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> Derek K.
New York's Bravest to Living Independently - A True Fighter
being a young-strapping New York City
Firefighter. You have braved high-rise fires and
all kinds of danger. Now imagine in a moment all of
that is taken away from you. That scenario is exactly
what happened to the man you are about to meet. Derek
K., was one of New York's bravest he fought fires and has continued
his fight from a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord
injury to living independently.
I was a New York City Firefighter. I was born
in Queens, New York. I grew up in Flushing. After
high school my parents moved to Florida and I got
the boot so I went to work. I decided that I wanted
to become a firefighter. It took me seven
years to get in. I was a firefighter for five years.
I was on rotation and my last company was Engine 8
in mid-town Manhattan. We responded to high-rise
fires and class-threesí that had to be
investigated. If fire doors were opened we had
to look and see what is wrong. It was a
very busy company.
Half my company - Engine 8, Ladder 2, died in the
twin towers on 9/11. People say I'm lucky to be in
my condition because my accident happened before
that it could have been me in at the World Trade
Center. God bless the New York City Fire
Department they helped me and stayed on my back so I
wouldn't give up.
told us what happened on the night he was injured.
On December 4,
2000, I was crossing Queens Boulevard and a guy was speeding
and bombed a red-light and hit me. I was thrown into
the air by the force of the hit I had no chance - if
you don't time it right (crossing Queens Boulevard)
you have no chance. I got a brain injury from that.
I used to be two hundred and seventy five to two
hundred and eighty five pounds; my arm measured
twenty-three inches. I worked out at a gym in
Bayside and I contribute being in shape to being
able to survive my accident. It's interesting there
wasn't a broken bone in my body but my spinal cord
was severed and I'm paralyzed from the chest-down.
On Queens Boulevard so many people died over the
years before my accident; because of being hit by
cars. The City decided to put in cross walks, lights
and barriers after the fact. I believe it was
because I was in the news after I was hit that they
finally decided to do something about it after that.
and John Szalkowski, RRT, Respiratory Therapist.
was the beginning of a tough journey for Derek from
hospital to nursing home and finally to Northeast Center
for Special Care.
I was hit I went into a coma for several months. When
I woke up from it I was on a ventilator and I had a
trach and g-tube. I had nothing in my mouth for three
years. My mom was there when I woke up - she means a
lot to me. The doctors in the hospital said I
would never eat again and I said baloney!
When I left the hospital I went to a nursing home.
They couldn't do nothing for me so my mom found
Northeast Center and found out there was an opening
and we took it. I literally left the nursing
home I was then in the next day and came here.
Northeast Center has done wonders. My first month here
they were able to take the trach out. Then my g-tube
came out. I took a test and I have a swallowing
disorder but I learned how to eat. I make a little
regurgitation noise when I eat but I can't help that,
I'd rather eat than not eat. I started eating chopped
foods and I'm on thickened liquids because of my
swallowing - this place had done wonders for me.
I learned how to be independent here again and I've
changed. It's funny after my accident I turned
from being a slob to being a neat freak, I keep my
room immaculate. I find now I'm kind of impatient but
I've been working on that. I did have a lot of anger
at first after the accident, but I've changed - I
think I'm a nice guy now.
Poccoroba, CNA, and John Pease, CNA.
he worked at rehabilitation, the community reentry
department at Northeast Center for Special Care was hard
at work setting up community supports. Derek told
us of his plans after discharge.
Center helped me get the TBI Waiver and they are going
to help me with supports I need. My
brother lives in upstate New York and I am going to
relocate there. I went up to visit my brother and I
saw a nice little community that I liked. I have aides who come
in the morning and then at night to help me and I
am getting a counselor and someone to help me
exercise. I'll have someone to help me cook and to
take me to the gym. My brother being so close is also
a help. I have a single bedroom apartment with wide
doors for my wheelchair.
When I get to my new apartment I'm going to chill for
a while - I want to get my life back, and get a daily
routine. My dream is to do some volunteering; I want
to help other people by telling them about my
experience and let them know what I've learned so that
they have hope. If I could give someone who is going
through what I have gone through I would tell them to
do as much for themselves as they can. I can shave
myself, brush my teeth by myself - try to do whatever
you can do for yourself. If you fail then you ask for
help. Someday I want to go back and work with the fire
department, maybe a job using computers - I'd like to
pay the New York City Fire Department back for all the
help and support they gave me.
K., graduated from the Northeast Center program and has
returned to the community. He lives independently
in an apartment with supports.
we asked Derek what it was like being at Northeast
Center for Special Care.
are a lot of good people that have helped me at
Northeast Center. Jean and Laura, my occupational
therapists have been great and so has Pam, a
restorative aide who works with me on the standing
table everyday. I learned a lot of little tricks here
- they showed be how to blow my nose, I learned how to
do pressure relief - lifting myself up from the
wheelchair every fifteen minutes; I learned how to
transfer using a board.
This place has really helped me they taught me how to
do things for myself. I want to come back to visit.
has successfully reentered the community and
is living in his apartment. He
left Northeast Center for Special Care with a
fighting determination to live independently
using the skills he learned here.
At Northeast Center we also fight for our
Resident-Neighbors with brain injury and
spinal cord injury to be able to live as
independently as possible in the most integrated
setting. Our mission
drives our philosophy and treatment
programs. Our successful outcomes of
assisting people to return to the community
are recognized worldwide.
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