Dan Lewis ’09 is unconscious but steadily recovering in a Colorado intensive care unit following injuries he sustained in a July 7 Habitat Bicycle Challenge cycling accident in Kansas.
Lewis collided with a car on a quiet county road in Kansas, in the middle of a planned two-month ride from New Haven to San Francisco. The trip was one of three cross-country rides organized by HBC this summer to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.
“He is looking a lot better every day,” Lewis’ 16-year-old brother Peter said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Every day he is more active in the little movements. He likes moving his arms around, opening his eyes, he’ll kind of terse his lips, and recently he started moving his legs a little too.”
Lewis was the third Yalie to be seriously injured in conjunction with an HBC trip in three straight years. Rachel Speight ’06 died when a car struck her in western Kentucky during the 2005 trip, and last year, Alexander Capelluto ’08 was killed when a truck in West Haven hit him during a training ride. The first ride was organized in 1994.
Although the trips have no formal affiliation with the University, administrators are planning to make a statement soon on the safety and viability of future trips.
“There has been quite a bit of discussion about the Habitat trip,” Yale President Richard Levin said. “Something will be said about that soon.”
Lewis’ father Hal said he has not had a chance to review detailed information about HBC’s safety program, but he doesn’t “currently have any reason to question their procedures.” He said he trusts there was “very serious consideration of the safety issues.”
Before his transfer to University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Dan Lewis spent a month stabilizing at a hospital in Wichita, Kansas. He began to breathe again on his own, underwent successful leg surgery, and the intracranial pressure in his brain subsided. The big remaining question, according to family members, is the extent of the brain injuries. His father said that it could take anywhere from two months to a year for his son to wake up from the coma.
For Hal Lewis, life has become about believing that small and mysterious miracles are occurring in his son’s brain.
“In this situation, when you have someone, a loved one, in a coma, you much prefer the unknown in the sense that you want to believe that miracles actually are occurring in the healing process,” he said in an early August interview. “Small steps, not like a miracle where water runs uphill, but a miracle when small things somehow are occurring — when some of the body’s unknown capabilities for healing are at work.”
For the Lewis family, one big miracle has already occurred. They received an outpouring of support, particularly from their son’s friends in Saybrook, AEPi, and the music community. The family has received hundreds upon hundreds of letters, as well as CDs from Lewis’ cello group Low Strung and selfless offers from his friends.
One of the most striking indications of support is the number of visitors to Lewis’ CarePage, set up under danlewis2007 at www.carepages.com for family and friends to receive frequent updates to Lewis’ condition. On that Web site, Lewis’ character and contributions to Yale life are in full view through more than 600 messages.
Lewis’ Yale faculty adviser, Barbara Stuart, wrote about his essays.
“We all admired his writing; more importantly, perhaps now, was the depth of feeling at the core of every paper he composed,” she said in a post describing his essays on summer music camp, visits to his grandmother’s cottage and long trips with his father on the highway.
Some friends prayed for Lewis by thinking of his “zest for life,” the “huge blowup spider man” someone bought him, or the time that, at a Yale holiday party, Lewis entangled a friend in Christmas lights. That friend, Tony Marshman ’09, also recalled running in slow motion with him to the theme song from “Chariots of Fire.”
Lewis’ brother Peter, who is a junior in high school, also had a Yale tale to tell.
“I went down to Yale for a week to see the school, and it was just a great time for me, and I think we really became close that weekend,” he said. “I felt very, very loved by the way he was protective of me, but still let me have a lot of individuality.”
And Mindy Lu ’09 said on a CarePages post that Lewis has a lot of individuality, too.
“He has never been more alive in my mind as he is now, often in flashes that might be described as ‘the famous faces and many voices of Dan Lewis,’” she wrote. “I will truly miss Dan when I return to school … I’m sure everyone is rooting for him, and will stay with him, no matter how long the journey, whatever the destination.”