A promising life interrupted
In the spring of 2009, 20-year-old Bradley Dreyer's life was just beginning - he had aspirations to become an ER nurse, played drums with his band, California Republic, and was looking forward to finally turning 21. But on May 26, just days after he had taken his new girlfriend to her senior prom, Bradley's plans were abruptly and violently interrupted when a drunk driver on a motorcycle crashed into him while he was riding his skateboard down West Spain Street at night.
"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said his sister Elizabeth Dreyer.
The accident fractured Bradley's skull, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury for which he requires constant care. After long weeks in a coma, he progressed in his recovery and is now able to communicate with his fingers. But Bradley will require years of intensive therapy to re-learn how to eat, talk and walk - therapies the Dreyer's insurance does not adequately cover.
Longtime friends of the Dreyers, JoAnn Consiglieri and Patti England, in conjunction with Sonoma Valley Teen Services, are planning a fundraiser to help cover Bradley's therapy costs. The event takes place from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building and will include a dinner, live music by Steve Cohen's Jazz Band and Tudo Bem, a live and silent auction and a raffle with cash prizes.
"We're going to have a fund-a-need where we're going to ask people to fund an hour of physical therapy or a week of physical therapy," Consiglieri said. Tickets are $35 a piece or Dreyer fans can reserve a table of 10. For tickets or more details, call 996-0240 or email email@example.com.
For the Dreyer family, the last two years has been a blur of hospitals, medical professionals and battles with the insurance company to get Bradley the level of care he needs. But more than all that, Bradley's parents Mary Kate and Jeff, and his three sisters Gwendolyn, Elizabeth and Margaret, remember with frightening clarity the details of the Tuesday night in 2009 that forever changed all of their lives.
"I was watching him play video games earlier that day, we were just hanging out. The next time I saw him was in the Emergency Room," said his sister Margaret. "I wish I had hugged him before I left. You want to go back and tell him not to go out."
That night, after leaving the skate park around midnight, Bradley and a friend were heading back toward the Plaza. In the opposite lane of traffic, Michael Kelley was riding his motorcycle with a blood alcohol content that later registered at twice the legal limit. Kelly crossed over the centerline, striking Bradley from behind and sending him flying onto the concrete, fracturing his skull.
Bradley's friend was uninjured and immediately called 9-1-1 before looking for a friend who knew how to contact Bradley's family. While Kelly, who was also critically injured in the accident, was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Bradley was loaded into an ambulance bound for the same trauma center.
"The phone rings in the middle of the night and I think, 'This can't be good,'" said Mary Kate, Bradley's mother.
Bradley's longtime friend Rup Juarez was the one to break the news to Mary Kate that her youngest child had been in an accident and was on his way to the hospital. Mary Kate piled into the car with Jeff and Margaret and raced to be by her son's side. On the way, they called the hospital to check on Brad's condition.
"At first they told us he was stable and we said, 'That's good, we like stable," Mary Kate remembered. But the news quickly changed.
"Then Mary Kate just screamed, she screamed, and I thought he was dead," Jeff said, adding that in fact Mary Kate had been told Bradley was in critical condition.
On the drive, Margaret attempted to call her sisters. Elizabeth was living in Napa and could not be reached, so the family sent a police officer to her house to notify her. Gwendolyn was living in Los Angeles with her husband when the phone rang late that night.
"My husband answered and he instantly sat up and had this horrified look on his face," Gwendolyn said, adding that Margaret was too upset to speak. "She dissolved into hysterics and of course I'm freaking out because I have no idea what's going on but I knew it was something awful."
As the family got to the hospital, they were greeted by a parking lot full of Bradley's closest friends. "There must have been a dozen of Brad's friends in the parking lot. They wouldn't let them in because they weren't family so they were just standing out there having a vigil," Jeff said.
The family was ushered into a small waiting room after briefly seeing Bradley in the ER. "He was being treated right next to Michael Kelly. (The hospital) wrote 'Skateboard vs. Motorcycle' on the board next to them, no names," Mary Kate remembers.
For a few hours, the family had no idea what to expect. They waited as painful minutes passed by, praying that their youngest family member would be all right.
"Then they sent in a chaplain to talk to us and we knew that wasn't good," Elizabeth said.
Eventually a doctor told the family the details of Bradley's injuries, saying there was no way to tell how extensive the damage was. They would have to wait and see. Three days after the accident, Bradley's brain began to swell, and doctors removed part of his skull to reduce the pressure on his brain. He was put into a medically induced coma.
"I just stared at the monitor, watching his brain pressure," said Gwendolyn, who moved back home the first month after the accident.
