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Grateful patient returns<br> Accident victim, family show up at ECMC with $7,000 check

Most people rarely return to the hospital that treated them after a serious accident. But one former patient and his family came back to Erie County Medical Center on Thursday with a check for $7,000.

Michael A. Gifford, 18, of Youngstown, rear-ended a state plow truck doing patch work Jan. 21 on the Robert Moses Parkway near Pletcher Road. He was transported by Mercy Flight to ECMC, where he stayed until early March.

Thursday, physicians, nurses and other hospital personnel hugged him and called him by name before his family presented them a check to show their gratitude.

"Now I have my energy back," Gifford said, standing among those who treated him. "I'm motivated to go out and do more things. I feel like I'm back to my normal self."

Gifford lost a kidney and his spleen, and suffered a broken hand and leg and a collapsed lung. His only visible mark from the accident now is a scar across the back of his right hand.

Bonnie Gifford, his mother, called the accident one of the greatest tragedies her family has endured. She said she found comfort in the care her son received. Only after he had been in ECMC for a week did she feel safe enough to go home.

"His life truly is a tribute to the skill and clinical expertise that this facility has," she said. "I work in health care. I'm a registered nurse. I know."

The hospital's Trauma Intensive Care Unit will receive $4,000 of the donation, and $1,500 apiece will go to the Medical/Surgical Unit and the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit. The money is part of nearly $20,000 from a recent fundraiser the family held to aid all the agencies that helped Gifford.

Mercy Flight received $4,000. The same amount was also donated to the Lewiston and Upper Mountain fire companies.

Gifford recalls a lot of moments at the hospital, including when an employee provided extensions to the equipment he was hooked up to so that he could be moved into the hallway, relieving his claustrophobia.

That sort of extra care, his mother said, is why her son is still alive.

"Michael is living proof of that," said Jody L. Lomeo, ECMC's chief executive officer. "Each and every day, we do read in the paper and we do watch on TV some of the different accidents and tragedies that happen in our community, and we're so blessed."

Gifford's recovery also has inspired his new career aspirations, as he prepares to graduate from Lewiston-Porter High School and attend Niagara County Community College this fall. Before the accident, he wanted to be an electrician; now he wants to go into the health field, possibly as a physical therapist, nurse or surgical technician.

"Being around the doctors, nurses and physical therapists, I feel like I really had something to relate to," he said. "I'm actually kind of glad that the accident happened because it gave me a better outlook on life, you know, making better choices."

e-mail: jsmith@buffnews.com