Five years after crash, Shelton still supports injured resident

SHELTON - For Mark Smolen, continuing rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a freak accident five years ago comes with a steep price. But his friends are helping him cover the cost.

Three years ago Smolen’s friends and family created an annual fundraiser to help raise money for what remains a daily struggle for the Shelton resident. This year’s event, titled “Marktobeerfest,” will be held at the Woodbury Brewing Company Oct. 23 and will also mark Smolen’s 50th birthday.

Organizer Dan Beyer said the fundraiser couldn’t have come any sooner, as Smolen’s obligations have only increased. The benefit has raised more than $20,000 in its first two years.

“The annual fundraiser shows me how much people really support me and my illness,” Smolen said. “My physical condition is better, but it’s gotten this way because of my exertion on exercise.” he said.

Smolen said he is convinced that his progress is due to constant repetition, which in an expense beyond his ability to pay.

“I get told by my doctors and therapists that I need constant repetition to retrain my brain to do simple things that I used to take for granted,” Smolen said.

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, and 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 assessed his injuries, then ordered him transported via helicopter to Yale New Haven Hospital’s ICU.

Smolen had suffered severe head trauma, a broken jaw, and a broken orbital. He had significant brain swelling and was in a coma.

After spending over a month in the ICU , he awoke from his coma and was able to respons to people by raising his thumb or squeezing a hand.

“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, learning to talk and to regain control of basic motor skills. He then was moved to NeuroRestorative in Weymouth, Mass., and had daily rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Boston, 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 numerous facilities, and has had to return to Spaulding for multiple procedures.

Smolen’s brain injury has left him with left side weakness throughout his body. This has affected his his ability to walk and use his left arm, and also impairs his speech and ability to swallow.

Beyer said Smolen fell last month, fracturing some ribs, and is now recovering at the Newtown Rehabilitation Center.

“Overall, his condition has not improved during COVID, in fact it has gotten worse with the lack of physical therapy and interaction with friends and family,” Beyer said. “For many months he’s had to rely on technology such as Facetime, but that doesn’t provide the much-needed physical and emotional support.”

When home, Smolen, who still enjoys fishing and cooking, has taken to blogging while also preparing a screenplay. He must use a wheelchair to get around and requires round-the-clock live-in care. 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 consider his home to be inadequate for his needs.

According to Beyer, Smolen’s expenses cost more than $8,000 a month, about double his disability payments.

“We all 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. Now our focus is on his quality of life without being taken over by the state.”

To purchase event tickets or make a donation to the event, visit marktobeerfestfundraiser.eventsmart.com or call 203-233-8227 or email dan@lamor.com.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com