Her husband was recovering from hip surgery and was about to begin driving again the next day. She wanted to swing by the post office to pick up some stamps. Sheilla Reydak, of Stow, had just entered the building when she met up with a family friend and struck up a conversation while standing with her back to the entrance.
After a few minutes, there came the sound of breaking glass, twisting metal and screeching tires. Reydak turned her head and saw the front end of a car heading straight toward her. With no time to react, or move from its path, the car struck her and pinned her to the wall by the mail drop slots.
That occurred on Sept. 14, 2013. On May 12, 2014, torrential rains came through Stow and a 30 foot section of their basement wall caved in, filling the space with mud. One month later, while moving back into their home, her husband of 24 years, Scott Buck, suffered a debilitating stroke. This is the story of a remarkable woman’s amazing climb back towards recovery and what she learned along the way.
Usually, after three strikes in nine months, one is considered down and out. But not Reydak. Her faith kept her strong enough to endure these hardships and to bear her burdens with a Herculean strength, which most mortals would collapse under.
Certainly, sometimes people can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, while a location is physically set, the variable is the timing. Had she not encountered a neighbor and decided to chat for a few minutes to catch up instead of walking directly in to the service area; if a traffic signal had not changed to red, allowing a car to arrive in the parking lot sooner; if waiting for a vehicle ahead to turn somewhere had caused the driver to pull in the parking space a little later; or, maybe another patron was already parked in front of the doors, things might have turned out differently for her. But, all of those circumstances aligned on that day to put Reydak in harm’s way, and it changed her life in an instant.
The couple had been active before these events – attending home baseball games in Cleveland; participating in church functions; each running a business — she, consulting, he, investment advising; joining hiking and bicycling clubs; heading up community fundraising organizations; and gardening and traveling.
Out of their experiences a book was born: “Helping Hands – A Guide to Helping Others Through Trauma and Tragedy.” It’s a story of the things others did for them which people sometimes need when struggling to get through a difficult time.
The Post Office
Reydak, 51 at the time, was a perky, feisty, bundle of energy who designed, acquired materials and helped build their new front porch. She even assisted with the stonework, learning masonry in the process. She was the one who had always been the ‘go to’ person to help people through a financial or work related struggle. She would dig in and knew exactly what to do in order to be helpful when it came to people who were struggling with those challenges. In the corporate world, she would help manufacturing and retail businesses by being a management consultant working with Fortune 500 companies. Then she was thrown a curve ball.
“I needed stamps,” Reydak stated, “Scott had just had hip replacement surgery one month prior to that, so I was still taking care of him.” They were dog-watching her brother-in-law’s dog, so she planned to go home and take the dogs for a walk and make sure Scott had everything he needed.
“We were staying close to home that day. I was not leaving the house for any length of time because he was not driving yet. So I was just going to run to the post office and get some stamps and do a couple quick errands and ran into a neighbor when I walked into the post office,” Reydak said.
It was a lovely day out and they were discussing the benefits of rubber mulch because she was in the middle of putting in a brand new flower bed and was looking into the options. Suddenly and without warning she heard a loud crash and turned in time to see the front grille of a car where the doors used to be, with glass flying everywhere, and then it was over.
After the car struck her she was unable to move while spread up against the wall and screamed: “Get this thing off of me! This can’t be happening! I need to be taking care of my husband!”
Reydak’s neighbor yelled at the driver to back up the car to release her pinned leg. The force of the impact had pushed her knee into the drywall. After the car backed up, he helped her onto the floor, attended to her leg, and talked to her to keep her alert until help arrived.
“My neighbor took charge of getting the car backed away from me though it could not go far because it was pinned inside the lobby. I momentarily stood there on one leg, leaning against the wall, because my right leg was hanging contorted and filleted from the hip on down. I opened up my arms and he lowered me to the ground where we worked together to hold my leg together. My left wrist – I don’t even know how to explain the left wrist,” Reydak said. Her left wrist was badly broken and had to be surgically put back together, though overall it was ignored due to the complexities of the leg wounds.
According to a police report, the 50-year-old Hudson driver was attempting to park her car in a space directly in front of the front doors about 11:45 a.m. when she “pressed the accelerator instead of the brake…went over the top of the concrete parking barrier, across the sidewalk, through the first glass doors and vestibule, then went through the second set of glass doors.” Tire and skid marks were seen perfectly centered and straight through the entrance leaving no marks on either side of the brickwork.
Another man pulled his wife from the path of the crashing vehicle then rolled over the front of the car but was uninjured, said postal service spokesman David Van Allen. Eyewitness Karen McCrady said, “I couldn’t figure out how she got past those barriers, and right straight into the door.”
