Not giving up on people with traumatic brain injuries
BREWSTER — On Monday morning, three years to the day, to the hour, to the very minute after his family’s life changed irrevocably, Reinhard Schaler was standing at the spot on Main Street in this sleepy Cape Cod town where his son was hit by a van.
Pádraig Schaler, then 23 and a recent college graduate, was thrown from his bicycle and his family was thrown for a loop. The severe brain injury he suffered left him unable to speak, unable to care for himself, and it’s been a struggle — physically, emotionally, financially — for him and his parents and two sisters.
“I had to come here for Pádraig,” his father said. “These last three years have been hard, to say the least.”
On Sunday, Reinhard Schaler and two of Pádraig’s friends, Cian Waters and Neil McEnaney, who were working on the Cape that summer with Pádraig, cycled from Boston to Hyannis. They rode the final part, to the spot Pádraig was hit, on Monday.
“Pádraig would have been turning here,” Waters said, pointing to the Bramble Inn, where Pádraig worked. “He never made it across the street.”
The police said it was an accident, and that Pádraig wasn’t wearing a helmet. They did not cite the driver.
“We disagree with how the investigation was carried out,” Reinhard Schaler said. “All the police we met were very nice to us. We just don’t agree with how they did this.”
On Friday, Reinhard Schaler met with representatives from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, to request a review of the original investigation.
While he was a dual Irish and German citizen, and lived in Dublin, Pádraig Schaler was a competitive swimmer for the University of Kentucky. He got his driver’s license in the United States. He knew the rules of the road.
But like thousands of kids from Mexico, Argentina, Romania, Lithuania, and other countries who get J-1 visas and work summers on the Cape, he had to rely on a bicycle to get to and from his two jobs at the Bramble Inn in Brewster and Gerardi’s Cafe in South Yarmouth. Cars and bicycles coexist nervously on the Cape’s narrow roads.
When he got hurt, he was first taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where a group of friends who resembled a United Nations assembly kept a vigil.
“They let the kids sleep in one of the wings,” Reinhard Schaler said.
Reinhard and Pat Schaler brought their son home to Dublin but found there were only three beds in the national rehabilitation hospital for people with brain injuries like Pádraig’s. He’d have to wait a year to maybe get a bed.
They took him to Germany, where Reinhard grew up, so Pádraig could receive the neurological rehabilitation he couldn’t get in Ireland. In Hamburg, Pádraig emerged from his coma. After two years, he returned to Dublin.
And his father and his friends returned to the scene of the accident, in part to raise money for An Saol, a foundation his father set up to serve those like Pádraig, who can’t access the neurological rehabilitation care they need.
When Reinhard Schaler, Waters, and McEnaney rode down Main Street, toward the Bramble Inn, one of Pádraig’s old roommates, Andrew Bauerle, and two American friends, Katelyn Blood and Jessie Isaacs, were waiting for them.
“When this first happened, so many people, even medical people, were saying Pádraig wouldn’t survive, and that if he did survive, his life wouldn’t be worth living,” his father said.
At the hospital that day, someone approached Cian Waters to ask about taking Pádraig off life support and donating his organs.
Pádraig can now communicate using a computer program. He went to a rock concert the other day.
Not long ago, his father asked him if he was happy. Pádraig used the computer program to say, “Yeah.”
“We can’t give up on people like Pádraig,” his father said, “because their lives are worth as much as any of ours.”