When the phone rang that August morning, piercing the darkness that enshrouded the bedroom, Susan Wojcik sensed that disaster was about to strike.

She’d been prepared for it for some time.

“A month or two before that call it began to happen,” she explained from her home in Old Bridge, N.J. “I’d find myself jumping out of a deep sleep, not knowing why but having a feeling of dread or doom. It happened three or four times. It was the strangest thing. It was terrifying.

“I believe in God,” she said, “and God was preparing me.”

As her husband, Richard, answered the phone, she headed for the bathroom.

“When I came back in, Richard couldn’t talk. He was sobbing. And then I heard this wail like I never heard before. It was terrible,” she said.

It took a while to get it out of her husband but their youngest son, Michael, whose promising wrestling career at West Virginia had ended during his sophomore year when he suffered a serious neck injury that required surgery, had been involved in an ATV accident near Scranton, Pa., where he and his friends had gone for what Susan Wojcik described as “one last hurrah” before he started teaching at the junior high school he had attended.

His injuries were life-threatening. His best friend at WVU, Carly Mento, described them in a letter to WVU wrestling Coach Craig Turnbull this way:

“He had three broken ribs, two collapsed lungs, a broken clavicle, facial fractures, massive swelling, swollen ankle, and scrapes. The worst is that he had two ruptured arteries: One to his right arm, one to his brain.”

He couldn’t breathe and received an emergency tracheotomy when he was airlifted to the hospital. To this day they are unsure how long he went without breathing. They did what they could in Scranton but the injuries were so severe that he was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital.

He suffered a stroke. They say three-quarters of the right side of his brain is dead.

Little had gone right for the Wojciks, a family of five, ever since 2001. Richard had lost his job of 25 years after 9/11, replaced by an entry level college graduate.

Susan Wojcik had been a stay-at-home mother but she had to go get a job as van driver for special children.

“I haven’t worked since this happened,” she said. “I couldn’t drive children after this.”

The prognosis was not good.

“The doctors said they know all there is to know about the body, but the brain is a mystery,” Susan Wojcik said. “Some tell us this is as good as he’ll ever get. Others tell us not to give up. The brain can compensate.”

And so she prays.

Michael Wojcik is a fighter. His proudest day, perhaps his parents’ proudest day, was last December when this kid who was told by his high school guidance counselor that he wasn’t college material graduated with a 3.25 GPA.

“It was such a thrill,” Susan Wojcik said. “We all drove down there. He couldn’t have been prouder. We were all taking pictures of him. Too bad they weren’t taking pictures of his father and me, because were just glowing.”

Michael has been moved to JFK Johnson Neuroscience Institute for Rehabilitation Brain Trauma Unit, Edison, N.J., and he’s making progress, moving from the deep coma in which he resided for 47 days to minimal consciousness, which means he has some movement and responds to some stimuli but slips in and out of the coma.

When Carly Mento brought him a singlet autographed by the WVU wrestling team, his mother said a tear rolled down his cheek while his father came alive with happiness.

Carly Mento wrote:

“I saw Mike on Sunday. He is making so much progress. He was moving his legs all over the place. It was like he was antsy and could not lay still. Both arms were raised by his shoulders, like he was ready to box.

“He would look towards me when I asked him to, and I relaxed his arms a couple of times. He also made small grunting noises for a few minutes. All of these actions are supposedly the next steps before waking up. It was a little bit hard to watch, but everything he is doing now is a positive sign. I have faith that he will come back to us.”

Susan Wojcik has seen the progress, too.

“Michael had some drool on mouth and my husband told him it was there. Michael brought his hand up and tried to wipe his face. He understood, he knew what to do,” she said.

Perhaps there is a miracle about to occur. It would not surprise Susan.

“My mother has had Alzheimer’s Disease for 10 years,” she said. “She hasn’t recognized me or anyone for a long time. I hadn’t seen her since the accident and I would never tell her about it. When I was leaving I gave her a kiss and she gave me a kiss back. It was the first time she gave me a kiss back.”

Susan could not wait to get to see Michael.

“I told him about it and I said, ‘Do you what would make me more happy? The day you can give me a kiss and a hug.’”

With that, Michael beckoned his mother toward him with his index finger.

o o o o o o

Since Wojcik had not yet started his teaching job, he had no health insurance, and the expenses are staggering. Craig Turnbull’s West Virginia wrestling team is trying to help out with a clinic at the WVU wrestling room, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday with all proceeds going to the Wojciks. You can register at the door or drop off a donation.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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