While the emergency response team was tending to her wounds, Reydak said she heard somebody say: “I don’t know how we’re going to get her out of here, cause the car’s blocking the door.” “And I’m saying: ‘Well, somebody needs to start breaking a window.’ But then they lifted me over the hood of the car and took me out the back doors. I was awake through it all,” Reydak claimed. So, even with devastating leg injuries that would require urgent attention, numerous surgeries, and a lifetime of continuous care, her wits were still in fine form.
“On the way to the hospital, I asked for a phone and talked to my husband because I had no idea if I would ever see him again,” she added.
The Road to Walking Again
Reydak returned to her home in October 2013 with injuries still needing extensive 24-hour care and daily visits from home healthcare professionals. Like spending the winter in a cocoon, she stayed in bed the entire time and was just starting to walk with a cane by mid-spring.
“From the time I got home, until well into the next year, I had nurses coming to my house regularly. Initially, two nurses and the bandaging expert came every other day. And on the opposite day at least one nurse was visiting daily,” she said. “I was very weak throughout the months. I had to go back to the hospital for additional surgeries,” she added.
Her lower leg kept increasing in size due to the damage to her lymph system. “My foot felt like I was trying to walk on a balloon. I was not able to fit my foot into any type of shoe, limiting my ability to walk outside of the house, or for any distance inside. After repeated inquiries to the surgeon, he said: ‘You are not going to like the look of your leg. You just have to live with it,’” she said.
Reydak learned from a friend about lymphedema treatments and she found a resource that could help her through compression wrapping. The treatments resulted in increasing her mobility so that she could then wear a man’s large tennis shoe on her right foot and begin to walk and drive once again.
Throughout this entire process, the healing aspect and expense consumed her energy so she was not receiving therapy on her leg or hand. “I was not using my left hand at all and I became very concerned that I would never regain any range of motion in my wrist. Today, my left wrist, though it often hurts, can in fact type and bend as it did before.”
She was not gaining the ability to move on from the wheelchair and walker until her cousin told her that if she did not use the cane, she would never be able to use the cane. “With that new knowledge, I started making progress on walking. I learned that one should never give up.”
“Honey, could we please watch something other than the storm tracking? We have already had our disaster for the year. We are not going to get hit by a tornado,” Reydak reasoned. On May 12, 2014, Scott’s attention had been intently focused on the reports of severe thunder storms and possible tornados in the Stow area. Reydak, meanwhile, had been reading and doing some things on the computer from the daybed she had been sleeping on in the living room while still confined to the first floor of their home. As she tired of that, she asked if they could watch something on the DVR because all of the TV stations were just talking about the massive storms happening that night.
“With all of the storms, I had started to charge my phone so that things would be charged if the power went out. So I went into the kitchen to get my phone and I wasn’t moving very fast at all. I was done with the walker and was using a cane at that time. And, within ten minutes, that’s when the wall started…it was just this roaring crash. I’m like, it IS a tornado,” Reydak said describing the freight train rumbling sound of a tornado hitting the house.
Scott immediately ran to the front door to look out and it was perfectly calm outside. Reydak, meanwhile, hobbled off to the interior bathroom. Since she could not navigate the stairs yet, the couple had talked about using that location if disaster struck. But Scott was not thinking about that as he raced to the basement stairs and threw open the door and looked down thinking she had tried to go down there.
“He started down the stairs and it was all rushing in – the backyard was rushing into the basement, all sliding in, it was a mudslide. It’s like you watch these TV shows with the mud sliding down. The back yard mud slide was coming into the basement. He started screaming my name, panicked that I was under several feet of mud and cinderblock that was now filling our basement. After I assured him I was in the bathroom he exclaimed that we no longer had a basement wall,” she said.
Reydak stated that there were seven people in Cuyahoga Falls, one or two in Munroe Falls, and two in Stow who had basement walls collapse that night. Theirs wasn’t from flooding though. It was ground saturation that took out 30 feet of their 35 foot cinderblock wall. “[The wall] totally fell right over. Five to seven feet of our backyard slid into our basement,” she said. After calling 911 they left the house because they weren’t sure if something was going to explode. “Because that happened to the people in the Falls – it didn’t explode, but the gas lines got damaged. It was still raining and cold when we got outside,” she claimed.
Adding insult to injury, nobody thought to have the water line from the street turned off. “Unbeknownst to us, the wall took out the water heater tank which then proceeded to fill the basement to ground level floating our belongings out into our backyard as our basement overflowed,” she said.
Besides all of their personal belongings in the basement, “Every last thing that was below one foot of the house floor needed replaced,” Reydak explained. “The electrical panels, the hot water system and sump pump, the furnace and A/C needed replaced. The stairs to the basement.”
