California bicyclist hospitalized for 33 days bonds with the driver who hit him

On a beautiful morning last Memorial Day weekend, two worlds collided on the Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach. What followed would be an act of extraordinary forgiveness – and an accidental friendship.

Tom Sovilla was savoring one of his long bike rides as he reached the Seapoint Street intersection, where the view opens up to the glittering ocean.

At that instant, surfer Jack Keith, driving his pickup truck some 50 mph, momentarily glanced sideways to check out the waves. “When I turned my head, there was Tom – I didn’t even have time to react,” Keith recalled.

In his split-second distraction, Keith had crossed the bike lane. To his horror, he saw Sovilla’s body flying through the air. “I thought he wasn’t going to survive,” said Keith, 46, who lives in Garden Grove.

Right then, fortuitously, two medics also out for a ride happened to pedal up. While they tended to Sovilla, Keith stood by helplessly – distraught, crying, shivering.

Sovilla, 62, remembers none of that.

“The next thing I knew, I was being loaded into an ambulance,” said the La Habra resident, who owns a machine shop. “I had excruciating pain in my pelvis.”

Remarkably, Sovilla did not suffer a brain injury. But months later, he is still recovering from severe hip and knee injuries. He spent 33 days in the hospital and continues intense physical therapy.

And, he abruptly had to give up his beloved 60-mile bike rides – a hobby avidly embraced just two years before.

Loss of mobility, loss of work time, loss of life as he knew it – all that, yet Sovilla never felt a pinch of anger at the person responsible.

“Jack made a mistake – I’ve been distracted before and veered into the next lane,” Sovilla said. “Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Yeah. But it did.”

Meanwhile, Keith, who was not cited for the accident, frantically tried to find out what had become of his victim. “For five days, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t work,” Keith said.

The Huntington Beach Police Department did not return Keith’s calls asking for information, so he contacted one of the witnesses, who in turn contacted Sovilla’s wife.

“I texted Jack and assured him that Tom would be OK,” said Jenette Sovilla. “He said, ‘Thank you, thank you. I’ve been a mess.’”

“I broke down and cried,” Keith said.

Keith visited the Sovillas at UCI Medical Center a few days later. “It wasn’t awkward – they don’t make anything awkward,” he said.

Rather than an uncomfortable, one-time encounter, Tom Sovilla said, “It was the beginning of a new friendship.”

The couple’s six daughters, too, immediately accepted their new reality without seeking blame.

“We just felt sorry for Keith,” Jenette Sovilla, 61, said. “It would be so devastating to hurt someone. I can’t imagine.”

Sovilla suffered a broken pelvis, which was reconstructed with a plate and 12 screws. While his hip is on the mend, knee injuries still dog his full recovery.

“We had to reconstruct all four ligaments,” said orthopedic surgeon Dean Wang. “Back in the day, his leg would have been amputated.”

When Sovilla first came home, he used a wheelchair and then a walker. He now gets around with the aid of a cane.

A carpenter, Keith made modifications to the Sovillas’ downstairs bathroom shower for easier access. He also raised almost $2,000 for Sovilla’s medical costs. Between that and Keith’s insurance, much of Sovilla’s deductible was covered.

Tom and Jenette Sovilla attribute the family’s amazing grace to their deep Christian faith.

“We could live our lives angry and bitter about lots of things that have happened to us,” said Jenette Sovilla. “Why? It doesn’t help anything.”

John Scolaro, the trauma surgeon who repaired Sovilla’s hip in an eight-hour operation, marveled at his patient’s resilience and empathy.

“This is a truly exceptional family,” Scolaro said. “UCI Medical is Orange County’s major trauma center, so we see vehicular accident injuries every day. It is very hard to convince a patient going through pain and long rehabilitation that no one was ever out to put them in this situation.”

Yet Sovilla needed no prompting.

“It wasn’t like Jack was aiming for me,” he said. “Bad things happen all the time. If you are unforgiving, you only hurt yourself.”

Source: mercurynews
California bicyclist hospitalized for 33 days bonds with the driver who hit him

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