A young South Milwaukee man’s life changed forever, exactly one year ago.
On the night of February 20th, 2020, Daniel Franecki, 36, was hit by a drunk driver. It led to both of his legs being amputated.
While most would be resentful after going through something like that, Franecki is choosing to live with such a positive purpose. His resilience is remarkable.
Franecki remembers the accident vividly.
“I heard no brakes, it sounded or felt like a bomb went off,” he said. “I heard the driver get out and yell something like ’what did I do?’”
Franecki was with a coworker near 6th and State Streets in downtown Milwaukee. They were working on coordinating fiber optics ahead of the Democratic National Convention. To do so, they had to open manholes and check under the roadway. They do this work at night, when there is less traffic, and set up safety cones and warning signs.
As they were finishing up, and Daniel was loading stuff back in the work van, a drunk driver came barreling into him.
“In the moment, you know it's real bad, you start to lose breath, you start to lose thoughts,” he said. “I remember I could feel my hands and was slightly relieved. But I knew my legs felt weird and I could see all the blood. I was in and out of consciousness. Sometimes I heard people talking. It’s like you sort of know you're likely dying.”
Franecki did die on the way to Froedtert. But emergency responders were able to bring him back. He credits them with saving his life. We were there when he showed up to thank them personally after getting out of the hospital.
“I know I had the absolute best care, and I’m so thankful for their quick response, which in many ways made the difference for me,” Franecki said.
Since the accident, Franecki has undergone at least 20 surgeries. He remembers waking up after the first one.
“I had all these things I wanted to say but I could really move my mouth and I was so groggy and confused, so I motioned like I was writing and the doctor brought over a piece of paper and a pencil,” Franecki said. “I could barely scribble it out, but all I asked, was if I’m going to live. I appreciate the doctor gave me the honest truth and said we really don’t know yet.”
He’ll never forget the next time he scribbled that same question.
“He told me we were out of the woods and I was going to live, and tears just started rolling,” he said. “I was just so ecstatic to be alive. At that minute, it put life in a whole new perspective for me on what really matters. I was just so grateful to be there.”
But Franecki still had a long road to recover, when suddenly Covid-19 hit.
That was frightening because you're in a completely new world of things, and you're not really moving, then you can't have any of your family visit,” he said.
Since his hospital room was on the first floor, family and friends would gather outside his window.
“We’d talk on speaker phone,” he said. “It honestly helped me so much. I can’t explain the positive energy I felt from loved ones and even strangers through this whole process. All the support and people rooting for me. I felt it and it lifted me up.”
Franecki was always an avid outdoorsman and athlete. Now, he is learning to live without his legs.
“It’s finding new things and ways to adapt to your new lifestyle,” he said. “I still try to get out as much as I can, and luckily I have people always willing to help me do that safely.”
With the hopes of being able to do more on his own, Daniel is beginning the long process of getting state-of-the-art prosthetic legs.
“It can be a painful process, but you also know it’s improving,” he said. “My doctors are amazing. This is the newest technology available. I feel lucky. At first they weren’t sure if I could ever get prosthetics, because so much of my legs were amputated.”
Part of Daniel’s home will soon be remodeled to be more wheelchair accessible.
All his, as the drunk driver who hit Daniel recently began a six-year prison sentence.
When Antonio Owens, a father of four, crashed into Daniel, his blood alcohol concentration was more than twice the legal limit. He wasn’t supposed to be driving since having been arrested for his first OWI causing an accident, just six months earlier. Investigators say they found an open bottle of vodka, three unopened cans of beer, and marijuana in his car.
But Daniel, somehow chooses not to be bitter or angry.
“Sure, I really wish he had made smarter choices because this really does change my life and I’m going to miss a lot of things I used to do,” Franecki said. “But I know it’s life-changing for him too. It’s just scary and sad how something like this can happen.”
Daniel hopes Owens learns and grows from what happened.
“I just want to focus on the future,” Franecki said. “It’s not productive for me to focus on the past, it doesn’t change anything. Overall, I’m lucky to be here, and I’m not going to waste that.”
Daniel wants to become an advocate for other amputees. We plan to follow him on his journey of getting prosthetic legs.
If you would like to help Daniel as he bravely moves forward, his friends set up a GoFundMe link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-establish-a-new-normal-for-dan-franecki