Nevada Reno

Cathy Dubyak, the executive director of C.A.R.D.D.S, read my story about fraternity alcohol poisoning.  Through that article, we realized that we both are trying to spread the same message.  She offered to share her story – and it is posted below.

On February 18, 2011, I was working when I received a hysterical call from my son Danny’s friend, Sean. My son, Danny, was 18- years-old then, and was attending University Nevada Reno. Sean explained frantically how he had just taken Danny to the Emergency Room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno, Nevada. Sean described how Danny had stopped breathing and was inflicted with seizures.


In an attempt to comprehend what was happening to my son, I dialed St. Mary’s Hospital directly from my work phone and spoke to the ER doctor. He explained to me, “Your son is in a coma. He has stopped breathing and is having Grand Mal Seizures. We need your permission to assist his breathing with intubation; he is not breathing on his own and is in a coma.”

Due to my disordered and muddled thoughts, my boss had to take lead on the telephone. I collapsed. I do not recall much after that conversation, other than my older son Ryan picking me up for our journey to Reno from Sacramento, California.

I do recall giving the doctor permission to treat Danny, and asked if Danny would be brain damaged. The doctor explained it was too early to tell. This was among the worst life changing events that I have ever experienced – other than my first husband dying years earlier. When it is your child, as all mothers must know, it is distressing to hear your child is in danger, especially when there’s nothing you can directly do to protect them…need I say more…?

Halfway on our frantic journey to Reno, the doctor called, “Mrs. Dubyak, your son has made a miraculous turnaround. We did not need to assist his breathing and he has come out of his coma. It is likely he will have a full recovery.” The doctor also added that he did not realize I was driving over Donner Summit from Sacramento; it was the worst weather of the year. I thought, perhaps, the doctor was just trying to get me to calm down, and that I would actually be walking into the worst case, the reality of my son facing severe brain damage. These were the longest hours of our lives…

I am still amazed at how the community pulled together. The highway looked like a parking lot with all the cars at a dead stop. Ryan orchestrated about 12 cars to move out of the way, telling them about his brother’s accident. We were able to pass through by driving on the shoulder. We maneuvered our car to the front of the traffic cluster, and a kind man gave us his resident pass so we were able to cross over Donner Summit.

When we finally arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital, I guardedly proceeded to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) approached Danny; he was laying there with his eyes closed. All I could hear was my heart pounding and the beeping of Danny’s heart monitor. I gently touched him and said his name. He opened his eyes, looked at me and said, “This sucks!! I cannot play Lacrosse, snowboard, or even drive for 6 months!” Regardless, I’m just thinking it is a miracle. “Complain more Danny, complain more, and let me hear your voice!”

Our family was very fortunate since our son survived. Danny had to withdraw from UNR because of the injury and the anti-seizure medications. He is blessed that he survived this incident. A miracle happened, and I thank God every day. In my research I realize how extremely fortunate our family is, as many students actually do not live through these accidents. Subsequently, this is my story demonstrating how and why C.A.R.D.D.S was founded.

The Avoidable Incident:

Before the life changing call, February 17, 2011, Danny was just 18-years-old, a freshman in college attending UNR. He and a couple of friends were in the third floor dorms drinking alcohol. Danny recalls nothing of this incident. Therefore, we can only speculate based on the details I was told, and what I have gathered through investigation.

Intoxicated, Danny and his buddy were descending the stairwell when Danny fell. He was knocked out cold. His buddy yelled for help yet no one wanted to get involved because they didn’t want to get into trouble for the under-aged consumption of alcohol. I was told that although Danny hit his head so hard that the noise woke everyone on the third floor no one took action for fear of getting into trouble. In fear of consequences Danny’s buddy ultimately chose to carry my son to his dorm room, leaving him on the bed alone, all night. Danny’s roommate, coming home later, saw that my son had vomited while sleeping in his bed. The roommate dismissed it, drawing the conclusion that Danny must have been “partying.”

The next morning Danny’s roommate woke up and looked over at Danny again, and saw him staring blankly and trembling; He decides to get a couple of other buddies to check it out. Finally, his friend Sean hears the commotion and makes the life changing decision to take Danny to the Emergency Room, ultimately saving his life. While in route to the ER, Danny stopped breathing, started having seizures and horrifyingly fell into a coma….

This string of events provided The Perfect Storm.

