Carlos “Charlie” Vazquez wiped away tears of gratitude on Tuesday when he saw the crowd of people waving colorful pompoms and heard clapping and cheering in the lobby of Glen Cove Hospital. He was leaving at last, after being hospitalized for over 100 days.
The accident he survived, in which he was hurled 20 feet in the air before landing on a cement sidewalk, might have claimed the life of someone else, but not her “man of steel,” his wife, Elizabeth Martino, said. She and their daughter Bryana Vazquez, 27, never doubted he would recover, although it was touch and go for a good while.
Vazquez, 56, who lives in Glen Cove, is employed by the hospital in its environmental services department and is also a crossing guard at the Glen Cove City School District.
Vazquez had just crossed a group of children on Dosoris Lane outside Deasy Elementary School on the morning of Oct. 6 when he was struck from behind by an SUV driven by
an 82-year-old Bayville man. Vazquez, who has a prosthetic leg from an accident years ago, doesn’t remember anything from the day of his recent accident until early November.
Vazquez suffered two cardiac arrests, one before being airlifted to Manhasset’s North Shore University Hospital and an additional one in the emergency room. Rushed to the intensive critical care unit, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, fractured pelvis, and kidney failure. Stabilizing, he was admitted to Glen Cove Hospital’s brain injury unit on Oct. 25. There, he continued what doctors said on Tuesday was a remarkable recovery.
Once outside the hospital, Vazquez wiped away even more tears when he was greeted by roughly 75 children, many waving homemade signs of support. His friends had also come, as did residents and members of Glen Cove’s first responders who lined the walkway to celebrate Vazquez’s survival and congratulate him on his ability to return home.
He and his family say they know he will recover. And doctors, are hopeful too. Although he left the hospital in a wheelchair, Martino said doctors think he will walk again.
“I’m excited for him to come home,” she said. “You gotta have faith.”
It has been a rough road for Bryana, too. A secretary at the hospital’s brain injury unit, she rushed to the site of the accident when a friend called her to say her father had been injured.
“My world just stopped that day,” she recalled. “Dad and I are very close. When I got to the scene, I didn’t care what he looked like. He needed to see me. To hear them say, ‘Your dad won’t make it,’ it hits you hard.”
Her mother quickly said they didn’t know her husband, calling him a fighter, Bryana said.
“He and I both work on the floor where he recovered — the brain injury unit,” she said. “We knew the nurses. He got wheeled into his room on a red carpet.”
Vazquez made many friends among the nurses at Northwell as well, Bryana said. They would stop by to see how he was even if they weren’t assigned to him.
Describing her father as her best friend, Bryana said the experience of seeing him recover — his tenacity and courage through it all — has led her to make some changes in her life. She now is training to be a bodybuilder and has returned to nursing school.
“I’m pushing to reach my goal,” she said. “I want to show him how he inspires me. He’s actually always been an inspiration to me. He might be competing again too.”
Vazquez had his first accident in 1985 when he was hit by a 40-ton Mack truck. He underwent many surgeries, but his leg was amputated the following year on his 21st birthday and he was fitted for a prosthetic leg.
Prior to the accident, he had run the New York City Marathon and was training as a long-distance runner for the 1988 Olympics. Vazquez, a 1983 Glen Cove High School graduate, is among those honored at its Wall of Fame for his record for a mile — 4 minutes, 20 seconds.
Nothing has ever stopped Vazquez. Before his latest accident, he rode his motorcycle and his Jet Ski, swam and kiteboarded. He’s not the type to give up.
Martino said her husband wants to return to being a crossing guard, though she and Bryana wish he wouldn’t.
“Every day he’d come home and say, ‘I almost got hit by a car,’” she said. “But he loves the job and the kids.”
Vazquez often asked the children how they were doing in school, and they’d show him their report cards and test scores. If they did well, he would give them small crossing guard badges and encourage them to continue to progress in school. He was popular among the children.
“We have 230 cards, posters, Christmas cards, all from the children,” Martino said. “He knew some of the kids who made them. When he’d see them, he’d get very emotional. He didn’t realize how many people cared.”
Jefferson Thomas, 13, and Thanasi Averopoulos, 12, were among the children waiting for Vazquez outside the hospital. Holding a red sign, they hoped the message, “GC Strong,” would inspire their favorite crossing guard to continue to get well.
“It’s really sad what happened to him,” Jefferson said.
“He’s a good man,” Thanasi added. “He’s friendly and always used to say good things about us. I’m glad he’s out of the hospital.”