It only took eight seconds for the four-passenger plane Charles Bianculli was on to crash in East Farmingdale, leaving him with two broken ribs, a punctured lung, a burst fracture dislocation in his back and an open book fracture of the pelvis. As the plane descended, he just sat back and thought “what’s going to happen is going to happen.”
Now, almost six months later, he’s recovered almost miraculously – with the help of his doctors at Stony Brook University Medical Center, or SBUMC.
“I didn’t know any other way to thank these people,” the 61-year-old survivor said during a press conference he held with his doctors on April 6. “This is what they do every day.”
After the days in intensive care, wheeling around in a wheelchair and going through physical therapy in rehab at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Commack, he’s shown as he walks with his cane around the conference room of the Medical Center he’s truly improved. His orthopedic trauma surgeon, Stephen Kottmeier, even pointed out that he looks more like he’s “holding the cane, rather than using it.”
But the road to recovery wasn’t as easy as he made it seem.
Before the doctors could work on his pelvis, which was temporarily put together with an external fixator, a provisional solution where screws are drilled into uninjured parts of the bone to allow the bones to stay together, they had to repair his spine. The process, which was made tricky by threatening and potential paralysis risks, was done with four screws, two above the fracture, and two below.
Kottmeier explained the medical situation with 3-D diagrams and lifesize models.
“Have you seen this?” Stony Brook University spokesperson Lauren Sheprow asked Bianculli about one of the models.
“I’ve seen it,” Bianculli replied. “I felt it.”
“He’s lived it,” Kottmeier added.
All of the work was done with X-ray guidance, and the screws will be left in for life, unless there’s a problem.
The next issue was the pelvis, which needed serious maintenance. While the external fixer is a solution to saving a life, it is not the final step and can cause problems if left alone, including a violent separation of the pelvis from blood flow which could lead to the perception of a shorter leg.
A pelvis ring was added for stabilization with long screws through a fluoroscopy and radiology, because it was “near very vulnerable anatomy,” explained Kottmeier, who was actually off from work the day they called him about Bianculli.
The 15-hour surgery may have been a major part of Bianculli’s recovery, but he had to participate in physical therapy to even have a chance of returning to health.
“He was great,” said Marilyn Higgins, a nurse who took care of Bianculli while he was in intensive care. “He was a fighter and determined and participated in his care.”
Throughout the process, he would mobilize and actively contribute in his physical therapy, she said.
And while Bianculli was at work taking care of his body, the rest of his family and friends were taking care of him. His son, Nick, a math teacher at Plainedge High School, “did what he had to do,” according to Bianculli. Meanwhile his friends took care of his office in Lindenhurst, where he works as a chiropractor.
Bianculli’s experience as a chiropractor helped him understand the situation he was in and how to take care of himself.
“Now I really know the spectrum,” Bianculli said. “I’ve seen this stuff for 30 years. The more you can do, the better off you will be. If you don’t do the work, you get what you get. I’m not going to let that happen; I have a few years left.”
And he will be spending those years much more appreciative. He’s already happier to see his friends and family since the accident that happened at Republic Airport last October, killing one of the three other people on board. Bianculli, who was just a passenger in the backseat of the single-engine plane the day of the accident, has flown numerous times, and had a license for eight years. He doesn’t plan on flying any time soon.
Coming back to thank the doctors and those at the Medical Center was something rare for those who work there, and something Bianculli felt had to be done.
“I was stunned by the job these guys do, from Good Samaritan to here,” Bianculli said. “They don’t let anything go.”
The employees at the Medical Center were glad to see him back.
“It was a reward for us as practitioners who care,” Higgins said. “We don’t always see patients after.”
Kottmeier was glad to have him back, as well.
“I’m grateful,” he said. “Too often what we do is expected and understandably so, but in healthcare, it’s not perceived by anthing other than an expectation of us. We thank him for that as much as he thanks us.”