Brain Injury Survivor Gets His Christmas Wish

James Ness with rescuers from the Suffolk County Police Department
James Ness shares a laugh with his rescuers, officers John McAuley and Michael Tenety

BAY SHORE, NY – A 20-year-old Bay Shore man critically injured in a car crash one year ago had his Christmas wish fulfilled today, thanks to the dedicated clinicians at Southside Hospital and two heroic police officers from Suffolk County Police Department’s 3rd Precinct.

Flanked by two of his doctors and his mother today at Southside, James Ness recounted how he was on his way to work at the Bay Shore Mall on Dec. 1, 2013, when another car crashed into him, disengaging his seatbelt and throwing him into the passenger seat of his car. His car struck a telephone pole with such force that parts of the mall lost power.

Although he has no memory of what happened, he pieced together the events of that day based on reports from his family and friends. One clear fact emerged:  he would not be alive today without the two police officers who pulled him from the wreck. Based on the quick response of police, Mr. Ness received life-saving trauma care at Southside Hospital, and later underwent neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY, and more than six months of brain rehabilitation therapy at Southside.

While thanking all of the physicians, nurses, therapists, friends and family members who helped him during his dramatic journey to recovery, Mr. Ness said his Christmas wish was to personally thank the two unknown police officers who saved him, including one who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and cleared his airway until the ambulance arrived. As he spoke about their heroism at today’s news conference and his desire to discover their identities, officers John McAuley (who performed the initial CPR) and Michael Tenety of Suffolk County Police’s 3rd Precinct in Bay Shore entered the room. Both officers had been looking for any news about this courageous young man for the past year and were delighted to visit Southside and fulfill Mr. Ness’ Christmas wish.

“There can be miracles, after all,” said Mr. Ness, who was initially rendered speechless when he first met the two uniformed heroes.

Kristen Demertzis, PhD, chief of neuropsychology at Southside, said Mr. Ness’ recovery is nothing short of miraculous. “Knowing James and watching his progress over the last year is the reason why we go into health care in the first place,” said Dr. Demertzis. “We’re so proud to have worked on his rehabilitation with him over this past year. We’ve all become part of a family.”

Dr. Demertzis explained that Mr. Ness was rushed to Southside with a host of dangerous injuries. Along with the traumatic brain injury, his right eye was non-reactive. He also sustained an open jaw fracture and many skull fractures, as well as injuries to his liver, spleen, left kidney and lungs. After months of grueling physical, speech and occupational therapy, Mr. Ness was discharged from the hospital’s outpatient rehab center in July. Dr. Demertzis said Mr. Ness represents “the beauty of modern medicine combined with a wonderful soul.”

Mr. Ness’ physical rehabilitation medicine physician, Rosanna Sabini, DO, agreed.  Citing Mr. Ness for his incredible strength and perseverance, she said, “When we first saw him, it was pretty scary. But he was always ready to move up to the next level. His recovery is truly remarkable.”

After much hand-shaking and hugs, Mr. Ness’s mother, Lisa Ficarra, said there was much magic within the family during this holiday season. “This year, our Christmas will be so much better. For us, it’s all about home and friends. Last year, we were in the ICU with James; this year, we can all be together.”


Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!