Exactly how many weeks Bradley spent in a coma no one in his family can remember, the time melted away into one long bedside vigil. Eventually, Bradley woke up, although he was unable to speak or move on his own. The family was first hopeful he was on the road to recovery when he was moved to the Kentfield Rehabilitation and Specialty Hospital in Marin, although at that point they had been given no guarantee he would recover. They soon realized it was only the beginning of the biggest challenge yet - the battle with the insurance company to get Bradley the correct level of care.
"It's a constant fight to get him what he needs," Mary Kate said.
Bradley needed to be in an extended care facility with regular access to physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy - however facilities providing all of these services are few and far between. Whenever Bradley was in a facility suited for his needs, he progressed, developing the ability to display one finger to signify "yes" and two fingers for "no."
"When he's really upset he'll flip us off, which is great. Just like a 22-year-old," Elizabeth laughed. "He's in there, he's showing us he's in there every day."
Bradley was also able to tell his girlfriend, Megan Teutschel, he loves her. Although the couple had been dating just three months at the time of the accident, Megan has never left Bradley's side during his two-year saga.
"She once said 'You know, the thing is, even with the accident, this is the best relationship I've ever had,'" Jeff said.
Despite being surrounded by a fiercely loyal and dedicated support system, Bradley's recovery remained dependent on the decisions of his insurance company. When he didn't make the specific gains the insurance company wanted to see, he was bounced to skilled nursing facilities where he was often surrounded by elderly dementia patients without access to the level of therapy he needed to improve. The family fought to keep him out of one hospital that tried to require them to sign a "Do Not Resuscitate" order and told Mary Kate "they'd wait for him to develop an infection or pneumonia and kindly let him go."
"That place was our nightmare," Elizabeth said. "We knew out of anyone, Bradley could recover."
Over the course of nearly two years, he was sent to six separate facilities all over the Bay Area. After two therapists said they had every reason to believe that, with proper rehab, Bradley would regain the ability to walk and talk, the family became fixated with obtaining the therapy treatment he needed, even if the insurance company wouldn't cover it.
"At Petaluma (Post Acute Rehab), we finally paid for therapy. It was $450 a day," Mary Kate said, adding that the family wracked up $90,000 in therapy costs at that facility alone.
Jeff said it took hiring a lawyer to get the insurance company to cover Bradley's care. The attorney helped the family secure $1 million from Blue Cross, Bradley's lifetime maximum, as well as $100,000 in uninsured motorist coverage from their car insurance company since Kelly was an uninsured driver.
"It cost Brad $70,000 to $80,000 in attorney fees to secure that for him," Jeff said.
On Feb. 22, the family finally brought Bradley home to Glen Ellen. "We were so tired of being beholden on the insurance company as to where Brad hangs his hat," Elizabeth said.
Now, the Dreyer's insurance company covers 250 hours of caretaking a month, less than half of the time Bradley requires. Juarez, Bradley's longtime friend who notified his family the night of the accident, trained to become a caregiver and is paid by the family. Elizabeth moved back home and has become Bradley's other primary caregiver, working without pay. Ideally, Bradley would have an hour of speech therapy, an hour of occupational therapy and an hour of physical therapy every day.
"We should be getting three hours a day but we get one because that's what insurance will cover," Mary Kate said.
Elizabeth said the family can cover Bradley's care, but are desperate to provide Bradley a higher level of therapeutic care. Proceeds from the May 7 benefit will be used entirely to fund Bradley's therapy needs, with the ultimate goal of getting him back on his feet, eating and talking. A musician all his life, Bradley is responding well to music therapy and has been working hard to strum his guitar again.
"He taps along with his metal music too," Elizabeth said.
For the family left to pick up the pieces, the journey has been grueling. Each member of the family dealt with the aftermath in his or her own way, particularly when it came to their feelings about Kelley, who was paralyzed following the accident and ultimately died from health complications last fall.
"I don't know how long I was angry with Mike Kelley," Margaret said.
Elizabeth added, "He's paid the price, he's dead. But our situation is still exactly the same."
Jeff said, "There were no winners or losers here. All the families are being punished. It's just one of those senseless tragedies, no one is at fault."
But despite the tragedy the family has faced, and will continue to face, they have found strength in each other. "It's made me appreciate my family more. You always need to cherish every moment with them and tell them you love them,'" Margaret said. "And if I know someone who is going out partying, I say 'Don't drink and drive.' I'll say it every single time."
To see ongoing updates about Bradley's condition, visit www.caringbridge.org and search "BradleyDreyer" (one word).