The car struck her from behind, but it didn’t stop when it hit her.
It had crossed the double yellow lines in the middle of the Hanover County road and kept going with her into her neighbor’s field. Then it drove away.
Denise A. Gorondy doesn’t remember any of it. She doesn’t remember the cyclist who found her an hour later — not because he saw her, but because he noticed the debris the car had left behind — and she doesn’t remember being airlifted to VCU Medical Center in downtown Richmond.
Her husband, Ben Toderico, remembers. He remembers getting their two small boys dressed and then realizing that Gorondy had been gone too long on her Sunday run. He was heading out the door with the kids to go look for her when a Hanover sheriff came up his driveway.
Gorondy’s chances of survival were slim. The car that hit her about a mile from her Montpelier home had left her with four fractured vertebrae, an open fracture of her tibia and fibula, a fractured elbow, two fractured ribs and a severe traumatic brain injury. She also had bilateral carotid artery dissection, so blood wasn’t getting to her brain, and a subdural hematoma, meaning blood was collecting between her brain and the tissue around it.
But 40 days later, she left the hospital alive, largely due to the support she received from her husband — who spent every day in the hospital with her — her athleticism, her sheer will and the care she received.
The man driving the car, Tsz Kit Zane Theodore Yung, was apprehended and is due to be sentenced on May 31.
But Toderico said he and his family do not linger on Yung’s sentencing.
“I’ve striven to maintain a positive atmosphere for Denise,” he said. “We say, ‘Ever forward.’ We’re always progressing forward, be it for the family, be it for Denise, be it for each other. What he did to us can’t be undone and so we have to take the situation that we’re in and move forward with it, so wasting energy on him is not beneficial to us.”
Since the accident on June 5, Gorondy, 43, has made great strides toward her recovery. A veterinarian, she plans to return to work when she regains full use of her right arm.
“Because of the severity of my injuries, no one knew what to say about the state of my recovery,” she said. “And they’re telling me I’m doing fantastic, and I think that is the case. But I am such a go-getter type of person that I would love to blink my eyes and have everything back to normal from the day before the accident, and that’s still a long way away.”
On Saturday, Gorondy was recognized as the featured patient during VCU Health’s Shining Knight Gala, which honors the emergency response teams and trauma care providers that tend to patients like Gorondy.
“It was a team effort,” said Dr. James Whelan, the trauma physician who treated Gorondy. “One mistake with these kinds of patients and you don’t have that outcome.”
Gorondy still can’t run the same way she used to, and she still experiences issues with her elbow. But with Toderico by her side, she exercises every day unfailingly, walking and doing some light jogging and lifting weights.
She rebuilt her muscles so she can do simple things like carry groceries and lift her two children, ages 3 and 5, which has been particularly useful. “Especially when we have a 3-year-old who thinks anytime you hold his hand, it’s an invitation to swing,” Toderico said.
The ultimate benefit of her exercise routine, though, is to get back to running. Likely one of the reasons she survived the accident was because she was in such good shape, Whelan said.
“Running was my way of staying strong and keeping positive for my family, and gave me an opportunity to sort through my thoughts,” Gorondy said.
Upon arrival at VCU Medical Center, Gorondy’s score on the glasgow coma scale, which is used to identify a patient’s level of consciousness, was the lowest possible, a 3.
“She wasn’t doing anything,” Whelan said. “She wasn’t blinking her eyes, wasn’t moving her extremities, wasn’t talking to us. For a trauma surgeon, that is a really bad prognostic sign. Ninety percent of the people who come in in that condition don’t ever leave the hospital.”
It took 10 minutes for the helicopter to arrive on the scene once paramedics got to Gorondy, and 10 minutes to fly her to VCU. Typically when a patient is in such a severe state, providers start counseling loved ones about organ donation, but no one mentioned that to Toderico.
“They were doing a lot of work just to make sure that everything they could do for her was done,” he said.
Gorondy had already been lying in her neighbor’s field for an hour before she was found, and time was of the essence. Providers had to make sure they kept her blood pressure up and worked on returning normal blood flow to her brain.
Now, she is close to rebuilding her body so she can return to the activities she did — like running 6 miles in the morning — before the accident happened.
“It’s true that bad things happen to good people, but you have to take what life throws your way and handle it and tackle it with poise and gusto,” Gorondy added, “and to not let it get the best of you.”