Student beaten into coma speaks out

April 22, 2009 3:02:57 PM PDT
A New York college student beaten into a coma during a barroom brawl last year says he doesn't remember the attack. Flanked by his parents and doctors, Bryan Steinhauer spoke in public for the first time since he was beaten nearly to death last May.

The 22-year-old from Brooklyn said at a news conference at Mount Sinai Medical Center that he's "just a normal guy stuck in a bad situation who kept a positive attitude and kept my head held high."

"So please don't feel sad for me because struggle brings strength; tragedy leads to wisdom," he said.

The suspect in the attack near upstate Binghamton University is former college basketball player Miladin Kovacevic, who jumped bail and fled to Serbia. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Kovacevic was accused of assaulting the 130-pound Steinhauer in a Binghamton bar, repeatedly kicking him in the chest and head.

Witnesses told police that the two men had exchanged harsh words after Steinhauer danced with the girlfriend of one of Kovacevic's friends.

The case strained relations between the United States and Serbia. Hillary Rodham Clinton intervened, first as U.S. senator and later as secretary of state, as did Sen. Charles Schumer, to make sure Kovacevic was prosecuted.

Steinhauer awoke from his coma in August, three months after the beating that left him with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.

He weighed less than 100 pounds, could not speak or walk, and was fed through a tube, doctors said Wednesday.

"He had hemorrhages and contusions affecting almost every lobe of his brain," said Dr. Brian Greenwald, who led the rehabilitation.

But the young man surprised even his doctors, working hard to overcome the almost impossible odds.

"I had a second birth and raising at Mount Sinai," he said. "The attention I've received has brought me into contact with so many amazing people."

Crisply dressed in a suit and tie and smiling, he thanked his medical team and his parents, planting a kiss on the cheek of his mother, Marlene Steinhauer. She sat at his side along with his father, Richard Steinhauer. Bryan is their only child.

As he answered reporters' questions, he spoke haltingly and with difficulty, but his thinking appeared to be clear and he managed to joke throughout the news conference.

The first thing he did when he was released from the hospital in December, using a walker? He went looking "for a better job," he deadpanned.

Last year, as the Binghamton honors student about to graduate, he already had an accounting job lined up; he has since gotten his bachelor's diploma.

In addition to eventually starting work, he said his ambition is to crusade for others who are not receiving the kind of world-class care he got.

"In the future, I aim to inspire people to fight for those who fall through the cracks of our health care system," Steinhauer said. "Nothing is more important than restoring people's health."

Doctors said they don't know exactly how much more progress he would make in his rehabilitation, but "the sky is the limit," said Dr. Kristjan Ragnarsson, head of rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai.

As for Kovacevic, Stainhauer said, he doesn't spend much time thinking about the Serbian suspect, who was out on $100,000 bail in June when he apparently used an illegally issued passport from the Serbian Embassy to flee to Serbia.

The Serbian government has paid the Steinhauer family $900,000 as part of a deal to prosecute Kovacevic in Serbia.

"Thankfully, I'm not full of hate," Steinhauer said. "If anyone could have felt bad for themselves and sulked all day, it could have been me.

"Yet if that was the case," he added, "I'd have to come here in a wheelchair and spell out my words on an alphabet sheet."


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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