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David Krempels '73

The Long Road Home

David Krempels is helping people with head injuries to find the way back to themselves

By Bill Burtis

Photographs by Kindra Clineff

Fhen David Krempels '73 graduated from UNH with a major in political science, he wanted to save the world. "I cared about injustice and wanted to change things, the way most of us did. That was part of the '60s and '70s. That was why I majored in political science," he says.

He didn't go directly into world-saving, however. He became a carpenter, then a building contractor. He got involved in church and community organizations, enjoyed sports and played on some community teams, fell in love and got married.

Then, 20 years after graduation, Krempels created an organization that really does save the world for some people--people like him. To understand what it means to be like David Krempels, you have to know his story, how the life he once had ended in an instant, and how he built another over the next eight years.

It was a June day in 1992. Krempels was 42 years old, a successful businessman, part owner of a successful contracting business in New Hampshire's Seacoast, and just married. He and his wife of two days, Ettamae, were traveling on the Maine Turnpike when traffic stopped for construction near Portland. A tractor-trailer behind them didn't stop. Ettamae died in the demolished car, and Krempels was taken to the Maine Medical Center in a Level 4 coma.

Eventually, miraculously, he came out of the coma and recovered sufficiently to be transferred to a rehabilitation center in Dover, N.H. It was there that the horror of his situation slowly became clear to him. "When I finally understood that Ettamae was dead, I cried. When I realized that I couldn't work, I cried. I found out that I wouldn't even be able to play softball, and I cried. On the days when I had no money and no food and I was really hungry, I cried. I cried for two years," he says.

Krempels had to relearn how to walk, eat, speak and write and take care of himself. "I realized that I could either curl up in a ball and die, or I could try to reclaim a life with what I had," he says.

With the help of a small group of loyal friends, Krempels did reclaim a life. It wasn't easy, and he wasn't always sure he would make it. Looking back, he's a little surprised at how far he's come.

"I'm amazed I've recovered as well as I have," he says. "I'm a little clumsy; my balance and coordination are poor; mild hemi-paresis on the right side, a slight limp. My speech is deliberate, a little slurred; I sometimes sound drunk. But I get around fine. On a good day, if you didn't know, you wouldn't know.

"Cognitively ... who knows? I have some problems: memory, concentration, organization--what the neuro-psych guys call executive function. I'm learning to compensate. I carry a Daytimer and write everything down."

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