William Stewart had a lot to say when he visited the Branford Fire Department today but the most powerful words were, “Thank you.” One year and nine months after the date of an almost tragic incident, Stewart was able to meet the five Branford Fire Department first responders who helped save his life. “It’s a combination of things… it’s just thank you for enabling me to stay alive,” he told the crew.
“Without the care that was given at the scene and during transport,” Stewart said the doctors who treated him would not have been able to do their “magic.”
Stewart sustained life-threatening injuries to his body including bludgeoning to his head with a baseball bat. Almost two years since the incident, Stewart can stand with assistance, but still struggles to straighten his left arm. Like a child, he told the crew, he has had to learn to walk, talk and eat again. “It’s a lot of work,” he said of the physical therapy, “but you can feel yourself coming back.”
The reunion today was extra special for Deputy Chief Ron Mullen, who was on call that Saturday morning in late winter.
Mullen shared that he once worked with Stewart back in the early 1980s when he was a supernumery (part-time) police officer with Branford Police Department and Stewart was a patrolman. “He was the funniest guy I knew,” said Mullen. “Made an eight-hour shift feel like four.”
At the time of the incident, Mullen said they treated and “packaged” Stewart to be rushed to the hospital so quickly and efficiently that he didn’t even recognize that the victim was his old friend.
The reunion today was “one of the happiest days in my 32 years of my career,” said Mullen.
Stewart left the police force back in the 1980s and Mullen joined the Branford Fire Department.
“The crazy thing with a brain injury,” said Stewart, is that he doesn’t remember getting hit.
Stewart was allegedly beaten with a baseball bat by Neil Amendola of Patrick Lane, where the incident occurred. Initial police reports indicated that Stewart was fixing a garage door for the Amendola family when Neil attacked Stewart. Amendola is awaiting disposition and adult probation in New Haven court and has not been released from custody since the incident happened. He is due to appear in court again on February 26, 2013.
The fact that Stewart lived to share his story, is nothing short of a miracle both he and his son Daniel Stewart, 27, agree. Daniel shared that he stopped counting his father’s brain surgeries after about six or eight.
“I can not thank the lord enough for my family,” said Stewart. “They’ve been by my side since the day of the incident.”
Stewart has a 33-year-old son, Ryan Stewart and his wife Leslie Stewart is a school teacher at John B. Sliney School.
“The people of Branford don’t know how fortunate they are to have people like you at their beck and call,” said Stewart to the crew, which included firefighters Jim Carson, Paul Cipriani, Dan Ghiroli, John Cudgma, Jr. and Deputy Chief Mullen.
“It’s so gratifying to know there are people like you who do this day in and day out,” he told them. “They can’t pay you what you’re worth.”
In addition to the expert care of Branford Fire Department first responders, the department’s official surgeon, Dr. Sandy Bogucki was also available the day of the incident and was able to provide emergency room care while Stewart was in transit, the crew explained. Bogucki is on-call for extreme circumstances for trauma like Stewart’s case. Additionally, Stewart shared that Dr. Murat Gunel, chief of neurovascular surgery was on duty the morning he arrived at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Having all these things in place was like the stars aligning for him, he said.
Stewart spent almost the last two years in the hospital and at Gaylord and the Madison House receiving physical therapy. He returned home for good the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.