Ryan Boyle remembers a lot about the night before the 2003 accident that left him in a coma, but nothing about the accident itself.
"I remember going out the door, then it all went black," Boyle said. His Big Wheels had gone into the street and he was dragged 55 feet under a pickup truck. His prognosis was grim.
But despite a touch-and-go condition, he woke up. That was easy compared to relearning all of life's basic functions, and he still considers himself in rehabilitation, learning to walk without support only months ago.
"Like Chuck Norris, I stared death in the face," he told a class of St. Joseph High School freshmen in the new O'Keefe Auditorium, christened in December 2012.
"I used to think it was the end of the world" over minor things, he said. Nothing compared to what he faced after regained consciousness. He spent weeks motionless and unable to talk, then physical therapy began.
An athlete and mountain biker before the accident, Boyle said he was driven to get better. "Give 110 percent. If that's not enough, give more," Boyle said.
He also kept himself going with the thought that "no matter how bad things are they can be a million times worse."
He eventually returned to school and ultimately finished high school in Georgia. His family moved south after he decided he couldn't improve in Connecticut.
Boyle's intelligence remains unaffected, but his speech and movement were changed. He also rides a bike with two rear wheels but hopes one day to return to a two-wheeler.
He bikes daily and has competed in the Paralympics, said his mother. He has also written a book, When the Lights Go Out. He wants to be an inspirational speaker.
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While he considers his recovery miraculous, Boyle said two miracles were likely involved.
Nuns from Mother Theresa's order in Bridgeport came and prayed over him several times when it appeared he would need surgery to drain fluid and to allow him to breath on his own.
But his excess fluid levels fell and on the third attempt, he breathed on his own.
Doctors were ready to operate, and relented when his parents "begged" doctors to wait a little longer before inserting a trachea ring.
"Third time's the charm, as they say," he said.
Boyle spent seven months in the hospital, where doctors said he may recover movement in his fingers, allowing him to type.
"I woke up every day thinking it was a dream. A bad one. A very bad one. It was my nightmare," he said.
Responding to a student's question, he said he remembered hearing television while in his coma, but did not have a near-death experience.
A Missing Classmate
Boyle said he loved St. Joseph High School and would have stayed if he could have found more rehabilitation.
He got into trouble at his Georgia high school for wearing his St. Joseph jacket.
"I must say I really miss St. Joe's. St. Joe's is irreplaceable," he said.
St. Joseph President William Fitzgerald presented Boyle with a diploma before Boyle started signing books outside of the auditorium.
Principal Ken Mayo added, "We're glad to have him back."