SYRACUSE — Andrew Roush and his family opened their house Saturday and served up food to friends, family, neighbors and others to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the head-on collision that almost killed him.
It's not his survival and painful progress toward recovery that they're celebrating, but made it possible — the help of many people who reached out to him and his family, said the father of four.
"Tonight is a celebration not for me, but for everything everybody did to help me.
"Without the help and love that I've been given — without it I wouldn't have gotten out of the car."
The first help may have come from his daughter, Ellie. On March 24, 2011, as the Syracuse resident was dropping his kids off at school, she reminded him, "Dad, make sure you put your seatbelt on."
Minutes later, the next thing he knew, he was feeling pressure on his chest and thought he was having a heart attack.
Someone looked into his crumpled car where he would be pinned for over an hour and told Roush, "You've been in an accident."
The 43-year-old female driver of the other car had been reported to be driving recklessly, hitting Roush nearly head-on. Except for the pressure on his chest, Roush hardly remembers feeling anything at the time. But he had suffered an exploded femur, a shattered pelvis, a broken foot and broken toes.
Roush had been reported unconscious, but some things he does remember. He remembers an off-duty nurse at the accident scene who applied pressure on his leg, holding it together, as he was pulled from the wreckage.
He remembers the EMTs constantly encouraging him to "hang in there."
He remembers the excruciating pain as he was pulled from the car. And he remembers getting his first helicopter ride, Roush jokes — to the hospital.
He spent nine days there and over a month in a rehabilitation center. He had six operations, including one to screw a plate to his femur to hold it together, then when that broke, one to put a rod into the bone.
From of a frame box, Roush pulls out the plate and a set of two to three inch-long screws that for eight months held his leg together.
He's had bone grafts to heal his leg; he has a plate that holds the front of his pelvis together and a lug screw holding the back. He had first to learn to stand again, and then to walk. After months of rehab, he's beginning to walk a little on his own without crutches.
He also had to overcome an addiction to his painkillers.
"I had no idea how hard (that) would be," he said. "It was extremely difficult."
"The only thing that is really left over from the accident, is that I'll have a lot of pain in my pelvis through the rest of my life," he says.
What he also has are memories of all the help he's gotten from family, friends, neighbors and even total strangers.
For Saturday's celebration, cards, notes and drawings from neighbor children crowd a long wall of the Roushes' home. The family prepared a kitchen and long table loaded with food.
"Everywhere I look in my house — in my life, actually — I see evidence of the things people did to help me survive this year," Roush says.
He tallies some of that help: neighbors and friends built a ramp in the garage, so he could get in the house; they built on a first floor bathroom, since he couldn't get upstairs. At Thanksgiving, someone left a big box with a complete Thanksgiving dinner at their doorstep. All told, the family received donated turkeys.
"This Christmas, the Christmas was incredible," he says. "So many people probably sacrificed their own Christmas," to help his family have one. Someone even left a box full of money on their porch.
The company he works for kept him on the payroll and now he works from home.
A high school fundraiser brought in $1,000 to help with medical bills. A couple donated money in memory of their son who had passed away in the last year.
His sister and her husband drove up from Arizona to be with him at the hospital the night of the accident.
An 11-year-old neighbor girl whom the family hardly knew donated the proceeds from a day's worth of snow cone sales.
Numerous visitors, cards and letters from throughout the country and the world has kept the family's spirits up.
A friend from Florida sent a card a week for 10 weeks.
Another friend presented the family with the keys to a new car.
A friend who was dying from cancer sent a note encouraging him to hang on.
"That was very special to me," he said. She was probably in worse shape than he was, but was still reaching out to him, Roush said.
"Honestly, the only reason I survived this year is because of what people did for me, reaching out, doing everything they could to make sure we as a family could survive."
Saturday's celebration almost didn't happen, said his wife, Jennifer. Her husband resisted drawing attention to himself again. But March 24 is an important day in their lives, and they couldn't just pretend it wasn't, she said.
"We like to celebrate at the Roush house. We like to host lots of parties. Family and friends are really important to us.
"His entire life was pretty much taken away in an instant." But when a package came, or a note, or when a visitor dropped by, "It really was those little things that helped us make it through the day.
"People will never really know how much that means to us."
Saturday's celebration is one way the Roushes are trying to tell them.