Share This Page

Breakfast, bike parade to benefit North Allegheny grad who suffered brain-injury

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Submitted
The O’Connor family gathers UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh to celebrate Clay O'Connor's father's birthday July 28, 2013. Along with Clay O'Connor (front row, center), who is being treated for at raumatic brain injury, are his mother, Sallie (back row), his brother, Cody (front, left) and father, John..

The Bradford Woods Volunteer Fire Company will hold a bike parade and pancake breakfast Aug. 24 to help pay for expenses incurred by a local resident who suffered a traumatic brain injury this summer.

On June 22, Clay O'Connor, a 2009 North Allegheny Senior High School graduate, was skateboarding with a friend near the Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem, Pa., where he was one semester away from graduating with a degree in industrial engineering. It was too hot to wear a helmet, he thought — even though he had always been diligent about wearing one in the past.

“It was a freak accident,” explained his mother, Sallie O'Connor, 44, of Bradford Woods. “He flipped off his skateboard and landed on his head, cracking his skull from the top of his forehead all the way back to the top of his neck.”

He sustained severe damage to his frontal lobe, which controls motor function, problem solving and memory, among other things.

He needed three surgeries within the first few days of the accident. Nearly a quarter of O'Connor's cranium had to be removed in order to relieve the pressure on his brain due to swelling.

O'Connor, 22, spent 16 days in a critical-care unit and another five days in intensive care. He spent a week of that time in a medically induced coma.

Once stabilized, he was transported by ambulance from St. Luke's University Hospital in Bethlehem to UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh to be closer to this family.

The fire company's fundraiser will help the O'Connor family with expenses not covered by insurance, such as the five-hour ambulance ride from Bethlehem to Pittsburgh, which ran $3,800, as well as costs associated with modifying the family's home to accommodate O'Connor's limitations.

Clay O'Connor had served as a junior firefighter or firefighter with the fire company for four years.

The Aug. 24 event will be at the fire hall, 4908 Wexford Run Road. It will kick off at 9 a.m. with a half-mile bike parade, led by a firetruck, through the streets of Bradford Woods. All participants must wear helmets. A contest for the best-decorated bike is open to all children through the eighth grade.

After the parade, pancake and sausages will be served until 11 a.m. Donations will be collected.

“Clay was born and raised here in Bradford Woods. He had his fingers in many different parts of the community. He was a volunteer fireman here. He earned his Eagle Scout award here. He helped the community in many ways, and now, we want to give back,” said Shelly Muhlenkamp, 47, of Bradford Woods, who is coordinating volunteers for the fundraiser.

O'Connor's mother said he is engaged in physical, occupational and speech therapies for five hours a day to re-learn simple skills and everyday tasks.

But doctors have warned the family that it will take another 12 months to have a better idea of the outcome.

“He can walk, play his guitar and win at chess, but he can't remember what happened yesterday. His cognitive reasoning is also affected. Nobody knows whether he'll ever be able to drive a car again or finish his degree at Lehigh,” his mother said.

O'Connor's mother hopes he will be well enough to attend the fundraiser.

“Clay loves pancakes,” she said. “Through this entire experience, I've seen such goodness and kindness in people. It has changed my life. I didn't ask for this change, but it happened.

“To motivate and inspire Clay, I told him about the huge support system he has,” she continued. “I told him about all the people who have rallied behind him, about all the kind and wonderful things people are doing to help, including this upcoming bike parade and pancake breakfast.

“He smiled at me, then replied, ‘That's great.'”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.