Struggling towards rehabilitation - A year later, crash victim still trying to recover

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:01

WEST MILFORD — Diane Sidoli can push her wheelchair down the hallway of her West Milford home. But there’s not enough room to turn around. To come back up she has to first maneuver through a bedroom doorway, turn, then work through the doorway again. It’s just part of living a handicapped life in a house that isn’t handicap accessible. It wasn’t always that way for Diane. But in some lives, there comes a random moment which changes everything. For her, that moment came while she was driving from work to her son’s day care. It was just after 6 p.m. on Sept. 23 of last year. The then-31-year-old worked at the Hamburg Veterinary Clinic as a veterinarian and her 9-month-old son R. C. was at Precious Years in West Milford. She was winding her way along Warwick Turnpike nearing Black Rock Road. Meanwhile, Joseph Amore had just left his house in his girlfriend’s GMC Jimmy with five medications (including Valium) in his system and a blood alcohol level of .22 — nearly three times the legal limit. According to the police reconstruction report, Amore was traveling just under 70 miles an hour when he crossed the center line of Warwick Turnpike. He crashed head-on into Diane’s Subaru. For more than two hours Diane was trapped in the overturned car while rescue workers peeled off the roof and cut her seat away in order to remove her and take her to Westchester Medical Center. All the bones in her legs and arms and pelvis were broken — in multiple places. She had severe muscle damage in her legs from being crushed. Although she was conscious, she was hooked up to life support, for both breathing and nourishment. Within a few weeks, doctors amputated both her legs above the knees. That was the beginning of a long medical saga that includes a dozen more surgeries and most of ten months of hospitalization. The day of this interview Rich Sidoli, Diane’s husband of 12 years, had taken the day off from his marketing job to take her to a doctor’s appointment. Arriving home, Diane got out of the car and into her wheelchair and Rich began pushing Diane up the hill to their house. Numerous kind-hearted people — both friends and strangers — have done quite a bit to help the couple, including building two ramps into their home, making many adjustments inside the house and replacing the sliding glass back door with one that is wheelchair accessible. But their house sits on a hill and because the septic system is under the front lawn, they do not have the option of putting a ramp from the driveway to the ramp into the house. Rich has to push the wheelchair uphill through the grass while Diane cheers him on. “When we had all that rain recently, the grass was wet and I didn’t think I was going to make it, the front wheels kept getting stuck and sinking” he said. Neither of them are looking forward to winter weather. “I’m not really sure how we are going to do it,” Rich said. For months, they have been looking for a flat, buildable piece of land in the area or a handicap accessible ranch to buy, but so far they haven’t had any luck. They could build a lift from the garage to the main part of the house, but that doesn’t address the fact that their hallways are too narrow. So while they hope for a house or parcel of land to come on the market, Diane continues her rehabilitation. She has been fitted with prosthetic legs, but learning to use them is a process she hasn’t quite mastered yet. Learning to walk, she said, is her number one priority. Although she would like to eventually go back to work at the veterinary clinic, she isn’t sure if she will be able to recapture her skills. Doing surgery, for instance, requires dexterity. At the moment, she cannot turn her right wrist all the way over. “I’d also have to wrestle rambunctious dogs and I’m not really ready for that.” R. C., now just shy being two, has in some ways become a bit of an assistant to his mom. He is often helpful to her, but at the same time he is still a two-year-old. He has learned what corners she can’t get into and sometimes retreats to them. He continues in full time day care because there are too many things Diane can’t do. “For instance,” she said, “I can get him out of his crib, but I can’t put him in.” She said she had originally given herself two years to get back on track and is still hoping to stick to that. Amore, the drunk driver that hit her, is serving six years in prison for first-degree assault. “In a weird way, there have been some good things,” Diane said. “It’s definitely changed the way I think about people. We are so thankful for all the help the community has given us and all the fundraising the animal hospital people did. It always seemed to me that people were so busy with their own lives, and yet here they were, so willing and helpful. It’s been amazing.”