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The article published in “The Rotarian”, January 2020 tells a story of what Rotary and Rotarians can do to assist those who need assistance: Service above Self
Ski into the heart of Rotary
Rotary Club of Rome International
The only way to survive was to relax every single muscle and then forget about the body. The pain remained, but I learned to contemplate it objectively, almost like a spectator. After my surgeries, I had to lie completely still, my shattered pelvis held together with plates and screws. I could only use one hand; the other shoulder was broken. Fractured vertebrae and ribs added to the pain.
I was skiing with friends in Val d’Isère, France, when the accident happened. The first two days were glorious: good snow, ideal conditions. On the third day, a dense fog rolled in, so we decided to take an easier route down and stop for the day. The runs were smooth and deserted. I was ahead, so I cut right and looked behind me to see if I could catch a glimpse of anyone. I cut left and looked back again. Where were they?
When I faced forward again, a signpost was directly in front of me. I tried an emergency maneuver to avoid it, but it didn’t work. With the little control I had left, I tried dodging it from the side. But it was too late — I hit the post hard.
My friend Bernard found me first. I was in so much pain and very cold. He put his windbreaker over me and called for help. It was too foggy for a helicopter to airlift me off the mountain, so the emergency response team hoisted me onto a toboggan to sled down to a cable car that took me the rest of the way to a waiting ambulance. My injuries were too complicated for the two closest hospitals to treat, so I was transferred to a university hospital in Grenoble for surgery.
My wife, Daniela, was in Rome at the time. She rushed to France, but by the time she got to Grenoble, I had already been taken into surgery. The operation was expected to be very long, so the staff advised her to return to the hotel. I hate to think of how she must have felt, upset and alone in a foreign place with my situation uncertain.
Back at the hotel, Daniela noticed the Rotary logo; the doorman told her that the Rotary Club of Grenoble-Belledonne met there. In fact, their meeting was about to start. Daniela is also a Rotarian, and the timing felt like a blessing. She needed to spend a few hours among friendly faces, even if they were strangers. She decided to attend.
The club members welcomed her warmly, and when she told them about my accident, they showed us what it means to be a part of Rotary. The topic of the meeting shifted from club business to how to help Daniela. One member offered her daughter’s apartment, which was temporarily unoccupied. Another gave Daniela a ride back to the hospital. When she told me everything later, I was very touched. I could tell that Daniela had gained strength to deal with her fears for my health knowing that she could count on friends, even ones she had just met, to help her.
In the following days, while I underwent more operations, the Grenoble Rotarians helped Daniela settle in. They solved the bureaucratic problems that arose when she filled out the paperwork to authorize my stay in France. After two weeks in the hospital, I was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic in the mountains outside Grenoble. My doctors thought it best that I stay nearby, rather than return to Rome, during rehabilitation so they could monitor my progress and intervene if needed.
I spent four months recovering in France. For much of that time, I was completely immobilized. I was well cared for, and Daniela was able to travel back and forth from Rome to see me, but I was still in a foreign place without any family nearby. The rehabilitation clinic was beautiful, but the road to reach it was winding, long, and not very convenient from Grenoble. Yet the Rotarians never left me wanting for company. Their visits brought me a little bit of the outside world, and for that, I was so grateful. After any of them visited, Daniela would, of course, receive an update.
When I finally started to move around in a wheelchair, I asked my doctor for permission to attend the Grenoble-Belledonne club meeting. Through tears, I thanked them for taking care of me and my family.
It’s now been almost 12 years since my accident. I have healed, and our friendship with many members of the Grenoble club endures. I have always believed that the most extraordinary aspect of Rotary is the potential for friendship all over the world. I’m lucky to have lived a very touching example of that.
As told to Vanessa Glavinskas