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Western Maryland Hospital Center's 'success stories' return

September 18, 2005|By MARIE GILBERT

marieg@herald-mail.com

Independence has taken on a new meaning for David Hartman.

Five years ago, he was in a bed at the Western Maryland Hospital Center with a long list of injuries sustained in a car accident, a list that read like a medical journal - two broken hips, a broken elbow, a fractured jaw, two collapsed lungs, a liver punctured in three places and brain damage.

"I was literally fighting for my life," the Lonaconing, Md., resident recalled. "There were a lot of people who didn't think my chances were very good."

Today, Hartman, 33, is living on his own, has his driver's license and is attending Allegany College of Maryland, where he is studying occupational therapy.

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"I couldn't feed myself for a year," he said. "Now look at me."

Hartman was among the former patients and staff who returned to the center Saturday for a homecoming.

"For the past 48 years, we've served thousands of Maryland citizens," said Cindy Pellegrino, the hospital's chief executive officer. "Today, a lot of our success stories have returned."

The homecoming, Pellegrino said, was the idea of the therapeutic gardens committee, a group of volunteers who maintain the garden areas on the grounds of the center.

"Over the past two years, the committee has been working on an outdoor G-scale electric train garden." Pellegrino said. "When it was completed, everyone was excited to unveil the project. Committee members thought a homecoming would be a great way for former residents and staffers to see the train, as well as other memorials in the garden area."

Pellegrino said about 75 to 100 people were expected to attend Saturday's event, which was held outdoors.

The train garden, Pellegrino said, became a reality through the time, talent and money of volunteers.

"Not a cent of state money was used for the project," she said. "It was all possible thanks to our volunteers."

Homecoming ceremonies also featured a special tribute to Western Maryland Hospital Center family members who have or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who have volunteered to assist in the Gulf Coast states affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Hartman, who drove from Lonaconing for the event, said being present for Saturday's activities at the center was important to him.

"I'm thankful for everything they did for me here," he said. "All of the staff people never gave up on me. I'll never forget what they did for me. They will always be in my heart."

Hartman said he cannot remember the accident, which occurred while he was taking his girlfriend to work outside of Winchester, Va.

"I understand that the driver who struck my car was late for work," he recalled. "He was driving recklessly, struck my car and killed my girlfriend."

Originally in the shock trauma unit of a Baltimore hospital, his family, who lives in Allegany County, moved him to the Western Maryland Hospital Center so he would be closer to them.

"I'm so glad they did," Hartman said.

Hartman is especially thankful to his speech therapist at the center, Cathy Reiter, who he visited with during the homecoming.

"She never gave up on me, and I'll always be thankful for that," he said. "She's just incredible."

"He's the one who is remarkable," Reiter said. "He's worked very hard to get where he is today. We knew he had it in him."

Hartman, who walks with the help of a cane, admitted he doesn't like having a disability.

"But I've come so far," he said. "I always knew I could make it back. Now, I'm proving it."

Hartman said he is doing great with his college studies and is glad he is majoring in occupational therapy, a field he knows a lot about from personal experience.

"Who knows," he said. "Maybe someday, I'll be working right here at Western Maryland Hospital Center. Then, I'll have a chance to help somebody like me."

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