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NPR man makes miraculous recovery, doctors say

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Published:   |   Updated: January 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Albert Grella pulled up the right pant leg of his pressed trousers, revealing a long, thin scar that is rapidly fading for a man of 67. He tapped lightly on his calf.

“It’s all metal attached to muscle there,” he said. “They call me the ‘bionic man.’ I’ve got more hardware in me, more nuts and bolts, than an Ace hardware store.”

Grella slid his pant leg down, leaned back and smiled.

“They said I’d never walk again. In nine months I proved them wrong.”

Last March, Grella broke nearly every bone in his body and suffered horrific road rash when he was thrown from his motorcycle during a trip to the Florida Keys with his brother Robert and a mutual friend.

The afternoon of their departure, the trio arrived in Miami where it was lightly raining. Robert lost control of his bike and Albert, to avoid hitting his brother, veered sharply to the right. Albert glanced over his shoulder at his brother not realizing a telephone pole stood just ahead. He hit the pole and was thrown from his bike into a ravine, onto a pile of rock.

His 2012 Yamaha Raider was obliterated.

“My boot toe was pointing to the sky and I was laying on my stomach,” Albert said.

Robert was fortunate to escape the accident with road rash and a sprained leg; Albert was not so lucky. His life was saved only by his helmet, the entire left side of which was crushed. With nearly every bone in his body broken, he was transported via helicopter to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he underwent a 30-hour operation to, as he said, “put me back together.”

Albert spent three-and-a-half weeks at Jackson Memorial, which treated Christopher Reeves when he was thrown from his horse. He was then transported to Southern Pines Healthcare Center in New Port Richey.

Albert had no memory of the collision with the pole and it wasn’t until about two months later that he was fully conscious again. He began a months of grueling but ultimately successful physical rehabilitation.

“At first, simple tasks like getting out of bed, getting to the bathroom or sitting at the edge of bed were extremely difficult, at best – not to mention extremely painful,” said Kenneth Olan, a Southern Pines physicaltherapist.

Ater about six weeks, Albert was able to get out of bed for a few hours each day and could bear some weight on his right leg. In October he was then allowed to put weight on his left leg with the help of a walker after undergoing femur surgery last September and a month later receiving approval from an orthopedic physician to bear weight on his left leg while using a walker as he continued physical therapy.

By late December, Albert was independent in all activities of daily living, such as dressing himself. He continues to use a walker but is working toward using a cane. About a month ago, he began driving again.

At the end of January, Albert expects to walk out of Southern Pines after nearly a year of his life. He’ll stay with his brother for a couple months until the mobile home he was making payments on is free for him to live in. Mmedical bills depleted his savings, so he lost the mobile home and had to sell his other bike, a glittering burgundy 2005 Harley Davidson Softail Deuce.

Because he was unable to care for them, he also lost his feline companions, Cocoa and Harley.

Many of Albert’s scars have faded and his rapid healing has astonished his doctors and therapists.

“They said I’m healing like a teenager but it’s positive thinking, my genetics and the Dear Lord.”

Albert now wants Florida to reinstate a mandatory helmet requirement for all motorcycle riders. Since 2000 the state has allowed people 21 and older with at least $10,000 in health insurance to rider without a helmet. “I believe it’s a must, just like laws for seat belts and texting,” Albert said.

Despite his near-death scare, Albert hopes to be back on a motorcycle in the next two years, despite the best efforts of friends and family trying to discourage him.

“Why don’t you ride a trike? “ They ask.

“That’s for sissies, for old men,” Albert tells them.

His only permanent injury is hearing loss. He’s been off pain medication for seven months and looks forward to living on his own again. He plans to come back and visit his newfound friends.

“I owe many thanks to all the employees at Southern Pines for taking care of me,” he said. “God bless them!”

Follow Daylina Miller on Twitter @DaylinaMiller.

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