With Scott and their dog, Birgitta, staying at a friend’s house, Reydak sat in the car at their place desperately contacting restoration companies while waiting for the electricity to be turned off. One company representative told her that she better just start digging the basement out on her own. “At 5 a.m., I went to the contractor who had worked on our front porch and sat in his driveway until he left for work at 6 a.m. I told him what had happened. He immediately headed to the equipment rental store and rented a heavy-duty pump to pump out the basement while he went to work. He returned late afternoon and, with the help of our nephew, braced the house. Friends [from church] and the contractor’s team spent an entire Saturday cleaning out the basement into either a dumpster, the garage, or the yard. Then the contractor, a mason, handled the actual wall reconstruction over the course of a month and I found and contracted with electricians; a plumber; the security company; and heating and cooling professionals. This task was harder than normal because the area storms had impacted so many households.”
Once the house rested on a new, solid foundation, and enough repairs were made for the space to be lived in, the couple was anxious to return home and to pick up their lives where they had left off. “We went and stayed with friends. We should have stayed in a hotel and let insurance finish everything before we moved back in, but, we were worried about a safe environment for my leg care,” she said. There was still basement work to be finalized, the yard and deck needed to be restored and the upstairs drywall and doors had yet to be replaced from being damaged when the building had shifted.
“The day we were able to move back into our house, because the structure was sound and the utilities restored, not because the house was in any way finished, my husband had a stroke.”
In addition to being an avid sports fan, and having played baseball and football in high school, Scott Buck has won community awards for Volunteer of the Year, Business Person of the Year, and a lifetime Chamber award. He was instrumental in creating many fundraising events, such as: Pumpkin Festival to raise money for Grief Care Place and Christmas Tree Festival to raise money for the Stow Community Foundation. He brought the Disney Institute to town two years for a fundraiser to benefit the Stow Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce, and, he even ran for mayor of Stow.
“On June 9, our move-in day, my husband collapsed walking in to the house. He had a stroke which paralyzed his right side,” Reydak explained. “We were terrified. He spent approximately six weeks in a rehabilitation hospital, six weeks in a skilled nursing facility, and then about a month at a ten-bed brain injury intensive therapy facility that a friend found for him. I would never have been able to bring him home with my injuries without the extensive physical and occupational therapy which gave him the strength and balance to stand with assistance and transfer from his wheelchair to bed,” Reydak added.
They aggressively scheduled the recommended therapy. A home healthcare aid came three times a week to help Scott get cleaned up and taught him how to once again dress himself. They bought men’s pajamas and larger T-shirts to make it easier to learn to dress. “He worked hard with the assistance and encouragement of so many as friends and professionals worked to provide therapy and care throughout the day,” she said.
Through the encouragement of five friends, her husband, and her sister (whom Reydak named her inspiration team after), Reydak turned her experiences into something positive – a book designed to help people help others. When something happens to totally change a person’s life, like an accident or an illness, the plan changes for the person. And the plan changes for the family and friends.
This is an opportunity to recognize that the person is not only dealing with the loss based on their tragedy, the person is dealing with the loss of that which provided them with excitement and joy. The book is a compilation of things people can do to become involved at this time to be the first step toward restoring joy to somebody’s life, because the person is encouraged by the knowledge that you care.
In a prepared statement, Reydak wrote:
I wanted this book to inspire individuals with ideas about how they can help others through a trauma or tragedy. My standard line, which was truly said with sincerity was, “Let me know if you need anything.” And though I really meant this with all my heart, I rarely ever heard from anyone.
This book was inspired to be about helping others understand what it took (my being injured) to learn. First, that even though people had their life the way they wanted it before they were injured does not mean that everything they had in place will work for them as they recover or work to live a new restricted life. Second, there are so many wonderful things that can help an injured person based on your talents and time. The focus of the book was to share what I learned in order that others are inspired to suggest their own creative options based on their own personal talents and interests.
A lot of people use the words “new normal.” I use the words “reinventing myself based on my new life circumstances.” I am a person who likes to focus on the future and the prospect of moving forward in a positive direction. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when this takes considerable energy. Many days where curling up in a ball to watch movies sounds ideal. The support I receive from others and the fact that I am needed by my family propels me forward each day.
This book provides knowledge that I never had when I was healthy. People appear “normal” and “composed” and some people, bless their hearts, pull off life with grace and composure no matter what adversity lands in their lap. Too much happened at once for composure. I strive to focus on the future and the wonderful interventions gifted to us by others.
The outstanding care of many medical professionals kept me alive and made it possible for me to walk again. The outstanding outreach of family, friends, and strangers is what gave me the strength and the initiative to keep up the fight and move forward in my life. Their encouragement and guidance is what inspired this and future books.
For further information on “Helping Hands – A Guide to Helping Others Through Trauma and Tragedy,” contact Sheilla Reydak at 778 McCauley Rd. #120; Stow, Ohio 44224. Questions? Call: (330) 237-2020.