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The long and winding road for Shane Hmiel

   Steve Hmiel congratulating Jamie McMurrray after winning last season's Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Talk about miracles....
   Consider Shane Hmiel.
   His near-fatal crash last summer during a sprint car weekend in Indiana has kept him hospitalized ever since. And for the 30-year-old racer and his parents, Steve and Lesa Hmiel, that long, painful recovery has been a traumatic road.

    Life hasn't been easy for any of the three, and it's not going to get much easier any time soon.
    However Steve says Shane – who died four times right in front of him, during those days in the hospital after that horrific sprint car wreck – is making an almost miraculous recovery, considering the injuries he had.
   Steve Hmiel is the veteran NASCAR team manager, with Chip Ganassi and drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. So for Steve, the past year has been a run of frightening lows and stunning highs – McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 last season, and Montoya won Watkins Glen.
   Shane Hmiel is in the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he's been since he was moved from the ICU in Indianapolis, about 14 weeks now. The facility specializes in spinal cord rehabilitation and severe brain injuries.
   "He went there (to Shepherd) as a complete quadriplegic. He couldn't breathe on his own. And they didn't think he'd ever get to breathe on his own, or move anything," Steve Hmiel says.
   "So we were pretty downhearted.
   "But after a couple of days they had his lungs squared away and the vent out. And his arms were moving, and he started moving his hips, and wiggling his toes....
    "Now obviously he was really severely injured, so he has to relearn how to write and walk and all that stuff.
   "But he can call on the telephone and he can use his computer.
   "He passed his last cognitive test last week; his brain is in really good shape.  He doesn't have any injury, and damage.
   "But Shane still has a long way to go. It may take him at least a year from the time of the incident for him to be able to walk, with crutches or a walker.
   "But it's certainly a lot better than it looked when we first got there.


   "It was a really ugly situation when I first got there from California. We were fortunate to make it through the first 48 to 72 hours; his lungs were pretty bad, because he'd aspirated terribly when he had the accident. And he had a one-in-10 chance of surviving.
   "Then he 'coded' four times, which means he quit breathing, his heart quit pumping.
   "So it was a long road up there in Indiana.
   "But now it's therapy....which is going slower than I'd like to see, but he's certainly made an awful lot of headway.
   "He's happy with himself, and he's upbeat. I think regardless of what happens he'll still be Shane.
   "But he is on their list of people they believe will have a full recovery."

    Shane thinks about cars "all the time," Steve says. "In fact when they put those eight-inch bars in his back, they made sure they placed the rods in such a way he could sit in a race car and be comfortable."
    Shane Hmiel also has a six-inch plate in his neck, implanted the night of the wreck.
   "They've been terribly concerned about stroke," Hmiel says. "He had an aneurism in his left ceratoid artery, which they fixed.
   "And he an inch-and-a-half hole in one of his veins that feeds blood into his brain. They did two of those surgical repairs; they were worried about a stroke because they weren't sure about the extent of his head injury."

    But now Shane is "moving everything," Hmiel says.
   "He does have neurons firing all over his body, and they seem to feel that with some therapy he should be okay.
   "The doctor who did the surgery said from Day One he thought he would be all right.
   "It remains to be seen. A spinal cord injury, as I've learned over the past 10 weeks, is pretty tough to predict.
   "But he's doing more than they thought.
   "You can call him up and talk about anything....from Tuesday before the race – he doesn't remember anything about that weekend. He does have some short-term memory trouble; it was terrible two months ago but it gets better by the day. They think that will be okay.
   "His vision is 20-13. He is incredibly strong; he was very physically fit.
    "He's just very fortunate.
   "It just remains to be seen how far he will go. But the doctors have assured us that once those neurons started firing, it shouldn't go away.
   "His release date gets further and further away, because he's having so much success. He's moving more stuff now; his legs are moving, his feet are moving, his toes are wiggling.
   "The way insurance companies look at things like this is if there is light at the end of the tunnel, and for Shane things have gone very well.
   "He may be there a good long while.
    "He's way tougher than I am, physically and mentally. 
   "His mother has done a terrific job; she hasn't been home since the accident. She's stayed right by his side. And I spend weekends with him.
   "We've learned a lot about each other. It's been a good experience.
   "The outcome might not be as good as we'd like, but we'll take whatever comes."
   Any bitterness?
   "Shane says 'Well, I didn't hurt myself jumping into the shallow end of the swimming pool. I hurt myself racing,'" Hmiel said.
   "'That's what you taught me to do.' "And that's how he was making his living, and he just got hurt.
   "And Shane says 'I'm going to apply the same logic and determine to get back racing again.'"


That is so awesome! I am so

That is so awesome! I am so glad his recovery has been very positive. Get well Shane! I want to see you back on the track!

Great piece, Mike. Thanks

Great piece, Mike. Thanks for the update. My heart sunk last summer hearing about this at church the morning after it happened and then reading about it on the net for the first couple of days that followed. Hopefully Shane will make a full recovery. I worry about him wanting to jump back in a race car, but that's what true racers do and it's largely probably what keeps him motivated during his recovery process.

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