How Everything Changed in a Split Second
By: Jeff Kudlacik
As far back as I could remember, I wanted to be a doctor. I had always been fascinated with helping people and doing whatever I could to make someone’s life better than it was before. I wasn’t exactly sure which kind of doctor I wanted to be, but I did know that I wanted to own my own practice. So, I went to the University of Kansas and receive a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Pre-med. I graduated in the Spring of 2014 and decided to take a year to work a few jobs to try and get as much money as I could before going into med school. One of the jobs that I had was working as a waiter at a restaurant. My 23rd Birthday was coming up on March 10th, 2015, and I had asked for that day off because I wanted to spend the day with family. It was early afternoon and my manager had called me asking if I could come in because they were short staffed and had tried other waiters but to no avail. I thought, why not? I could use the extra money and could have my parents come in to eat dinner and still spend some time with them on my birthday. After the shift was over, I was driving home just like I always had, when in the matter of a split second my life changed forever.
I was within a ½ mile from my home when a drunk driver going anywhere from 80-100 MPH plowed into the passenger side of my car.
The next thing that I knew is that I woke up on March 29th to my mother absolutely bawling and trying to explain what had happened to me just 19 days earlier. She kept saying that I would be okay and that I would walk again. I was thinking to myself what does she mean by all of that? I just turned 23, and I knew that my grandma was going through some health issues, so maybe my mother was talking about her instead of me. I looked side to side and tried to move but was not able to go anywhere. That is when I looked down at my legs and saw what she was talking about. I pulled back the blanket and looked saw all this hardware and medical devices on my legs and that is when it hit me. I learned that I had suffered broken femurs in both legs, lost part of my right quad, tore my ACL and LCL in my right leg, peripheral neuropathy in both legs from the knee down to compartment syndrome, Severe foot drop, 10 broken ribs, punctured a lung, and sustained some damage to my vocal cords.
I spent 70 days in the hospital and had to have Occupational, Physical, and Speech Therapy. I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, and drink again. Things you think that you wouldn’t have to do for a guy that just turned 23 years old. I spent an additional 3.5 weeks in an inpatient rehab facility before finally being able to go home. I will never forget all the emotions I felt when I first was wheeled into the house. After coming home, I received some additional in-home PT and OT work and went from wheelchair to walker to cane before finally being able to walk pretty much on my own by the summer of 2017.
It was not the easiest road to recovery by any means but there was definitely a silver lining in all of this and that was that my speech therapist ended up becoming my wife. How it happened is that it was a year after I left the hospital, the medical director invited me back for the “Great Save Event”. The event honors an individual that went through a traumatic event and was then saved by the medical staff. After the event, the director asked me to come back in two days and speak to the board on behalf of the treatment that the staff provided to me during my stay at the hospital a couple days later. Before I spoke to the board, I went to the cafeteria to grab some food and catch up with some nurses and PTs and OTs when I saw her. My former speech therapist and future wife walked into the room and sat down at the table, and we started to catch up. I told her that I had a fundraiser coming up and if I could get her number that I could send her some details and an invitation to it and the rest is history.
We started dating in June of 2016 and ended up getting married in November of 2019. We got our first dog together in February of 2021 and then came our first child, our daughter Myla, one day before our two-year anniversary. Albeit everything that has occurred to me physically since the accident such as: 4 blood clots in my right leg, 5 angioplasties (3 in Right leg & 2 in left leg), Removal of IVC filter, a couple surgeries to help with metal rod in right femur, two reconstructive surgeries on the right knee, Arthritis in my lower extremities (mainly my right knee), 3+ years of outpatient physical rehab, monthly pain management doctor visits, the people that I have met throughout this journey have resulted in life-long friendships and an amazing wife and perfect daughter.
Along with having the best family ever, I have been able to work with the MADD organization in hopes of making this world a better place. I have been involved with MADD’s Roll Call Series videos as well as sharing my story throughout my community.
I have spoken at high schools about the dangers and impact of drinking and driving and have shared my story at Victim Impact Panels (VIP) to the offenders in hopes that they would try to think twice before making the same decision to drink and then get behind the wheel. I have also spoken at police stations and academies to re-instill the importance of DUI Checklanes and how valuable they are. I have also shared my story to the University of Kansas Football team and the Kansas City Chief’s Rookie Camp.
Lastly, although the bill was struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court, I worked with some lawyers to help write a bill to hold bars more accountable for gross negligence when it comes to overserving and allowing customers to walk out and potentially get behind the wheel of their car when they are extremely intoxicated.
Drinking and driving is 100% preventable, and I just want to help in any way that I can to get my story out there so that what happened to me will not end up happening to someone else, because I am a very lucky individual. I know that not everyone gets to walk away like I did, and if I am able to just save at least one life in the process, then I can live knowing that my story is doing some good.
Editor’s note. Jeff’s story is highlighted and can be found in MADD’s Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Roll Call Video. The Roll Call Video and series can be found at this link: https://vimeo.com/channels/1695972