Imagine an active young adult, a country boy who is used to being outside, stuck in a small hotel-like room. Imagine this is an intensive care unit room in the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Now imagine he is paralyzed from the diaphragm down.
This has been life for 21-year-old Aaron Lopez, along with other obstacles he’s had to overcome along the way for the past 46 days.
On Jan. 10 around 3:30 p.m. UCF student Brittany Bolin, Lopez’s girlfriend of almost three years, received a phone call from one of Lopez’s former friends. They were riding their motorcycles southbound on Ehren Cutoff in Land O’ Lakes when something went very wrong. A Mercedes, going the opposite direction of Lopez, made a left-hand turn into a driveway and stopped, completely blocking Lopez’s lane.
“I never imagined a phone call changing my entire life. Hearing those few words was my worst nightmare,” Bolin said.
Lopez hit the car broadside at 50 mph and bounced off, falling to the floor. As he was lying on the ground, unable to move, neither his former friend nor the driver of the Mercedes did much to help him. While the other driver stayed in his vehicle, the other rider moved Lopez out of the street and called Bolin before taking off on his own bike, leaving Lopez by himself. Thankfully an off-duty paramedic witnessed the accident and pulled over to help Lopez.
“I knew I was paralyzed ten minutes after I wrecked. An off duty paramedic stopped and when I couldn’t wiggle my toes or feel anything I pretty much knew,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s accident is one of many that has left families in the wake of tragedy due to the careless driving of a person behind another vehicle. American Bikers Aimed Towards Education of Florida is just one organization that urges non-riders to be conscious of their surroundings.
ABATE of Florida is a non-profit organization dedicated to informing non-riders about motorcycle awareness and teaching them how to share the roads with motorcycles. The organization has 30 chapters throughout Florida, including one in Orange County. Rhonda Griffis, ABATE’s state public relations trustee, explained how they track accidents that involve motorcyclists through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
“Currently the number one cause of a motorcycle fatality is an illegal left turn,” Griffis said. “Once a person makes a left-hand turn into oncoming traffic, causing an accident, it then becomes an illegal left hand turn, putting that person at fault for the accident, by not yielding the right away.”
Over the past 46 days, Lopez had back surgery and was heavily sedated for his first two weeks in the hospital. He also had pneumonia, blood clots in his lungs and his legs and a pneumothorax. He’s had three chest tubes, one for the left and one for the right lung, which were taken out on Feb. 17. None of this even begins to cover the mental struggles, such as anxiety, that Aaron has dealt with.
“I stay positive because it’s all I know,” Lopez said. “I was a mechanic for several years so I learned getting mad at things you can’t control or change doesn’t make sense. Put all that anger, frustration and everything else into an emotion that helps you get past that bump in the road.”
As strong and positive as Lopez is, he said he could not do it without his support system. Lopez’s parents, Peggy and Bruce Lopez, are at the hospital with Lopez all day, every day. Bolin said that Lopez’s parents have been his biggest support system so far. His brothers, Christian Lopez, 28, and Randy Lopez 39, have also been a big part of his support system. The two brothers bought him an iPad, which, according to his mom, is his most valuable personal possession at this point.
“It’s his lifeline to the outside world,” Peggy said
Lopez also uses his iPad to communicate with Bolin throughout the week while she’s at school. Bolin drives to the hospital every Friday to spend the weekend by Lopez’s side.
“We talk about the latest news and his progress,” Bolin said. “We catch up on things and I try to keep him occupied. Sometimes I even bring him his favorite foods so he can have something to look forward to.”
Along with Lopez’s family and friends being more than just a helpful hand, the hospital staff and the community have also been very supportive.
“My family, friends, community and the staff at this hospital have had a profound effect on us since Jan. 10,” Peggy said. “I have been supported, enveloped and comforted in every way imaginable, and it continues.”
The Stonegrey, a band whose lead singer has been friends with Lopez since middle school, hosted a concert benefit to raise money for the Lopez family. The benefit had multiple raffle prizes, including a tandem skydive with video, and a ten pack of jump tickets for the experienced jumpers. There was plenty of food and drinks, and three band performances.
The Aaron Lopez Recovery Fund, on the Give Forward website, is another way the family is trying to raise money. The funds will all go towards Lopez’s recovery process, which will include a rehabilitation center. Most of the recommended centers are far from the Lopez home and will cost a great deal of money. The family will also have to make modifications to their home for when Lopez returns from rehab.
“Neither of our bathrooms will accommodate him now,” Peggy said. “We can picture what we need to do but it will take money to reconfigure our home to make it functional for him, and we want him as independent as he can be.”
Lopez’s positive attitude and his support system have been the guiding forces paving his way to recovery. Recently he has even begun to have tingles in his legs, which for someone in Lopez’s condition is amazing.
“My mom was playing with my toes one day and caused muscle twitches not only in my legs but all the way up my side to the point where I’m paralyzed,” Lopez said. “It went from my toes, to my legs, to my hips, to my side, to my chest. The rehab guy was so happy when he heard.”
Just like every little step is a huge leap towards recovery for Lopez, every day in that small ICU room is another step closer to a rehabilitation center. Every day that Lopez gets closer to rehab is a reminder that driving is a privilege and doing it safely is something that needs to be taken seriously.
Lopez is more than determined when it comes to his recovery process and if you ask him, he will tell you, “I will walk again.”
To help Lopez during his recovery process, donations can be made at: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/9nv3/aaron-lopez-recovery-fund?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=fb_share_stream.share&utm_campaign=BA_FBshare&fb_ref=1804152