Since arriving back home June 4 after three months in the hospital, Jarrett and Samantha Suydam have been trying to find their new normal.
Prior to the hit-and-run accident March 10 that left 26-year-old Jarrett permanently unable to walk, the couple had just moved into their Inverness apartment.
Married less than three years at the time, they had the same hopes and dreams as any young couple, with plans for careers and a family.
They still have hopes and dreams, but now they’re different.
Their immediate goals are to get Jarrett to the point where he can get in and out of bed by himself, on and off a toilet by himself.
And yet, neither Jarrett nor Samantha feel sorry for themselves. Jarrett may be a hit-and-run victim, but he does not feel like a victim.
“I’m alive — that’s been my stance the whole time,” Jarrett said. “If I’m in a chair my whole life — I WILL have a catheter forever — I’m alive. This is not the end of the world. ... Things happen and we don’t always know why.”
About 9:30 p.m. on March 10, Jarrett was hit by a pickup truck driven by Elizabeth Rose McKee as he was walking home from his job at the Family Dollar store in Inverness.
As a result of the accident, Jarrett suffered a broken pelvis, four broken ribs, a broken clavicle, a bruised lung, a laceration down the side of his torso and damage to his hip.
The most serious injuries: a ruptured bladder and detached urethra and prostate. To date, he has undergone more than 20 surgeries and still requires extensive surgery on his pelvis, which will be done at UF Health Shands hospital in Gainesville at a later date.
“Unfortunately, due to the extent of the damage of his bladder, Shands has told us that there isn’t much more they can do and he’ll be on a catheter the rest of his life,” Samantha Suydam said.
McKee faces a second-degree felony count of leaving the scene of a crash involving serious injuries, which carries a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison. On Aug. 1, she will choose whether to take a plea deal or go to trial.
“We fully intend to be in court when it goes to trial,” Jarrett said, adding, “We don’t have any hate in our hearts for her.”
Samantha said they “feel bad” for McKee, but are having a hard time reconciling her alleged actions.
“We have witnesses, and my husband never lost consciousness and remembers everything,” she said. “Her husband got out of the truck and rolled Jarrett over ... they knew he was hurt. We’re lucky someone heard the crash when it happened. The doctor said he would’ve died if he didn’t get help when he did.
“I imagine she feels sorry, but we’ve never gotten an apology,” Samantha said.
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It’s been a little more than a month since the Suydams left Ocala Regional Medical Center.
At the time of the accident, they had been in their apartment on Washington Avenue in Inverness only 10 days — they hadn’t even unpacked their possessions.
While they were at the hospital — Samantha stayed with Jarrett 24/7 — the apartment complex installed a wheelchair ramp at their front door.
This week, they hope work will be done on the bathroom to make it wheelchair-accessible.
Additionally, someone donated a motorized mobility chair so Jarrett can get around more easily.
And they recently adopted a kitten, Luci.
“The doctor suggested we get an emotional support companion animal,” Samantha said. “It’s good for Jarrett’s mental health, a mental boost, because he was depressed while in the hospital. Obviously, our lives are completely changed — he’s 26 years old and has been told he’ll never walk again.
“But since we’ve had the cat, he’s off antidepressants and his mood is a lot better,” she said.
Luci sits on Jarrett’s lap for hours as they watch TV — they watch a LOT of TV, Jarrett said.
So far, they’ve gone through all the back episodes of “NCIS” and “Law and Order” and are now watching “House.”
Samantha, a nursing student at the College of Central Florida, has had to put her studies on hold, but plans to return as soon as Jarrett is able to do basic “ADLs,” activities of daily living.
“Ocala Regional was awesome,” she said. “During some of his procedures they actually let me scrub in and watch.”
Plus, she helped with a lot of his care, and continues now that they’re home.
Jarrett does what he can around the apartment from his chair: He does the dishes, takes out the trash.
He can only sit for about 30 minutes at a time, so he spends most of his time in bed.
“I’m just excited to have a sense of a somewhat normal life again — I can sleep in my own bed again,” Jarrett said.
“We have doctors’ appointments just about every day,” Samantha said. “We’re just happy to be able to get out, go to the store. We go to Walmart a lot.”
Jarrett said he gets recognized frequently. People don’t always remember his name, but they’ll say, “Hey, you’re that guy, the guy in the paper,” and they’ll ask how he’s doing.
“The support from the community has been amazing,” Samantha said. “We owe everything to this community and the people who have helped us ... we wouldn’t still have our apartment without their help, because we haven’t been able to work since the accident.”
Their insurance has paid all it will pay, and there aren’t any big settlements coming, at least not that they’re expecting.
“Medical costs so far are $2 million, so we know that we’ll be in debt for the rest of our lives, but we’re grateful that we have our lives,” Samantha said.
What keeps them going are the cards and letters they’ve received, which they’re keeping in a scrapbook.
Fundraising events are ongoing, with the next one on Aug. 6 at Sonny’s BBQ in Inverness. (Watch the Chronicle and Chronicle Facebook page for details.)
Most of all, Jarrett and Samantha Suydam want to draw awareness to the seriousness of distracted and impaired driving.
“Too many people are beating the charges and just getting probation, and my husband will never walk again and he has to have (catheter surgery) once a month for the rest of his life,” Samantha said. “People don’t take it as seriously as it is.”