Posted on August 21, 2015
This is a pre-production piece, but I thought that it is good enough to share here.—
On April 7th, 1982, Marleen Salo was at home cooking dinner with her husband, Al, when they glanced out the window and saw a helicopter flying low near their Ocean View neighborhood in Norfolk. Moments later, the call they received would change their lives and the life of their son, Marty, forever. That helicopter was the Sentara Nightingale Air Ambulance and Marty was the passenger.
Marty was a brilliant kid. At ten years old, his IQ was 130, he loved reading, and he was becoming interested in computers. In fact, he was riding his bike home from the library when the accident happened. Marty was struck by a vehicle on his bike and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The driver had been blinded by the sun for a split second when the accident occurred. A ground ambulance was called but could not reach the site due to a passing train. Luckily, the Nightingale (which had begun operations only two months before) was ready to go. Marty was airlifted to the trauma center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital where doctors rushed to save his life.
Marty’s life hung in the balance as he remained in a coma for seven weeks. Neurologists tested his brain which showed minimal response. Never giving up, Marty’s Nightingale pilot, Dick, sat with him regularly to read books aloud. With no apparent improvement, Marleen and Al faced the terrible reality that Marty might not regain consciousness and agonized over whether to take him off of life-support. One day, during a routine test, Marty showed a miraculous breakthrough as he reached up and touched his nose.
Coming home in a partial coma, Marty’s prognosis was still uncertain. Marleen remembers, “It was not until he pointed at something and said the word ‘there,’ that I truly felt there was hope.” Starting from ground zero, Marty had to learn to crawl, walk, and talk again. He went through serious bouts of depression and anxiety because of his inability to connect with other children. Against all odds and thanks to some exceptional teachers and mentors, Marty graduated high school and then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Florida State University. He now works for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa doing computers.
In spite of all his achievements, Marty still struggled socially. He particularly had difficulty meeting and connecting with women. Marty spoke with long pauses between words and his motor skills never fully recovered making it difficult for him to drive. Always determined, Marty designed a calling card that he gave out to the ladies he liked. That’s how he met his wife and best friend, Fran. To make friends, Marty used internet chat rooms and message boards where he wouldn’t be judged for his disabilities. He still remembers his first Apple IIc that he used to start communicating with people back in the late 80’s. To this day, Marty is working on ways to use iPads to help TBI survivors communicate with each other and he even hosts a TBI support group on Facebook.
Marty has triumphed over severe adversity with the assistance of others. His wife, family, doctors, nurses, teachers, and the Nightingale crew provided the help Marty needed to live his life fully.