Officer Kenneth Baribault
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In the early morning hours of Sunday May 18, 2008 my brother, Police Officer Kenneth Baribault, was patrolling the roadways of Long Island. He witnessed a Black Kia SUV weaving on the roadway. The vehicle entered the Long Island Expressway and Officer Baribault followed where he proceeded to pull the vehicle over. During this traffic stop Officer Baribault came to the conclusion that the operator was driving under the influence of alcohol. He went back to his Police Cruiser and obtained his PBT (Portable Breath Test) kit. He went back to the Black Kia to administer the test. Once doing so, he went back to his Police Cruiser and sat inside while he used the radio to call for assistance. He called a friend and colleague of his on his personal cell phone to let him know what he had just done and that he was going to make the arrest.
As Officer Baribault was sitting in his cruiser processing paperwork in order to make the arrest and awaiting "back-up" a silver Mercedes Benz crashed into the back of his cruiser going over 75mph. The force of the impact was so strong that the cruiser was lifted, straight up, six feet off the ground. The person operating the silver Mercedes Benz was also driving under the influence of alcohol. Officer Baribault suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury along with a massive break to his pelvis. He hit his head on the roof of the car when it was forced upwards from the massive impact of the crash - and it is believe that his pelvis broke by hitting the steering wheel as the force sent his body up.
The irony of this situation is unbelievable and, at the same time, not surprising to those who know the prevelance of this problem. Only victims and their loves ones truly know the horror and pain that drunk driving can cause.
After that terrible crash, which occured around 5:50am on Sunday May 18, 2008 on the Long Island Expressway around the Sunnyside Boulevard Exit #46, came a desperate and frantic attempt to save my brother's life. That effort came from a heroic New York City Firefighter, Phil Scarfi. Firefighter Scarfi was on his way to work traveling westbound on the Long Island Expressway when he saw the crash occur on the opposite side of the Exressway. He pulled over and without hesitation grabbed his EMT bag - he proceeded to run across about six lanes of highway traffic to get to my brother. When he approached, Officer Baribault was slumped over in the front seat of his cruiser - his legs still in the driver's side seat where he was sitting, with his torso stretched across the front of the car and his upper body and head resting on the passenger front seat - against the passenger front door. Firefighter Scarfi opened the passenger door and helped to pull Officer Baribault out of the cruiser along with two witnesses who had seen the crash and also pulled over to help.
Firefighter Scarfi performed rescue breathing that saved Officer Baribault's life. By the time the Firefighter got to the seen, Officer Baribault's lips and face were already turning blue. There is no doubt in the mind's of our family that Phil Scarfi was the difference between life and death for Kenneth that morning. He continued to perform this rescue breathing all the way from the scene to the hospital. The crash scene was chaotic and within seconds to minutes there were dozens of police, fire, and rescue vehicles.
Officer Baribault was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York (on Long Island) and admitted into the Emergency Room and then the Intensive Care Unit. Before making his way into the ICU he underwent another life-saving act: a Neurosurgeon had to repair a deadly blood clot on his brain. Dr. Ashesh Mehta was paged to come in imimediately and performed the surgery on Officer Baribault. He was home sleeping when he received the urgent page. After viewing a quick scan of Kenneth's head on his home computer he knew exactly what he needed to do. He opened up Kenneth's head and removed a saucer-sized portion of his skull. He tended to the blood clot and removed it. Then, he took the piece of skull and put it into Kenneth's abdomen for safe-keeping. It was a state-of-the-art surgery that we feel made the biggest difference in the quality of life Kenneth will have in the longterm. The removal of the piece of skull allows for the brain to swell out without causing serious harm or death. The amount of trauma Kenneth's brain sustained was so severe that they listed him as "hour by hour". Doctors monitored him around the clock and did not expect him to survive the first day and night.
My parents were informed by two of Kenneth's fellow officers - they came to their house around 7:30am and knocked on the door. My mom was sleeping and assumed it was Kenneth at the door - maybe dropping by after he got off of work? Once she opened the door and saw two uniformed strangers she knew something was very wrong. My parents were driven by the two officers to the hospital. My mom later told me that the officers didn't say much - they didn't know much but were told that Kenneth was most likely not going to make it. My parents tried to keep it together but my mom later told me she feared the worst - that they were just keeping Kenneth alive on Life Support until they could get there to say goodbye. When they pulled up there were dozens of uniformed officers including some of the top brass of the Nassau County Police Department - along with both the Police Commissioner and Nassau County Executive. Once my dad saw this, he told me, he was certain Kenneth had died. The only thing he could ask, to the County Executive, was "Is my son alive?". The County Executive said yes. They took my parents up to the second floor (Intensive Care) and set them up in a "family room" where they could sit and wait. That tiny pink room became our home for the next two+ months.
