Smolen continues arduous recovery
Some three years ago, Mark Smolen’s life took a tragic turn, when a freak motor vehicle accident left the Shelton man with a traumatic brain injury that he continues to fight through to this very day.
The love and generosity of family and friends has helped Smolen — once a physically intimidating strong man with a gentle touch, a flare for cooking, a love of deep-sea fishing and a bright future in business — fight through the daily rigors of regaining control of his body.
“I have made it through my condition due to the good people in my life,” said Smolen, who has enjoyed successes — with improved balance and an ability to stand, even if only for moments at a time — and who endures continued issues, in part, due to the traumatic brain injury. “They do more than just give money. Their love gets me through.”
But the astronomical fees associated with caring for such traumatic brain injuries has those closest to Smolen once again asking the public’s help in covering costs for his medical needs as well as any potential move to a more suitable living situation.
“We need an angel,” said Steve Muir, husband of Smolen’s sister, Linda. “Mark needs help. We just need to get the word out. Everyone has been so supportive over the years, but we need to get Mark in the right living situation. To do that, Mark needs people to help him.”
“My sisters have done an amazing job, Dan (Beyer) and Steve have been great, too,” said Smolen about the assistance he has received during his continued recovery from the accident.
To help offset some of the costs, Beyer, a longtime friend and supporter, said that a GoFundMe page remains active and a second Mark-a-Palooza is planned for Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Woodbury Brewing company from 1 to 4 p.m. The inaugural Mark-a-Palooza raised more than $10,000 for Smolen’s costs.
Beyer said he and Smolen’s family are in search of people willing to give basket donations that will be raffled off, gift cards, event tickets, and/or money that will go directly toward paying for treatments and modifications to his home.
Smolen said he remains positive and is determined to walk again and return to a semblance of independent living. Part of that means moving from the three-level townhouse in which he presently resides. The floor design has Smolen confined to the second level, with hallways so tight he is relegated to a living area that has his recliner, bed, workout equipment and television, making the space even more cramped.
“That is not useful space for him, I mean he has never even been in his bedroom,” said Beyer.
The GoFundMe page states “We are asking for your support to help pay for the rehab and medical services needed to help get Mark his independence back. Mark, like many of us had what we think of as adequate insurance but with the astronomical medical bills for his care and the length of his recovery, it has proved to be far less than what Mark needs to live on and to fund his recovery. We need help in paying for his rehabilitation, medical procedures and needed in-home modifications to help further his recovery.”
Beyer said Smolen has always loved being outdoors and fishing, having owned several boats that he used for catching fish with his family before going home to prepare some of his favorite sushi dishes.
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.
“It was really just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Beyer after the accident. “I understand that the car traveling behind Mark was occupied by a family of four; I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but in my eyes he’s a hero. He could’ve saved all four of those people, there’s no telling what could’ve happened.”
After being cut from his car, having a tube inserted to assist him with breathing on-site, Smolen was rushed to Waterbury Hospital in critical condition. According to information on Smolen’s GoFundMe page, doctors quickly learned that his injuries were quite severe and ordered to have him transported via helicopter to the Yale New Haven Hospital 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 at Yale, 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,” said Beyer.
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.
“These are tight living quarters,” said Muir as he looked around the main level of Smolen’s townhouse. “The walking areas are tight. The hallway can’t fit his wheelchair. He could transfer to bathroom, to bed, by himself. We know he can do it, but he needs the room to do it.”
“The cost of staying here, with increased condo fees, keeps going up, and this place is not a good fit for Mark anyway, which is why we are hoping to raise money to help him find a more suitable location,” said Beyer. “He’d love to stay in Sheton because it is between his father in Trumbull and his mother in Seymour. And his sisters are also in nearby towns.”
To learn more about Smolen, the accident, his progress and to make monetary donations, visit his Blog Page “Good People” at www.facebook.com/Good-People-Mark-Smolen-Blog-351648395419091.
To donate, visit Smolen’s GoFundMe Page at www.gofundme.com/mark-smolen-tbi-road-to-recovery. The Mark-a-Palooza Facebook Event Page is at www.facebook.com/events/312680019662795/?active_tab=discussion