One miracle, however small, at a time.
It’s become the mantra of Hal Lewis, whose son Dan Lewis ’09 was moved late this week to an intensive care unit in University of Colorado Hospital after spending a month in Wichita, Kansas, recovering from injuries sustained in a July 7 cycling accident during the Habitat Bicycle Challenge. According to his father, Lewis is still unconscious but has shown small signs — a blink here, a squeeze there — of possible mental recognition as his body’s core functions have stabilized.
“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,” Hal Lewis said in a phone interview from the Aurora, Colorado, hospital on Thursday. “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.”
Now that Lewis has enjoyed a smooth transfer to Colorado, more or less conquered the task of breathing on his own, and undergone leg surgery successfully, most of these small miracles would be occurring in his brain. Lewis’ coma is no longer medically induced — an aggressive stimulation program will begin soon — and his father said the “key remaining issue is what level of neuro-trauma he experienced, and treating that.”
Encouragingly, “he has had a lot of mouth movements, mini-munching, pursuing his lips, kind of blinking,” he said.
And while moving about in recent days, Dan Lewis, has opened his eyes twice, once for up to nearly a minute. Still, awakening from brain trauma takes time: “It could be in two months, three months, six months; it could be in a year,” said his father, who is a psychiatrist.
Lewis was injured when he collided with a car shortly after passing the 2,000-mile mark on the Habitat Biking Challenge, a cross-country trip founded by Yale students in 1994 to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Lewis was not the first to be injured while biking for HBC. 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.
Hal Lewis said he has not had a chance to review “detailed information” about HBC’s safety program, but doesn’t “currently have any reason to question their procedures.” He said he trusts there was “very serious consideration of the safety issues.”
For the Lewis family, one big miracle has already occurred: Kansas managed to feel a lot like home. The family received an outpouring of support, particularly from their son’s friends in Saybrook, AEPi, and the music community: hundreds upon hundreds of reminiscent letters, CDs from Lewis’ cello group Low Strung, selfless offers from acquaintances. Hal Lewis said the Ronald McDonald House, where they stayed, was “unbelievably generous and welcoming,” and he enthusiastically described the prayer chains and services held by clergy — whether “Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish or new age.”
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 daily updates on Lewis’ condition. As of Friday, the website boasted 487 message board posts, about 700 unique visitors and nearly 8,000 visits, with some eager users clicking on the page for updates more than 70 times a day.
On that website, Lewis’ character and contributions to Yale life are in full view.
On July 17, Vy Malcik “called the 14 angels to surround Dan’s bed.” Carol Tarr reminisced about “all the silly jokes and words Dan and I made up to the pieces he was learning” in the early years of his musical life.
“What a blessing,” she wrote.
Family friend Margie Phillips recalled the time she and her daughter, Brianna were in preschool, “playing at the water table or the bean table.”
“I remember your Mom inviting Brie over to play and you had the most incredible creation from your erector set,” she remembered. “Yes, we know you are tired and hurting… but your family [is] still there cheering you on. Go to the voices… focus, think about the erector set you made, all of those incredible devices. You can do this, Danny. Go!!!”
Lewis’ Yale faculty advisor, 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. “He wrote about summer music camp, about the time there in which his string group somehow came together in an unforgettable way. He wrote about summer visits to his grandmother’s cottage on the shore. He wrote movingly about his road trip to Yale with his dad, about those long days on the highway, and about how his mother looked when she sent her son off to college.”
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.”
“And of course there is the infamous, though thoroughly bizarre, secret hug we developed that continuously startled my roommates,” she wrote. “I won’t give it away, except to say that it involves precise timing and robotic movement. One of the best things about you Dan, is your laugh. I look forward to hearing it again soon.”
In an interview, Lewis’ brother Peter, who is 16 and 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,” Peter Lewis said. “I felt very, very loved by the way he was protective of me, but still let me have a lot of individuality.”
His brother said he is relieved to have the entire family finally reunited in Denver, Colorado.
On a CarePages post, Jacqueline Coe ’09 said a surrogate family was also waiting for him in New Haven.
“Dan,” she wrote, “know that your extended family in Saybrook is rooting you on, and that you have an entire school behind you. We stand ready to offer any help and all the love we can.”