Amit's Story: Reclaiming Life and Independence Following Accident

An afternoon ride on his jet ski changed – and almost ended – Amit Netanel’s life. An experienced rider, Amit was enjoying the water and views at Caesar Creek Lake when what he thought was a wave turned out to be a log in the water. That he survived, said Amit and wife Deborah Netanel, was nothing short of a miracle.

“As soon as I realized that I am getting too close to it and it is not a wave, I yanked my hands out of the throttle and the engine stopped,” he recalled. “I am holding on the handle, but gravity took over and lifted my legs above my head and I landed on the front of the jet ski.”

He does not remember much for a time after that.

Other boaters on the lake, seeing the accident from afar, rushed to Amit while calling 911. Chester Township Fire Department met them at the dock. CareFlightwas called to fly him to Miami Valley Hospital, to where the Level I trauma team met him to perform a rapid and comprehensive evaluation.

“He was discovered to have multiple serious injuries after initial evaluation and multiple radiological studies. These included a bleed in his brain and cervical spine injuries,” said Peter Ekeh, MD, director of trauma services at Miami Valley Hospital and the attending trauma physician when Amit arrived.

Once he was assessed and stabilized, specialists he required were consulted with neurosurgeon Daniel Gaudin, MD, and plastic/hand surgeon Sunishka Wimalawansa, MD, among them.

“We are blessed to have a full retinue of very talented specialists. The specialists worked closely and in concert with the trauma team to coordinate his in-hospital care,” Dr. Ekeh said.

Amit’s neurological and spinal injuries were significant, Dr. Gaudin said. “There were challenges. We were cautious. For him, there was maybe the chance to walk again,” he said.

Dr. Gaudin worked closely with Amit and Deborah over months. “I pushed him for a goal every time. Amit worked really, really hard,” he said, noting Deborah was always at his side. “We were pushing, pushing all the time.”

Amit’s progress offers inspiration for others, Dr. Gaudin said. “He is an example of if you push hard, I think you have more of a chance,” he said.

Dr. Wimalawansa continues to work with Amit on the damage to his left arm and hand from a complex brachial plexus injury. This injury affected muscles from his shoulder to his hand, requiring surgeries. “His surgeries involved strategies to improve the flow and function of the nerves to his affected muscles and sensory distributions, by taking pressure off pinched sites and borrowing small strands of expendable function nerves to rewire muscles that had otherwise been ‘disconnected’ from their connections to his spinal cord,” Dr. Wimalawansa said.

The early days after the accident were grim. Amit was completely incapacitated by the spinal cord injury, and medical professionals could only offer guarded opinions about the future. The brachial plexus injury that paralyzed his left upper extremity was a source of unremitting pain.

“The process was very long and painful. My nerves … every little feather touch drove me to the wall with pain,” Amit said.

He was in the ICU for about two weeks, then the trauma unit for 10 days before a transfer to Drake Hospital in Cincinnati for three weeks of rehab.

Along the way professionals prepared Amit for a return to a home transformed for his accessibility and so family could better care for and support him. Neighbors, friends, and strangers reached out to help.

“Amit needed complete care from family around the clock. It was difficult to face the challenges with optimism. Amit felt a complete loss of personal independence. But we all knew that the only path to recovery was through a creative spirit towards the work that was needed,” Deborah said.

Despite his injuries, Amit, a teacher, was determined to return to his elementary classroom in fall 2021. He did.

“The accident was life threatening and life-changing not only for Amit, but for our whole family. However, Amit was very fortunate to receive excellent care. In particular, Dr. Gaudin and Dr. Wimalawansa are outstanding, both in terms of skill and expertise, and for the unparalleled compassion they show to their patients,” Deborah said.

“Amit’s personal determination and endless hours of hard work have enabled him to reclaim much of his life and independence,” she said. “He returned to work, to driving, to traveling, and the powerchair is rarely needed any more. We are grateful for every day, and we hope his story will prove an inspiration to others.”

Headshot of Akpofure Ekeh, MD

Akpofure Ekeh, MD

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Headshot of Sunishka Wimalawansa, MD

Sunishka Wimalawansa, MD

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