Saverio Sportella graduated with a degree in political science from Fordham University this year. But just a few years ago, it seemed unlikely that he would be rejoining his high school classmates anytime soon.
In April 2004, Saverio, then 15, was hit by a speeding car while crossing the street with his friends. He was rushed to
Queens with a severe brain injury, a crushed left leg, and a host of other traumatic bone and muscle injuries. After multiple lifesaving surgeries, he was transferred to
Hospital, where doctors had to induce a coma to drain excess fluid from his brain.
Five weeks after the accident, Saverio entered Blythedale’s nationally renowned traumatic brain injury (TBI) program. He was still in serious condition, but the Blythedale team immediately began a comprehensive and rigorous therapeutic regimen to rebuild Saverio’s life. The teenage had to relearn how to stand and walk, how to control his upper body, how to use his hands, even how to express himself.
Saverio also had to relearn skills that are essential to any teenager’s emerging sense of autonomy: insight, reflection, time organization, multi-tasking. "Without that kind of cognitive flexibility, a teenager can be lost,” says Dr. Jay Selman, co-director of Blythedale's TBI program. Saverio’s team helped him develop compensatory strategies for every facet of his life – from planning his daily schedule to reading the subtle social cues of the teenage world. "It’s an approach that demands genuine collaboration among staff,” Selman says. "That’s one of Blythedale’s strengths.”
Academics soon became a part of Saverio’s ongoing medical care and intensive therapy regimen. He enrolled in Blythedale’s on-site school, the only one of its kind in
New York, and was eventually able to carry the same course load as his friends back at St. Mary’s.
"The people at Blythedale were so great,” Saverio says. "They gave me a lot of work, but I did it at my own pace. I’m ready to learn new things.”