‘Piano Dave’ faces recovery, one step at a time

Walk inside the first floor lounge in New Residence Hall and you’ll find an old, barely working piano. Most students who live in the building will probably never come near it, but for Dave Schlossberg, senior piano performance major, playing that old piano was the perfect way to pass the time while he waited to share the story of how his life has changed since being involved in a major car accident earlier this year.

Schlossberg, whose piano playing in Eickhoff Dining Hall during his freshman year earned him the nickname “Piano Dave,” suffered eight broken ribs, a punctured lung, lacerations and damage to his thoracic vertebrae when his car was hit in a Jan. 21 accident on Route 1.

While doctors told him that a “large percentage” of people with injuries like his don’t walk again, less than a year later, Schlossberg is back at the College and able to walk with a cane, though he uses a wheel chair most of the time. Schlossberg has made

a lot of progress, but the road to recovery hasn’t been an easy one.

“I remember certain things,” Schlossberg said of the time right after his accident when he was at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. “I was in a lot of pain, I remember that. All those tubes in me. It’s not like I was out of it, but I was drugged up. I would say I was fighting for my life because after my surgery I couldn’t breathe. They discovered there was fluid filling up my lungs. That was scary.”

Doctors told Schlossberg they would have to perform surgery and he wasn’t sure what to think.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it,” Schlossberg said. “I wasn’t thinking that I couldn’t move my legs. I was more thinking I could die here.”

The surgery was successful though, and doctors realized that the damage wasn’t as extensive as they had thought. The doctors were honest about the kind of work Schlossberg would have to put in to regain the ability to walk.

“If you’re going to learn to walk again, it’s up to you,” the doctors told Schlossberg. “It’s up to you. You have to put in the work.”

After a week at Robert Wood Johnson, where someone brought Schlossberg a little keyboard so he could keep playing, he was transferred to the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange to begin treatment.

At first he couldn’t even sit up in a chair, but after a few days he was put in a big wheelchair that people had to push for him.

Two to three weeks later, Schlossberg was finally able to start pushing himself, something that he said took a bit to get used to.

“It was just another step toward my independence,” Schlossberg said. “I had a way to go and I knew it.”

According to Schlossberg, most of his early rehabilitation exercises were geared toward helping develop his upper body strength so he could push himself in his wheelchair.

These exercises included sitting up straight, pushing off of mats with his hands to strengthen biceps, transferring his body between places, weight shifting and leg exercises.

“It was impossible and it hurt like hell,” Schlossberg said. “I had eight broken ribs. They told me to sit up, it felt like my torso was being torn apart from my body.”

Schlossberg didn’t let pain or failure stop him, though.

“The difference between success and failure is not making it or not making it, it’s attempting,” he said. “I knew that the first time I tried to sit up I would fall, but that didn’t discourage me from trying.”

During these hard times, Schlossberg’s family and girlfriend, Emily Possenti, a College alumna, were by his side.

“My family came up often, all the time actually,” Schlossberg said. “My girlfriend came up as often as she could. I made friends with a lot of the people at Kessler.”

Even with all the support, there were times when all the hard work and effort got to Schlossberg.

“I had points where I wanted to give up, I knew I wouldn’t, but I wanted to,” he said. “I was in pain all the time – sleeping, awake, I was just a mess.”

But the work finally paid off. Schlossberg was able to move his toes during his second week at Kessler and then his left leg a week later. When he was finally able to stand, he felt like a whole new world opened for him. But the biggest advance came when Schlossberg was able to take his first step on March 2.

“It was very hard,” Schlossberg said of that first step. “I had my hands on parallel bars.

Schlossberg left Kessler on May 19 and didn’t know what to expect.

“I was very scared because the world is far less forgiving than a therapy center,” he said, before adding a positive note. “I was so happy to be going home because I could take a break from life.”

Although it was hard getting used to the things he couldn’t do anymore, Schlossberg didn’t let that hold him back. He spent the summer teaching music at a camp and getting therapy, which he still receives now.

“The key to therapy is to set goals for yourself, to take action every day to reach those goals.”

After a few months at home, Schlossberg knew he was ready to come back to the College, which he admits has been a little harder then he expected.

“Everything takes so much effort,” he said. “They say that the College is handicapped accessible, but they don’t say the sidewalks are bumpy and that there are curves and hills. So I have to work to go places, but that’s how life is. You need to work to go places.”

Back as a full-time student, Schlossberg said he’s had a happy return to the College.

“I feel like I’m coming back home to my family,” he said. “Everyone treats me as an equal. They understand that some things may be harder for me, but they expect the same things from me that they do from others. I appreciate that.”

The past few months have taught Schlossberg not only about himself, but about life in general.

“You never know when something can go wrong, and it’s important to live without regrets so that if something like this does happen to you, you’ll be able to look back with happy memories,” Schlossberg said, before adding that he feels lucky he doesn’t take his life for granted anymore.

You won’t see Schlossberg walking across campus just yet because using his wheelchair is easier right now, but Schlossberg said it will happen in the future. His next goal: to be able to walk outside unassisted.