Coma patient recalls story of triumph

For students here at the College, 14-plus years of formal education have well acquainted them with the idea of a motivational speaker or a similar source of credible information.

Most of the College’s athletic teams, fraternities and sororities were asked to meet in Brower Student Center on March 5 to hear what had originally seemed like a speaker that would enlighten them on the dangers of drunk driving.

Steven Benvenisti, a personal injury lawyer and alumnus of the College, stood at a lectern with a projected PowerPoint slide that read, “The Most Significant Case of My Career.”

The subject of Benvenisti’s presentation, who was among the top of what would have been his graduating class, was active in the fraternity life and a participant in intramural athletics. This student and his fraternity brothers hoped to take a vacation to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for Spring Break that he had called “a way (for my friends and I) to reward ourselves for four great years in college.”

Benvenisti said he had gone out on March 20, 1989, for a night of good clean fun, while just down the road a drunk sat at a bar stool, pounding Jack Daniels.

Unfortunately, this raging alcoholic later left the bar at about the same time as this college student, decided to get behind the wheel of a car, neglected to turn the headlights on, but, of course, remembered to turn the engine on and proceeded to drive.

This impaired driver would subsequently strike this Spring Breaker at speeds in excess of 50 mph, throwing the young man a total of 70 feet after instantly shattering his legs and forcing his head and face through the windshield, with what witnesses described as the sound of “an explosion.”

The accident victim was not expected to live through the night while deep in a coma, suffering from dangerous yet inoperable swelling of the brain.

After Benvenisti had gone on to name every medical issue on this laundry list of injuries, a nursing major in the audience leaned over to the person sitting next to him and said, “This guy’s done . there’s just no way you live after that.”

He would spend his next 10 days in a coma, and his parents were instructed to rush down to the trauma center immediately if they had any hopes of seeing their son alive. Once they arrived, they were asked if they felt comfortable volunteering their child as an organ donor.

After this college student awakened, he faced difficulty remembering faces, names and words on a page he had read just seconds before. This nameless individual would later have similar difficulties with some motor and sensory functions and was never expected to walk again.

The presentation stopped and Benvenisti took a moment to recognize the doubt that we all experienced regarding the fate of the subject of his presentation.

He paused for a few seconds and then he spoke. Benvenisti stood before this group of more than 100 students and said, “I’m proud to inform you all that that was me.”

Those students and soon-to-be fellow Spring Breakers looked entirely stunned to hear that Benvenisti’s presentation had been a narrative that he lived to tell about.

He didn’t die, didn’t lose his legs, didn’t lose his memory and didn’t lose that “never quit” attitude that had taken him so far before. He had a long road ahead of him and a recovery was doubtful at best.

But, with screws holding his legs together while he held his head high, Benvenisti beat the odds and succeeded in fully recovering from what medical officials suggested would require a miracle.

This survivor of this horrific accident returned to the College after spending six months in a hospital and undergoing 15 operations to graduate magna cum laude and win the 1990 Homecoming King crown.

“I’m not one of those people who would say I’m glad that it happened. That’s crazy,” Benvenisti said. “I’ve decided to use it as a positive experience. In the hospital I promised myself if I was able to get my life back I would try to end drinking and driving. I was lucky enough to get my life back and now I do what I do.”

Since his recovery, Benvenisti has finalized his pursuit of a career in law and has become among the more renowned personal injury attorneys in the state.

Aside from his legal acknow-ledgements, Benvenisti has also received proclamations from Congress, the New Jersey State Senate, governors and from other organizations, including the College’s 2007 Annual Humanitarian Award given in February.