“I was fully prepared to change diapers for the next 60 years or so,” Mike Casey, 32, said one recent morning, watching his wife take slow but unaided steps at a Rockville outpatient rehabilitation center.
Any pedestrian who has jumped back to avoid a careering car, or any driver who has stopped short of a jaywalker knows this about Washington’s busy streets: People and vehicles all too often collide. Sometimes, as was the case with an 8-year-old Alexandria boy this week, such a collision ends in death. But more often, it results in serious injuries that can require months, sometimes years, of painful, uncertain recovery.
Nationally, there is a pedestrian fatality every two hours and an injury every nine minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2009, more than 4,000 pedestrians were killed and an additional 59,000 injured.
In many ways, Danalee Casey’s case is unremarkable. She was struck by a car on a rainy October morning blocks from her Silver Spring home. But doctors, relatives and the man who hit her — and who, unlike Casey, remembers every detail of that morning — describe her recovery as nothing short of extraordinary.
Just as he did every day, on Oct. 13, Alex Barnatny of Kensington drove west on Veirs Mill Road on his way to work as a driver for Enterprise Fleet Management. It was after 7 a.m. when he cruised past the crosswalk, he says.
Then he saw her.
“One second the road was clear, and the next she was in front of me,” he says. “And I couldn’t avoid hitting her.”
The windshield shattered from the impact, and when Barnatny stepped out of the car, he found the redhead on the road, blood pooling around her. He wouldn’t know until later that it was the day before her 31st birthday. He called for an ambulance.
“I held her hand,” he says. “I was so scared she was going to die right there.”
In the hours that followed, doctors worked on Casey at Suburban Hospital, and Barnatny, 61, went to church to pray.
“Everybody I know prayed for her,” says Barnatny, who was not charged. “I think they’re still praying for her.”
The accident left Casey with a broken leg and bleeding on her brain. Doctors at Suburban removed two pieces of her skull and implanted them near her stomach, where they would remain until the swelling subsided.
Once he knew she would probably survive, Mike Casey decided it was best to deliver the reality straight to their 11-year-old son, Mike Jr., who has learning disabilities: “I told him, ‘It looks like Mom is going to live, but we don’t know if she’s going to wake up. And if she wakes up, we don’t know if she’s going to come back.’ ”