Call this a miracle Soccer: Jeremy Voelkel was a star at Carroll Christian until he was critically injured in an auto accident last April. Aided by therapy and the prayers of many, he's back at practice.

October 27, 1998|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

Forward Jeremy Voelkel stands on the sidelines, watching his Carroll Christian High School soccer teammates in a scrimmage. He occasionally exchanges a few words with coach Matt Reisberg.

"He is my offensive captain, and I saw no reason to change," Reisberg said. "It is a position he would have had if able to play. For now, we talk, and there are suggestions. It is pretty much his offense."

A year ago, a speedy Voelkel helped the Patriots (17-3) win the state championship for Christian schools and finish fourth in their national tournament. Reisberg had been projecting a record-setting senior season for for Voelkel.

That changed last April 16.

While with some friends returning from Ocean City, Voelkel was critically injured on Route 50. Six months later, hearing the 16-year-old recount the car accident, there is little reason to believe his being able to tell his story is anything but a miracle.

The car in which Voelkel was riding drifted onto the right shoulder. Trying to get back on the road, the driver turned the wheel too far, Voelkel said. The car shot across the road and slammed into a tree in the median, caving in the car's right side.

Seemingly within seconds, help arrived in the form of two off-duty policemen, two nurses and a paramedic, who, traveling in different cars, had been behind the vehicle.

"I'm sure the Lord placed them there," said Susan Voelkel, Jeremy's mother and a pre-school teacher at Carroll Christian.

Voelkel had been sitting on the right in the back seat, and it took 90 minutes to cut him from the wreckage as the paramedic held his head steady. All four occupants of the car were wearing seat belts; the other three escaped with bumps and bruises.

"He is walking because that paramedic held his neck in place the whole time," his mother added.

Dee Donnelly, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, was traveling with her husband and two of their six children on the way from the beach to their Ellicott City home.

"The window was blown out on that side," recalled Donnelly, "and the man -- I didn't know he was a paramedic; he was dressed in regular clothes -- climbed in and held him.

"We had to pull out of the way to make room for the helicopter, and I got a ride up to the accident scene," she continued. "The other nurse helped with the other passengers.

"Eventually, when workers were able to cut the top off the car, I helped the man put a hard collar on Jeremy, and we got him out on a board [to keep him as still as possible].

"Actually, it was pretty impressive. People stopped, and everybody knew what to do. There was no panic, and everybody did the right thing."

Voelkel was taken to Peninsula General Hospital in Salisbury, then flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. "Doctors didn't offer much hope," his mother said of that night.

Two vertebrae (C-2 and C-3, which control breathing and movement) in his neck were broken, and as Jeremy said: "With injuries such as mine, usually you either die or are paralyzed. [The actor] Christopher Reeve's injury was similar to mine."

Other injuries included a shattered pelvis, broken thighbone,lacerations of the spleen and brain injury.

"He couldn't eat on his own; we had to command him to do everything," Susan Voelkel said, adding that his mental abilities seemed back to normal by his release.

Her son was treated for five days at Shock Trauma and two weeks at the University of Maryland's Kernan Hospital.

"It's a complex study why some recover better than others from brain and spinal injuries," said Dr. Daniel Drubach, associated with the head trauma unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "In Jeremy's case, the fact he is young and healthy were major factors in his recovery.

"When I first saw him, he had a traumatic brain injury, but upon assessing his condition, found that even though there were cervical [neck] injuries, the spinal cord was not involved. He was very lucky.

"The fact he recovered so quickly was an indication his cells were alive and he was simply in shock," the doctor said. "Given similar conditions, a lot of patients change personalties, but he hasn't.

"He was fortunate to have a strong support system of family and friends, too, and his own motivation was a vital point. He wants to get back to where he was."

After Voelkel's release from Kernan, he spent three months in a "halo" brace that forced him to sleep on his back without moving and two months in a hard brace.

"There was speech and occupational therapy at Kernan, and later I had a home program. Right now, there are no effects," he said recently, "and I feel about back to where I was before the accident."

His doctors have cleared Voelkel for soccer practice, with no contact, and predict he should be able to play sports by spring.

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