As a longtime employee of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, Jersey City native Barbara Sekelsky was accustomed to doing for others. An incident that took place in June 2012 now has others doing for her.
The last thing Sekelsky remembers about the night of June 15, 2012 was driving west on Route 33, away from the shore region, heading back to her current home in Freehold. She had spent the day with her family celebrating a niece’s graduation from Monmouth Regional High School in Tinton Falls. As she made her way through Wall Township at around 10 p.m., a collision between two other vehicles triggered a chain reaction that would change her life forever.
“A drunk driver going southbound came through a blinking red light and she hit another car that was going eastbound,” Sekelsky recalled. “The two of those cars came over [the center line] and hit me as I was going westbound.”
‘When the police got there, they thought they were going to call me in as a fatality.’ – Barbara Sekelsky
Instead, she said she was taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where she would spend weeks immobilized before being moved to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation on July 3, 2012. She was told that the accident had left her a “tetraplegic.”
Tetraplegia is similar to quadriplegia and refers to a patient who has suffered a major injury to their spinal cord.
“My C2 to C6 in my spinal column had to be all rebuilt [surgically],” said Sekelsky.
Sekelsky’s accident is among several that have been used by the state of New Jersey to demonstrate the dangers of drunk driving as part of its periodic “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. The state’s most recent campaign, which the Jersey City Police Department participated in, ended on Sept. 2.
High medical expenses
While it has been several years since Sekelsky called Jersey City home, the Saint Joseph Parish graduate still has many friends here and in Bayonne, where she also lived before moving to Freehold. These friends are now holding a series of fundraisers in Hudson County to help offset some of Sekelsky’s medical expenses, which are considerable.
She remained at Kessler until she was discharged on Sept. 1, 2012. Once home, she continued to have occupational therapy three days a week at Kessler as an out-patient and had round-the-clock care from aides who cooked, helped her bathe, and dress each day.
The hard work has paid off. Sekelsky can now get around using a walker and has some limited use of her arms and legs. But, she acknowledges, her recovery is not complete and there are still many tasks she cannot do on her own. She still lacks the strength, dexterity, and small motor skills needed to cook, clean, and manage her personal hygiene.
Despite the need for more intensive therapy, she has had to cut back.
“Now I’m going [to Kessler] twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday, because my insurance ran out. So, I’m paying it on my own now,” Sekelsky said.
As a full-time worker, Sekelsky had medical insurance through her job, she said, but has quickly exhausted her own health care policy, in part because the driver who hit her had a unique auto insurance policy that is only available to indigent drivers.
The limited policy, she said, has made it impossible for her medical expenses to be reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance.
“You know, usually if somebody hits you, you use their insurance first then go to your own,” she said. “I had to use mine from the very beginning.”
Her bill from Jersey Shore University Medical Center alone was over $300,000. Her insurance provider will now only pay for a nurse two hours a day and a home health aide for four hours each day.
She received some money from her uninsured motorist policy.
‘How far I’ve come’
The next fundraiser will take place in Jersey City on Friday, Oct. 4 at Saint Joseph’s Parish, 511 Pavonia Ave. Several of Sekelsky’s friends, coworkers, and family members are planning a “Barbara Sekelsky Night” in her honor. Proceeds from admission sales and raffle tickets will be donated to help defray her escalating medical costs.
The driver who was responsible for the accident has pleaded guilty to various charges and faces a sentencing hearing that is now scheduled for November. Although there have been several hearings in the matter up to this point, Sekelsky did not attend any, opting instead to focus on her physical therapy sessions and recovery.
This means the November sentencing hearing will be the first time she will come face to face with the person who hit her. She said she plans to make a victim impact statement in court. She has not decided whether she plans to sue.
“She doesn’t have anything, so I don’t think I’d get anything,” said Sekelsky. “In 14 months, it’s ridiculous how far I’ve come. That’s what I’m more focused on.”
Tickets for the Oct. 4 Barbara Sekelsky Night at Saint Joseph’s Parish can be purchased online at www.StJosephjc.com or in-person at the Saint Joseph Rectory, 511 Pavonia Ave. Tickets are $25. Checks should be made out to the Saint Joseph Holy Name Society (B. Sekelsky). For more information, call (201) 653-0392.
The event will feature live music, a buffet dinner, cash bar, and raffles throughout the evening.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.