Drink Driver Loses Eyeball And Half His Face In Horrific 100mph Crash
A Colorado man has found a new sense of purpose in helping others after losing his eyeball and half of his face in a horrendous drink-driving crash.
Daniel Sweig, from Boulder, had been a heavy drinker for much of his adult life. His habit resulted in a drink-driving accident when he was 22, which left him blind in one eye for six months.
He continued drinking in spite of the accident, and found himself in another car crash 15 years later after a heavy night of partying. Daniel had been drinking whiskey and using drugs before he got behind the wheel with another passenger and lost control of his car while making a turn at 100mph in California.
While the passenger, Jojo, was miraculously left uninjured, Daniel couldn’t see out of one eye and was left with part of his skull exposed. He’d suffered from serious facial degloving, meaning extensive amounts of skin were ripped away from the underlying tissues.
Other injuries included a rupturing in his left eye, an orbital wall fracture, an orbital roof fracture and cerebral contusion that lead to minor brain damage in the frontal lobe and several seizures.
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Daniel, 40, commented:
The night of the accident, I was drinking whiskey and doing cocaine. It’s hard to say how much I’d had as it was a constant activity at this point in my life.
Incredibly, Jojo was left without a scratch but I remember turning to him and saying, ‘I can’t see out of my left eye and I can feel my skull.’
I was losing a lot of blood. No one was injured or nearly killed except me so no police came to the hospital to press charges – it was just the state troopers that arrived on the scene with the ambulance.
Daniel was taken to three different hospitals before surgeons at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, knew how to treat him. In the aftermath he underwent 12 surgeries to stabilise his condition, including a skin graft and hundreds of stitches.
Recalling the operations, Daniel explained that doctors removed ‘several ounces of gravel’ from his face before stitching it back together. He had a titanium plate put in his left cheekbone to hold it in place and a skin graft taken from his thigh to his face.
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Daniel later had to undergo another five surgeries to reduce the size of the skin graft. During his treatment, his surgeon found floating bone fragments in his sinuses.
The next day I knew once and for all that my drinking was over. If I’d have killed Jojo, I would’ve hung myself in shame and guilt.
Doctors believed they might be able to save Daniel’s eye, but in the months after the crash his eyelid flipped in on itself, causing his eyelashes to scratch his eye. The surgeon decided the best move would be to take his eye out.
The 40-year-old continued:
That was the most pain I’ve ever felt. I’d experienced this problem with my eyelid before and I’d had corrective surgery. I’m still not sure I should’ve gone back when they said they wanted to take it out.
They had to inject a nerve block into my severed optic nerve. Around the same time, an MRI revealed that I had herniated discs as my left leg became numb and I couldn’t walk.
It was also hard in the beginning to deal with the staring so I hid behind glasses and a hat. Overtime, I became more comfortable but it really is a process adjusting to that change.
Daniel began to suffer from depression, and his mood worsened when he had to move back to his mum’s house in order to save money, impacting his independence and self-reliance.
After moving home, Daniel was able to wean himself off his medication and stop smoking, and he made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet. He’s now been sober for a total of two years and eight months, and though it’s been a tough journey, he said the pain was ‘one hell of a motivator.’
My recovery is dependent on a spiritual practice and through that, I’ve found purpose and meaning which I didn’t have before. I am profoundly grateful for that.
During his recovery, Daniel began to ask himself what he really wanted from life, and realised that ‘all [he] wanted to do was grow food and rescue animals.’
He began creating New Earth Animal Sanctuary – a non-profit organisation specialising in taking care of abused, abandoned, and unwanted farm animals – and shared his experiences with alcohol on social media to help others who are struggling.
Even now, I’ll have friends reach out and ask me how I’ve done it. I’ve had friends that say they want to get sober. I understand my role because the thing is, you can lead a horse to water – and point someone in the right direction – but you can’t make him quit drinking whiskey. It really is an inside job.
Sometimes, people will want to talk to me after they’ve lost some face, but by the time they feel better, they wonder why they called me in the first place. The fact is, I never learned from the mistakes of others – even though I knew they were mistakes.
Daniel still suffers with phantom eye pains, and he finds himself getting claustrophobic in tight spaces and crowds due to his blind spot, but he now knows that ‘happiness is directly linked to [his] level of gratitude.’
During my recovery, I had the chance to help save injured and abused farm animals and it helped me see positivity and light through those dark times. Veganism soon became a part of my physical and mental recovery and my calling became unmistakably clear.
Today, I try to be of service to others as it is not only productive, but also a meaningful and authentic way to life. In the end, I’m grateful for the supernova of facial mayhem that brought me to the place that I am now – proud of who I have become.
Daniel has applied for disability allowances, but is still waiting for a decision on the appeal. Still, with his new sense of purpose and focus, he will no doubt go far.
If you want to discuss any issues relating to alcohol in confidence, contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110, 9am–8pm weekdays and 11am–4pm weekends for advice and support.