What happened to the Gasak family shouldn’t happen to anyone. But fortunately, some concerned citizens from the Montclair and Bloomfield are working to help the family—and you can, too.
On December 11, 2009, a young mother from Bloomfield, Joanna Suchocka, was run over by a car on her way to work. Rushed to University Hospital in Newark with severe traumatic brain injury, Suchocka spent over a month in the I.C.U. Though she survived, it was clear she would never be the same.
It was a nightmarish time for her husband, Andy Gasak. By day he went to work and visited the hospital; by night he took care of their two children. Amidst almost unbearable sorrow, Gasak struggled to hold it together for the sake of Matthew and Klara, his children.
At six years old, Matthew was old enough to ask painful questions and, later, to grieve for his mother who didn’t return home. Klara was still breastfeeding at the time of the accident.
“I used to put some of Joanna’s clothes on my chest when I fed her, so she would get Mommy’s smell,” remembers Gasak. “But still, it was three months until she could sleep.”
Suchocka was eventually transferred from University Hospital to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange. Though still in a coma when she arrived, the facility’s physicians and rehabilitation specialists worked with her until she slowly came out of it. During her stay at Kessler, which lasted nearly a year, Suchocka made significant progress.
“They did really good work at Kessler,” Gasak says. “She was phrasing single words, like ‘hungry,’ ‘thirsty.’ She could pronounce names and was trying to formulate sentences.”
Then, suddenly, his wife contracted a systemic infection from being catheterized so long. The family watched her hard-won developmental gains evaporate.
“She became resistant to antibiotics and went backwards after that,” says Gasak quietly.
Suchocka lost her ability to speak and has not regained it since. This, says Gasak, is the worse than anything else he’s endured.
“I miss being able to talk with Joanna,” he confides. “To talk over problems together, to express our feelings. It’s human nature. I can’t talk to the kids. They don’t understand. That’s the part I miss the most. Talking to my wife.”
Then, just when it seemed things could get no worse, the family’s insurance coverage began to run out. Because the driver of the car that hit Suchocka was poor and uninsured, Gasak had nowhere to turn for financial assistance. Desperate to continue his wife’s treatment for as long as possible, he used whatever resources he could.
“During the whole year of 2010 it was a constant fight with the insurance carrier, to allow her to stay at Kessler so she could receive the best available care,” stated Gasak on his webpage devoted to his wife. “I had to ask the U.S. Congress to intervene [but] this only helped for a while.”
Finally, in October 2010, Gasak was forced to move his wife to a lower-cost facility in Lincoln Park, New Jersey. Then, in December 2010, he received a call from his insurance company, Aetna, informing him that Suchocka was denied further coverage and would be discharged from Lincoln Park the following day.
“After several hours on the phone I was able to extend my wife's stay so I had time to buy medical equipment to take care of her in my house,” he recalls.
Suchocka finally returned home on January 3, 2011. It had been eighteen months since the accident. She was still dependent on a feeding tube and unable to speak. And her insurance money was gone.
“I cannot understand how an insurance company can do this,” says Gasak, frustration in his voice. “You pay your premiums and then when you really need them they won’t pay.”
Gasak is from Poland and has no family in the United States to help him and his children. But he does have some very kind friends and a strong religious community. His parish, St. Cassian’s Church in Upper Montclair, decided to harness the support of the community and host a fundraiser in support of the family.
Gasak’s Bloomfield neighbor and close friend, Michele Baer, is heading up the fundraising committee. In a recent email to Patch, Baer stated, “We need to spread the word so that this poor man can get the right medical needs for his wife . . . We decided to raise funds by having a beefsteak dinner at St. Cassian on June 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. There will be Tricky Trays, auction items and a 50/50 draw.”
A popular New Jersey tradition dating back to the 1800s, “Beefsteak Dinners” are a fun way to raise money for businesses, civic groups and charities. As described in a 2008 New York Times article: “As anyone in northern New Jersey could tell you . . . a ‘beefsteak’ refers not to a cut of meat but to a raucous all-you-can-eat-and-drink banquet with a rich history in Bergen and Passaic Counties.”
Gasak, who is currently paying all of his wife’s medical expenses out-of-pocket, hopes the event will raise enough money to improve his wife’s day-to-day quality of life.
“It costs about $2,500 a month for her medications alone,” he says. “I hope this event will help to provide better care for her.”
But with all his financial resources already depleted, this month Gasak had to take the drastic step of moving his wife to be near family in Poland. Medical care costs significantly less there than in the U.S., so for a couple of months she will receive therapy there that would be prohibitively expensive here in New Jersey. This is a temporary measure until Gasak can raise enough money to bring her home again.
“I have to have faith in God,” he says. “It’s a miracle she’s still alive. We just need one more miracle to make her well again.”
ST. CASSIAN CHURCH, LACORDAIRE ACADEMY and THE BROOKDALE NEIGHBORHOOD PROUDLY PRESENT:
1st Annual Beefsteak Dinner Benefitting the Joanna Suchocka Charity
Saturday, June 18, 2011
6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
St. Cassian School, 190 Lorraine Avenue, Upper Montclair
Tickets: $50 per person
Includes all-you-can-eat filet mignon, dessert and entertainment! Silent auction, raffles and 50/50.
For information or to pre-purchase tickets, call Laura Haraka at 973-699-0218.
To buy tickets online for the fundraiser: www.joannafund.org/beefsteak.
If you are unable to attend but would like to make a donation to the Joanna Suchocka Charity, please visit www.joannafund.org