Can you see what important action is missing? All of these guys were afraid to call 911 or seek any other help; they were terrified about getting into trouble to the degree of risking their friend’s life. Danny’s injury was diagnosed as a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), bleeding on the back of his brain and severe bruising on the front. The doctor said it was one of the worst falls he had ever witnessed, and again stated it was a miracle that he came out of the coma, and is expected a total recovery. I, of course, attribute this to God. Danny’s total recovery is due to conclude in the near future. The road has been long and it is a journey that could have been avoided with the proper training and awareness we share through C.A.R.D.D.S

Danny, who is an excellent student, consistently maintained a 4.0 – 4.50 GPA throughout jr. high and high school. He was living his dream, playing Lacrosse as a starter, and learning through a university. His dreams were shattered with one bad decision. First, although tests showed Danny did not have much alcohol in his system, he should have not been drinking considering he was underage. Second, if his friends would have gotten him proper medical attention, he would not be where he is today; the seizures could have been prevented and he, maybe, would have been out of the game for 1 week.

We as parents would all like to live in a perfect world where our children do not drink or do drugs however, statistics show that only 1 in 100 parents believe his or her child drinks alcohol or takes drugs, when in fact they do! I am meeting many people who, same thing, buddies puts their friend in the dorm room alone or unattended only to discover they overdosed. In fact, in my research it happens a lot. My son Ryan’s friend, Brandon lost his brother when he died at UC Santa Barbara a couple of years ago; same thing, he was left alone. They got scared and put him in his dorm room. I recently met a lady, Susan who works at our local building department. Susan’s brother also named Danny, was side swiped 20 years ago leaving a Fraternity party at Sacramento State University. Same scenario; everyone had been drinking, his buddies put him in his dorm room alone, he died too.

We need to get the word out to these students, raise awareness to the statistics! Not to minimize what happened to our family, because believe me it has completely thrown us for a loop however, in my research, I realized we are blessed; many students do not pull through and because of that, my heart bleeds for the families who have lost a child.

Many people ask me if I am upset with Danny’s friends for leaving him alone that night. I can say at first I was; they should have known better. However, I now realize they are living the same nightmare we are, just in a different way. Imagine knowing you could have prevented something but you chose not to because you were scared. Then live with the fact that your friend died, or was severely injured, because you failed to act accordingly.

Ultimately, C.A.R.D.D.S is dedicated to getting a simple message out; when in doubt call 911! I have experienced so much involving alcohol incidents; my first husband was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver (1981). My fiancé died by accidentally mixing pain medication with drugs and alcohol after an injury (1988). Tom, hit by a drunk driver (2009), and now Danny and his accident. I believe God is calling me to action…These kids are our future; we need to do something!

If I can save one person, one family, one mother the grief, it will be worth it…






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2 thoughts on “One Mom’s Story

  1. I agree completely with everything Dennis and Cathy wrote. I appreciate both of them contributing.

    The only thing I would add is when in doubt you need to do the right thing. Is there a chance an over-zealous student development type might try to get you in trouble? Sure. But the alternative is potentially tragic. It is never morally ok to take that kind of risk. The better friend does the right thing, even if it isn’t easy.

  2. Thank Cathy for sharing her story.

    This is the kind of thing that demonstrates the immediate need for alcohol-drug amnesty laws that protect the reporting party from prosecution if they call for help.

    Since schools prosecute students under their disciplinary policies regardless of what the court system does, obvious every school needs a parallel amnesty policy. That should be a no-brainer.

    There’s two additional very simple things I want add to that conversation.

    First, it should be all emergency services, not just medical. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a fight break out because someone was denied entry or got out of line. I’ve seen people killed in that situation because police weren’t involved. There is a lot of violent crime against Greeks around the country that goes unreported because we have bad relationships with police and don’t want to get in trouble for a party. And fires. Fire is one of the leading causes of fraternity related deaths. I’ve seen people die and multimillion dollar properties destroyed. There should be no hesitation contacting authorities. It needs to be universal. It may even be appropriate to include calling university authorities to self-report a problem.

    Second, if you create a policy that covers the single individual reporting the incident and not the organization, it isn’t going to work with fraternities. No one is going to sell out their chapter just because they personally won’t get in trouble. When their chapter is in trouble, the individual is too. Again, I’ve seen all kinds of situations go unreported or delay reporting because they didn’t want to get in trouble for a party. Be smart and make a policy that actually saves lives.

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