When he graduated from college, Steven Benvenisti of Teaneck, New Jersey, was on top of the world. A popular athlete and successful student, he was planning to go to law school. “Everything was perfect,” he said.
But during a spring break trip to Florida, everything changed. As he was walking down a sidewalk one night, a drunk driver veered off the road and ran into him at 50 mph. His body was flung 70 feet; witnesses later reported hearing the sound of an “explosion,” which investigators determined was his head hitting the car’s windshield.
Benvenisti spent 10 days in a coma, during which his parents were told to prepare for his death. Although he emerged from the coma, he faced a long recovery: His legs were shattered and he had a severe traumatic brain injury. He was hospitalized for six months, undergoing more than 15 surgeries. Doctors told him that he risked losing his legs, would have to relearn how to walk, and would never run again, and they urged him to forget about law school.
“I made a promise to myself,” he recalled of those days. “I promised that if I survived this horror and had a full recovery in spite of the prognosis, that I would spend the rest of my life helping people with brain injury and doing what I could to end drunk driving.”
Benvenisti did survive—he made a full physical and mental recovery, attended law school, passed all the bar exams on the first taking and runs every day. He also kept his promise to himself. He now gives 30 to 40 talks a year to students, appearing as a keynote speaker at rehabilitation and legal conferences throughout the country, where he describes his injuries, his recovery, and the importance of not driving under the influence.
Benvenisti donates 100 percent of every honorarium from these appearances to charities such as the Brain Injury Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Saddle River Valley Rescue Squad, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I’m fulfilling a vow I made to myself to help me get through that dark time,” he said, adding that his choice of a law career was another part of that promise.
“My original aim in law school was not personal injury law, but after what happened to me, it was obvious which area of law I should go into,” he said. Benvenisti represents victims of brain injury and those injured or killed by drunk drivers, car crashes, and construction site and other premises accidents.
Benvenisti typically tells his story in the third person, calling it “The Most Significant Case of My Entire Career.” The impact is powerful when he reveals that he is the young student pictured in the grim hospital photos, whose injuries seem insurmountable.
“I like to finish on a positive note,” said Benvenisti, who gives credit for his recovery to his family’s support, the “amazing” long-term rehabilitation he received, and the brain-strengthening “cognitive exercise” of the first year of law school.
Benvenisti said he has received hundreds of letters and e-mails on his Web site, www.inspiredbycase.org. “So many have told me that they are inspired by my story,” he said. “Whether they are motivated to never drink and drive or inspired by the message regarding survival and perseverance, either way, it is enormously gratifying.”
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