take care of Kyle. Her husband, Jeff, a retired Milford police officer, has a lawn-cutting business and works at Brandywine Assisted Living, but his hours are limited because he has to drive Kyle to his appointments. The couple has one other child – a daughter, Angela – who is a third-grade teacher at East Dover Elementary School.

Time for community to rally

Shade said it's time for the community to rally around the family to relieve the financial pressures they are facing. “This is what we are supposed to do,” he said. For more information contact Shade at 302-645-1846. “We need to get this house fixed, and they need a new van,” Shade said.

A friend, Chelsea Greenlee, has set up a GoFundMe page and so far, more than $11,000 has been raised to help the family with medical and living expenses. She has set a goal to raise $15,000.

“I believe in the power of prayer, and I will not stop praying until my friend can walk again,” she wrote on the page. “Please help him and his family on this journey to recovery, so Kyle can live his life and enjoy it the way everyone should. On top of prayer, I ask you to help me raise money for Kyle's family in an attempt to try and minimize some of his medical expenses.”

“I think about what I should be doing – hanging out with friends and going to the beach,” Kyle says. “But I can't let that get me down. I have to focus on recovering and keeping a good attitude.”