I was sleeping around 9:00 that morning when I received a call from my Dad. I didn't get to it in time and the machine picked up - when I heard my father's voice leaving a message on the machine I knew something was wrong. It was very unlike my father to leave any type of machine message. I called him back where he told me that Kenneth was hurt - that he didn't want me driving to the hospital and to make sure to have my husband drive. He wouldn't tell me much but he told me he had a head injury. I had no idea what this meant. He said he came out of his surgery well and that they were monitoring him. That was all we were told. He then asked me to please go pick up my sister and let her know what happened in person. My husband and I somehow put clothes on, I brushed my teeth, and somewhat combed my hair - he drove me to my sister's house who had already received a phone call from a family friend about Kenneth. Word had already started to spread and when I got there she was sitting, looking out the window and waiting for us with our nephew, my brother's son, Christopher on her lap. She had to keep it together for him - he was just six years old at the time and we couldn't tell him anything yet. Moments after our arrival Christopher's mother came to get him and take him to a close friend's house for the afternoon - we told him everything was OK because we had to. He went to our friend's house to play for the afternoon and we went to the hospital.
I don't remember much of that day after this point. I remember getting to the hospital and telling myself the entire way there that Kenneth would be OK - that they probably sent the entire Police Department for all auto crashes. Once we got to the hospital, however, I knew it was very bad. There were news reporters and cameras everywhere... they would chase us from our car into the hospital taking pictures, shouting questions, and videotaping us. I saw a lot of officers - some I knew, some I didn't. I asked one of them, whom I knew, how Kenneth was. He didn't answer me and instead just said, "I'll take you to your parents". We later found out that a lot of the bosses were informed from doctors that they didn't expect Kenneth to live - so, they told the officers and I guess they didn't want to get our hopes up.
When we walked into the hospital I remember feeling sick - through the Emergency Room, down the hall, into an elevator, up to the second floor (ICU), and when the doors opened is when it really goes blank for me. I don't remember meeting all of these important people - people I recognized from televsion like the County Executive and the Police Commissioner. I don't remember seeing my parents but I do remember them hugging me. I don't remember seeing Kenneth for the first time specifically but I do remember not being able to control my emotions. I was so sad and angry. I was worried sick more than anything.
As the hours dragged on the doctors didn't know what to tell us because he was still alive. So, they decided to tell us that they didn't think he'd make it through the night. Until that point, everyone knew this but us. Once we heard that it was pins and needles - every person that walked into that pink room as a heart attack for us. Every single doctor who came inside to tell us any tiny bit of information scared us to death. This went on for days - as Kenneth, day after day, looked death in the face and overcame it. He ended up defying all the odds and the doctors were baffled. They told us they didn't know what to do from that point forward - that they had to come up with a game plan. They said the reason they didn't have one was because they never thought we'd still be there - that he would still be alive.
Two months. Every single day, anywhere from 12-20 hours a day, seven days a week we spent at that hospital with Kenneth. We were in the family room right outside the ICU and would walk back to see him as often as we could -- 20-25 times a day, sometimes more. Through the double doors, second right, down the hall, last door on the left in a little room. That was our life. Kenneth had more surgeries than we could keep track of - he had two shunt procedures (inner drains to remove excess fluid), a monitor placed inside to control the shunts, two surgeries on his pelvis to fuse the shattered bone back together in over three places. Everytime the hair on his head would grow back they'd have to shave it again for another surgery. He had staples all over his head holding the incisions closed. The swelling was so bad - ballooning out of his head and making his eyes swell shut. Finally, it went down and the pressure in his head went down too. That is when they decided to put the piece of his skull back into his head. Another surgery. This time, it brought back memories from day one. More staples, head shaved again, eyes swelling shut again, etc. We had to live that twice. There were days I don't know how we did it and there were days I felt like we could do anything - for him.
Our prayers were finally answered on July 14, 2008 when he got the clearance to be transferred to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey. We were relieved because he had been suffering from several infections due to being in the ICU environment that long. He had lost over 40 pounds off his slender and toned (to begin with) frame. He looked like a shell of his former self. He had a lot of work to do to get back.
Going to Kessler was like being flown to Heaven. No more disgusting ICU setting, no more surgeries, no more suffering. It was time to get better. The Police Department flew him there by helicopter. It was one of the only times he really opened his eyes and looked around - and the first time he had seen daylight in over two months. Before this, in the ICU, he would open his eyes for small intervals - just look at us with all these questions on his mind. I could just look at him and read his mind - wondering what happened. We explained it to him everyday and updated him on how well he was doing all the time. We hoped he could understand us - and it seems like he got the jist of it. He would hold our hands - he just enjoyed human touch. There was a breathing tube in his mouth half the time at the hospital - for the second half of his stay they moved it to his throat and put a trach in. Once we went to Kessler they capped the trach and after two weeks, they removed it! We were happy to have Kenneth totally detached from all machines, medicines, tubes, etc.
