After COVID cancels fundraiser, friends use Facebook to help Shelton man with brain injury
SHELTON — Mark Smolen continues his rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a freak accident four years ago — and the financial cost remains steep.
That is why two years ago friends and family created Mark-a-Palooza, a benefit event at the Woodbury Brewing Company to help raise money for what remains a daily struggle for the Shelton resident.
But this year, while Smolen’s obligations have only increased, his opportunity for fundraising has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced event organizers to postpone the benefit that has raised more than $20,000 over the past two years.
“Mark’s current financial situation is in dire straits,” said Dan Beyer, a longtime friend and supporter, “so we really couldn’t wait until this fall to get another fundraiser up and going.”
To help offset some of the costs, Beyer said a Facebook fundraiser, titled Mark Smolen TBI Recovery Fundraiser, was created several weeks ago. To date, the site has raised more than $3,000.
Smolen’s life changed on March 6, 2016, when the then-45-year old left his new condominium in Shelton and hopped in his car to head over to his sister Liz’s house in Bethany for a typical workout session he’d have with his brother-in-law, Mike.
While he was driving up Route 8, a tire came off a trailer being towed in the opposite direction, came across the median, and smashed through his windshield, striking Smolen in the face, causing his car to swerve off the highway and end up on its roof in the woods.
After being cut from his car and having a tube inserted to assist him with breathing on-site, Smolen was rushed to Waterbury Hospital in critical condition. According to Beyer, doctors quickly learned that his injuries were quite severe and ordered to have him transported via helicopter to the Yale New Haven Hospital’s ICU.
Smolen had suffered severe head trauma, a broken jaw, broken orbital and had significant brain swelling and was in a coma. He spent over a month in the ICU , awoke from his coma and was able to raise his thumb or squeeze a hand to respond.
“The last two years have been filled with small steps and significant efforts, and pain, as Mark has fought to recover,” Beyer said.
Once Smolen was stable enough to leave Yale’s ICU, he was transferred to JFK Rehabilitation Hospital in New Jersey. He spent months there fighting every day to learn to talk and to learn to regain control of basic motor skills. He then was moved to NeuroRestorative in Weymouth, Mass., and had daily rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehab Hospital, according to Beyer.
After additional months of intensive rehab, Beyer said Smolen finally recovered to the point where he could move back home to his condominium in Shelton. Since his return, Smolen has been undergoing continuous rehabilitation at the likes of Gaylord, Griffin, Albin Center and Prolete Rehab and has had to return to Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Boston for multiple procedures.
Smolen’s traumatic brain injury has left him with left side weakness throughout his body. This has affected his speech, ability to swallow, use of his left arm and his ability to walk.
Smolen — who still enjoys fishing and cooking while writing his own blog when not preparing a screenplay — is currently in a wheelchair and must have 24/7 live-in care to assist with his recovery. His condominium has had to be retrofitted with a stair-lift and other modification to make it safe and accessible for him — but his friends and family feel that his home is woefully inadequate.
Beyer said Smolen’s current medical expenses, physical therapy, 24-hour live-in aide and living expenses cost more than $8,000 a month and disability only provides him $4,000 a month, so Smolen is very close to running out of his settlement and life savings.
“Of course, every little bit helps, but if a miracle doesn’t happen soon, the reality for Mark is that he will have to foreclose on his townhouse, file bankruptcy and the state will have to take him over and move into a nursing home,” Beyer said.
“Mark, his family and myself want to thank the Shelton community for their continued prayers and support,” Beyer said. “We know that Mark is loved and that he is surrounded by angels as it is already a miracle that he survived his horrific car accident and now our focus is on his quality of life without being taken over by the state.”
To donate, visit Smolen’s Facebook fundraiser at https://www.facebook.com/donate/286571675811679/. The Mark-a-Palooza Facebook Event Page is at www.facebook.com/events/312680019662795/?active_tab=discussion. For more information on Mark-a-Palooza, such as raffle and silent auction items, donations and tickets, call Dan Beyer at 203-233-8227 or email email@example.com.