SOMERS, N.Y. - After being ejected from a motorcycle, bouncing off a car into a telephone pole and spending half a month in the hospital, it would be acceptable for that person to be a little selfish. Not Jonathan Daniels.
After his 15-day stay at Westchester Medical Center, the 25-year-old Somers native instead focused on the woman who remained by his side since the crash: his girlfriend of two years, 23-year-old Lindsay Baker.
The crash happened Sept. 15, when he says a car unexpectedly pulled out in front of him and his three friends, all driving motorcycles, while on their way to neighboring Yorktown’s Feast of San Gennaro. His friend hit the car first, then Daniels’ own Yamaha FZ-09 struck the back of the car and he was launched into the street.
“Fortunately, only one of us got hurt,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Unfortunately, that person was me.”
Daniels’ friend fared better than he did. He was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital that day. Daniels, however, missed more than the Feast of San Gennaro. Ten days of his life in the hospital are gone from his memory. In the blink of an eye, his softball league season was over, and he could forget about the Blake Shelton concert tickets he had gifted to Baker just one day prior for her birthday.
He was treated for two collapsed lungs (one of which was punctured), a bleeding brain, lacerated liver, kidney and spleen, three fractured ribs, eight fractured vertebrae and fractured shoulder blades. His recovery so far has amazed doctors, Baker said.
“The police on scene and the EMT didn’t think I would make it through the night,” Daniels said.
Baker had just come off a shift at Heritage Farm in Katonah and jumped into the shower, missing calls from Daniels’ friend. When she got out and saw the missed calls and messages, she knew something was wrong. After she learned of the crash, she rushed to the hospital and arrived by 7 p.m. but she was not permitted to see him for eight hours. He was not awake for the first few days.
“Our family and our group of friends literally hung out at the hospital for that entire weekend,” Baker said. “We went home for maybe a few hours and then turned around and came back. The waiting room was always filled with our family and friends.”
Daniels posted a video someone recorded on their phone of Baker talking to him while he was asleep. His eyes briefly fluttered open at the sound of Baker’s voice, something he has no memory of. When he did wake up he couldn’t lift his arms up because of the injuries to his back and shoulders. He needed assistance with tasks of everyday living such as eating, showering and brushing his teeth. After some physical therapy in the hospital, his condition improved and he was released. He still required help once he got home and Baker did not hesitate to assist him.
Daniels said Baker tends to put others before her and said he understood the toll driving to the hospital every day and caring for him must have taken.
“She didn’t run away. She didn’t get scared,” Daniels said. “You obviously learn a lot about someone when you’re in a coma and they don’t leave your side.”
Daniels said he felt bad that her birthday was lost in the whole ordeal. Daniels, who said he rarely posts on Facebook, decided this particular experience was worth sharing. Wanting to make up for the missed Oct. 8 birthday concert, where Blake Shelton performed in Brooklyn, he wrote an open letter to the country star on Nov. 7, which included details of his crash.
“I was just hoping maybe you would see this letter and help me give her the birthday present she deserves,” he wrote. “All she wants is to see you in concert. It would just make her day and make her smile which is all I want to do.”
He added the video of Baker talking to him and asked users to share the post in hopes that it would reach him.
“I didn’t actually think it would happen to come through,” Daniels said. “But it did.”
The plea went viral. It has amassed 419,465 shares, 195,000 likes and 64,248 comments to date.
“Just knowing 400,000 people shared my post because they care is great,” Daniels said.
On Dec. 8, almost exactly one month later, Shelton responded. After wrapping up a performance for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, he recorded a video message for the couple wishing Daniels a swift recovery and said he wants to meet them.
“Whatever show y’all decide to come to we got a pair of tickets fer ya” he said in his trademark drawl. He added a friendly reminder that “motorcycles are very dangerous.”
By press time, Shelton’s video tallied 133,000 views, 739 shares, 3,900 likes and 457 comments.
“I saw the video and I just started crying because we didn’t think it would get this far,” Baker said. “For him to be like, ‘Oh, I want to meet you,’ was so much more than we ever expected. All the positivity from everyone’s comments and support from sharing…it’s just incredible how complete strangers can really come together and show support.”
Daniels, who had to turn off his notifications in order to keep his phone charged, has received thousands of friend requests and messages. He said he tries to reply to as many as he can, but it’s impossible to do so. Many of the messages are from other riders. Some have reached out in solidarity and others shared stories of their own traumas.
“I mean, I had some pretty bad stuff,” Daniels said. “But people are telling me what happened to them and I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. They lost their arms or legs or are paralyzed. It makes me feel like I got off easy.”
After living the actual nightmare that parents and significant others fear upon hearing the words, “I’m getting a bike,” Daniels said he’s not looking to get on one again any time soon. Although it was a recent hobby for them, he and the other rider who struck the car have given it up indefinitely. The other two involved in the accident retired their bikes and put them up for sale the next day.
“I’m not going to preach to people and say, ‘Hey, don’t get a bike,’” he said. “If you want one, go get one. Just know that there is a bigger chance that it will happen than that it won’t.”
Daniels no longer needs anyone to look after him. Doctors have not yet cleared him to return to his logistics job with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown and Daniels said he is starting to go stir-crazy. He has made progress, but said doctors can’t predict exactly what his recovery will look like long-term.
“I’m glad I’m not in rehab full time and I’m happy I’m home,” he said. “I have a lot of nerve damage and ligaments have been torn. Just my back alone is still not nearly recovered. I’m getting used to it now. It was bad in the beginning. I feel better, I definitely feel better but nothing like I felt before.”
The couple plans to take Shelton up on his offer when Daniels feels up to it. By making a vacation of it, they hope to bring some closure to this difficult chapter with some rest and relaxation. Both said the experience made them stronger.
“We’re both so lucky that he didn’t lose his life over this,” Baker said. “Obviously the accident and his injuries are devastating, but he’s made a great recovery so far. I’m so glad that it ended up being OK.”