Rich Fuchs smiles through his tears as he talks about his son, Michael, who is recovering from his injuries after falling from his six-floor dorm room window last weekend. “We get a second chance,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”
“We’re so thankful,” added his mother, Mary Fuchs. “So many parents don’t get a second chance.”
Six days after 19-year-old freshman fell from his dormitory window at the University of Dayton’s Marycrest Complex, Fuchs had his breathing tube removed Friday, allowing him to speak to his parents. “He is much more comfortable, and we’re so happy to be able to hear his voice and talk with him — another moment of incredible grace,” his mother said.
Dayton Police have ruled out foul play and a suicide attempt. Fuchs’ parents said they are awaiting toxicology screening results, but they believe that either illegal drugs or alcohol may have been a factor in their son’s accident.
Fuchs did not suffer any spinal cord damage or brain injury in the fall, although he fractured a vertebrae and broke his leg in several places. “He will certainly need a lot of time and physical therapy, but he should make a good recovery,” his mother said.
Fuchs’ life was saved, his parents said, by the mother-and-daughter Good Samaritans who first found their son, moaning in pain on the ground outside the complex about 4:30 p.m. on April 20.
UD freshman Elaine Laux and her mother, Marianne, had just returned from celebrating her 19th birthday at their home in West Chester Twp. After dropping off her daughter at her dorm room, Laux found the injured youth and immediately called for help while comforting him, “Stay with me, sweetie, help is on the way.”
“They did everything right,” Mary Fuchs marveled.”They kept him awake and alert. They didn’t move him. They held his hand and the mom talked to him like a mom.”
Unable to get a good flight, the couple drove through the night from their home in Edison, N.J., initially fearing the worst. As the night wore on, the updates from the hospital became more hopeful.
When they arrived at last at Miami Valley Hospital, they found that Father Jerry Chinchar, S.M., a campus minister, and Gywn Fox-Stump, associate director for student life in Kennedy Union, had kept vigil with their son all night. “He was never alone,” Mary Fuchs said, her voice breaking. “Priests were with him, praying. He was surrounded by people who cared.”
Still, Fuchs faced an uphill battle. The day after the fall was spent nearly entirely in surgery. “It was a grueling, long day, but the news was always good,” Mary Fuchs said.
They described their son, a criminal justice major, as an outgoing person who loved UD and had made many friends there. Although he could not speak until Friday, they said he was alert, enjoying visits from friends and giving his nurses the thumbs-up sign.
‘It’s hard to be mad at him’
They still are not sure what caused Fuchs’ fall, but they do not believe it was a suicide attempt. Just the day before the accident, he was excited about choosing his classes for the fall semester, including a course in Arabic. “We’re happy to know that he didn’t have the anguish that could push him to do something like that,” Mary Fuchs said.
If drugs or alcohol may have been a factor in Fuchs’ accident, his parents hope it will cause other students to be more careful and to look out for each other. “It’s hard to be mad at him, because we’re just so relieved,” his father said.
They do not blame UD for what happened, and do not believe that any new safety measures after their son’s accident, the second time in three weeks that a student had fallen from a sixth-floor dorm window. Larry Cook, 18, died after falling from the Stuart Complex on April 2. The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office ruled Cook’s death a suicide, but his family has hired a lawyer to dispute that ruling and claims a cover-up by the university and police.
“UD has a great reputation and it deserves to stay great,” Rich Fuchs said. “This was an isolated, terrible incident that could happen at any university.”
When Fuchs was looking at colleges last year, the family was struck by the friendliness of the U.D. campus as well as the atmosphere of faith-based learning. “The school has been like a family this week,” Rich Fuchs said.
Mary Fuchs added, “We can’t say enough about the people at Miami Valley Hospital and UD. We are humbled and grateful to all the people around us.”
On Thursday, Fuchs was able to pull himself to a sitting position and hug his parents. “It was the best hug ever,” his father said.
The couple does not know when their son will be able to come home for physical therapy and rehabilitation. His fractured vertebrae has been stabilized through surgery, and protected by a “halo,” which he will have to wear for three months. This week, he will undergo an additional operation on his leg. He also had several breaks of smaller bones, all of which have been successfully set and should heal well over time.
“He has a long road to recovery, and it’s sad that his plans will be on hold for a while,” Mary Fuchs said. “But we are so thankful for a second chance.”