OCEAN CITY – A little shy of seven years since the terrible single-vehicle crash on Route 113 just south of Berlin that claimed the life of his mother and changed him forever, a Pennsylvania teen has just completed a book about his long road to recovery and the journey he has taken since that fateful afternoon in June 2002.
Nicholas Schaeffer, now 18, was just 12 years old when his family’s SUV left the roadway on Route 113 near Cropper’s Island Rd., first went into a five-foot ditch on the side of the road and hit a driveway, launching the vehicle until it finally came to rest. The family had been camping in the area for about two weeks and made the daily trek to Ocean City to enjoy the beach and everything else the resort had to offer.
Schaeffer’s mother, Lori Dunkle, 39, of Shoemaker, Pa., was launched through the windshield and was killed on impact. Nicholas was seriously injured, as was his stepfather, Randy, and another unidentified 12-year-old boy. Schaeffer was critically injured in the accident and, according to reports in The Dispatch at the time, it was uncertain if he would survive the crash.
Nearly seven years later, Nicholas Schaeffer, now a high school senior in Reading, Pa., has just completed a book about the tragic accident and his long road to recovery. In the 16-page book titled “Living Beyond a Death Sentence,” Schaeffer retells the story of fun in the sun in Ocean City in the days preceding the accident, the details of the horrific crash, coming to terms with the loss of his mother and his long and painful road to recovery.
Schaeffer suffered serious head injuries in the accident that flattened the SUV. He was in a coma for a week and remained in the hospital for four months before embarking on a years-long rehabilitation process. In his book, he relates how difficult the process was as he first learned to speak again and started to regain the use of the left side of his body. Schaeffer has now almost fully recovered although he still has limited use of his left arm.
“I had a severe injury on the right side of my brain and it affected the entire left side of my body,” he told the Reading Eagle last week during a videotaped interview about completing the book. “Slowly but surely, the left side of my brain took over and started to get the left side of my body working again.”
In one of the more poignant sections of the book, Schaeffer retells the story of how his father eventually told him his mother had died in the accident. An excerpt from the book tells how his father knew the day was coming when Nick would start to put the pieces together and wonder where his mother was. The day came sooner than later when Nick asked his father the dreaded question, “Dad, where is Mom at?”
While the book retells the tragic side of the story, its message is more of hope and optimism. Schaeffer is close to graduating from Conrad Weisner High School and is already using the accident and his past experiences in a positive way. He currently works in Pennsylvania day care center for special needs children, teaching them how to overcome their physical limitations. In one example, Schaeffer teaches children with limited use of one side of their body to compensate with the other, just as he did in the years following the accident.
Also in the book, Schaeffer tells the story of his first return trip to Ocean City, where a beautiful sunset helped him come to terms with the loss of his mother and the presence of God in his life. When asked during the interview with the Reading Eagle what inspired him to write the book, he responded he hoped it would provide inspiration to others.
“Why write this book?” he said. “I thought I could tell a good story that might help people.”