Kessler doesn't do hospital gowns. Kenneth was dressed in his regular clothes everyday for therapy. In the beginning, his therapy was three times a day, five days a week and a half-day on Saturday. He had speech, occupational, and physical. The first few days, he could barely keep his eyes open. After that, as he started to eat on his own again (little by little - we began with ice chips and graduated to pudding over the course of about two weeks), he started to gain some strength back. He went from the clothes hanging on him like drapes to fitting him again... and he was promoted from a wheelchair that was like a bed on wheels to a wheelchair that he could actually sit in.
Summer turned into Fall and Fall into Winter. We spent Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and all those beautiful summer days in the ICU. Then, we spent Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's at Kessler. Kenneth spent SIX MONTHS at Kessler - the staff became our second family. He was sent home on January 13th - six months to the day of his arrival. He went from skin and bones to a nice, healthy looking young man. He went from not being able to lift his head off the pillow or eat on his own to wheeling himself around the hallways and eating full meals. He relied on diapers and bags for his urine initially and now goes to the restroom on his own, with some assistance getting in there, of course. He went from not being able to differentiate between an apple and a banana to putting complex puzzles together.
All this time, all these milestones, hurdles and achievements. They have totally changed my entire perspective on life. Most of all, it changed my perspective on Kenneth. I never knew how truly amazing the man I call my brother is until now and everyday I am more astonished.
Still, his biggest hurdle is his speech. His language base was wiped clear. The spot that his brain was damaged most is what makes you speak. My brother, prior to the crash, was such an eloquent speaker and loved to call us on the phone and chat with us about nothing. You can tell he misses the communication and longs to have that personal verbal connection back - especially with his son. He goes to therapy five days a week still - three days on the Island for Occupational and Phsyical. Then, he goes two days a week all the way to Edison, NJ for speech and state-of-the-art stimulation treatments that help awaken the areas hurt by his injury. The difference we have seen in Kenneth since going to Edison and attending the International Brain Research Foundation is nothing short of miraculous. That shell is no more - he has emerged as himself once again and although we still have a long road ahead of us, we are getting there and there is never a moment where I feel that progress has stopped.
It has been fifteen months since this crash changed our lives. Nassau County, in honor of Kenneth, launched a crackdown on Drunk Driving. Since he was hurt they had multiple task forces, roadstops, checkpoints, and other efforts to arrest Drunk Drivers. Since Kenneth got hurt, and because of what happened to him, Nassau County has made over 2,000 drunk driving arrests. Only God knows how many lives Kenneth's story has saved. The County Executive launched the "Wall of Shame" in honor of Kenneth - it has since been ammended from posting names and photos of all individuals who are arrested for drunk driving; to posting the names and photos of those individuals once they are convicted. These efforts make my brother and my family proud. Kenneth is a very dedicated Police Officer and, before his injury, about 75% or more of what Kenneth did as a cop involved pulling drunk drivers over. It was a passion of his and I can estimate that his arrests are somewhere in the hundreds. Kenneth was just 30 years old at the time he was hurt and was a member of the Nassau County Police Department for just over three years. Before that, he was a member of three other Police Departments: Prince William County, Virginia, New York City Police Department, and Suffolk County Park Police Department. He has collectively been a Police Officer for just over 10 years.
There is no one on this earth I am more proud of than my brother. Our family will support him in every single step of his recovery until he has back to 110%. We are thankful that his personality is the same, that he as the same sense of humor and motivation, and that he isn't injured worse. We try to remind ourselves of what he can do as much as possible, rather than focusing on what he has yet to accomplish. We are thrilled to be able to say that his right side, which was virtually motionless since the crash, recently started moving and "coming back". That is fantastic and he even took six steps the other day, on the parallel bars, at therapy. In addition to that, his speech has improved from nothing, to sounds, to words with our prompt, to words with NO prompt, to small sentences totally on his own. We are so glad to hear his voice and he is happy to have some communication back with us.
The person responsible for this was found guilty on all charges last month (July 2009) and was sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed by our law which is seven years on July 22, 2009. I read my Victim Impact Statement before the Court and our family walked away very content and with such a sense of Justice. It really lifted a big weight for us. The Judge's only regret, aside from the fact that Kenneth is a Met fan, is that he could not give the person who hit Kenneth more time. Unfortunately, his hands were tied by the Law and it's sentencing restrictions. However, we are so thankful to this Judge who understands how serious these crimes are and that they need to be punished accordingly. Luckily, the person who did this will not be eligble for parole and will have to serve the full term he was sentenced to. Kenneth deserves Justice and he got it. He was very pleased when we told him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please drink responsibly.
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