New York Magazine--Crash on the Corner of 34th St.

Catholic Courier

         

Amputee sings of her survival, success   

                                             

July 3, 2007 by Mike Latona

NEW YORK CITY -- It was nine months to the day after Sept. 11, 2001. Elmira native Theresa Sareo was well into recording her third album, which reflected upon the World Trade Center tragedy, and was walking close to where the disaster had occurred.   "As a New Yorker I was still reeling from 9-11, writing songs about going through that experience. We were all so afraid, trapped in fear for so many months after," she said, noting that she had begun composing the song "I Am the Light" because "that was the first time I had felt some hope."

In the blink of an eye, Sareo's hopeful feeling was erased -- and her life was almost snuffed out as well. She was hit by an impaired driver in midtown Manhattan, and her entire right leg was severed.

Five years later, Sareo has produced many positives out of that devastating event. She has returned to her career as a well-known singer/songwriter in New York City, and also is making a public impact on a national level as an advocate for fellow amputees. "As an entertainer I always sought the spotlight. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would have happened through something like this," she remarked.

Sareo grew up in St. Mary's Southside Parish and attended Southside High School. She's a classically trained vocalist and has lived in New York City for the past 20 years.  "I moved to New York right after high school, totally with stars in my eyes. New York will do that to you when you're from a small town," the Manhattan resident said. "It took a few years before I started making money again at music."

Sareo has since become well-known on New York's singer/songwriter circuit, appearing in many top nightclubs with her jazz trio. She also is a private vocal teacher. As an independent recording artist she has released three albums: her self-titled debut album; a second, "Embrace"; and "Alive Again," which shares stories about people who have touched her life and reflects on losses from 9-11 as well as her accident.

On June 11, 2002, while at the corner of 34th Street and Park Avenue, Sareo was struck by an SUV after the impaired driver attempted an illegal U-turn. She was pinned to a fire-hydrant pole, and her right leg was severed at the top of her hip. "I don't remember anything about that accident, anything about that day. I woke up at Bellevue Hospital, struggling out of a coma a few days after, and was told what happened to me," she said.  She credits her many family and friends in Elmira and Rochester for aiding in her recovery.  "The upstate Catholic community prayed long and hard for me during the crucial first week and beyond," she noted. "I do believe that their positive energy of love was a large contributing factor toward my survival during that period when I wasn't consciously involved with it."

A long rehabilitation process awaited Sareo; she initially spent two months in the hospital.  "There came a point where I became emotionally like, what was I going to do with this--what will life on one leg would be like?  It felt pretty bleak and I was terrified," she acknowledged. "But my friends became very resourceful; they dug up other amputees and sent them to the hospital to come visit me. Interestingly, three were in the entertainment business. That changed everything for me. They became my life raft, human beacons of hope -- not only to go on in life and be successful, but to keep doing what I love."

Sareo received a prosthetic leg one year after she was discharged. "Unless I'm walking around in a short skirt, people just think I walk with a limp and a cane," she said.  She set out to reclaim her career and completed her "Alive Again" album. She also created the Amputee Support Program at Bellevue Hospital, where she now serves as peer counselor for amputees and their families. "I know first-hand what it's like to be saved, so I became motivated to do the same thing; to do that for other people in their darkest hours," she said.

Sareo recently made her second visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where she has visited injured military men and women returning from the Middle East. "These kids have multiple injuries, multiple amputations. As one soldier said when I asked, "How are you doing, sir?" he said, 'Well, I'm beat up, broken and blown up.' That was just a real honest description," she remarked.

Sareo also is a public speaker on disabilities and trauma recovery. She appeared on “Larry King Live” in June 2005 where she was interviewed by Nancy Grace, and has twice met Sen. Hillary Clinton. "It kind of all has jelled together -- my music, my outreach, my survival messages. It works in this real humanitarian way," she said.

Sareo must still contend with a series of ups and downs: "Life is difficult. I'm never going to make excuses for it. It's hard to live a disabled life and live every day without a limb; a substantial part of your body gone forever. It's an interesting journey, as to how you choose to respond to it as time goes on."

She encourages people in similar situations to allow the natural grieving process to occur, because "on the other end of that you will find joy in your life." Her own joy, she said, comes from being at the bedside of people who have survived traumatic injuries. "I know that's where I'm supposed to be in that moment; it becomes really clear to me on a deep level," Sareo said. "I feel like my spirituality really opened up -- the humanitarian work that I'm doing, it comes from that place that connects all of us.

"For me, the only way to cope with such a big loss is to live a big life. I asked the universe, the gods, the goddesses to let me live big. I believe somebody's answering," she added. "No matter what obstacles get thrown in your path, you can still dream big, connect to your sense of purpose in life; what moves you, what fills you up and what brings you joy. Don't be afraid to do that--it will bring you to special places you never thought you could go."


EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information about Theresa Sareo, visit www.theresasareo.com.

CNN Larry King Live Transcript

Larry King Live Transcript

Larry King Live

June 29, 2005

Transcript of "Inspiring Stories"

Featuring Interview with Theresa Sareo by Nancy Grace

 HOST NANCY GRACE: Tonight: Stories that will inspire you. Here in the studio with me, Theresa Sareo. She is now a singer and songwriter. Take a look at this CD: "Theresa Sareo: Alive Again."   Hey, guys, you've got to roll some of that footage of her, what would you say, a music video?

THERESA SAREO, SINGER: It's a music video, right.

GRACE: Theresa, tell us your story.

SAREO: Well, I don't remember my accident, but I was delivering a press kit to a booking agent on Fifth Avenue and I was walking back home.  I was on the corner of 34th Street and Park Avenue when an impaired driver of an SUV attempted an illegal U-turn.  He didn't make it and a cab struck him, and he struck me on the corner and pinned me to a fire hydrant pole and severed my right leg at the top of my hip.

GRACE: How long were you in the hospital?

SAREO: About two months, initially.

GRACE: When you went to court during the driver's trial, did you ever look at him?

SAREO: No, I couldn't.

GRACE: Why?

SAREO: At that point in time, I wasn't ready to face him.

GRACE: Tell me about your rehab.

SAREO: Rehab started...

GRACE: We're showing it right now.

SAREO: Yes, that was me just getting on a prosthetic leg. They didn't know if I would be a candidate for a prosthesis because my amputation is very high up; unusually high. I don't have a limb.

GRACE: Did you lose your hip also?

SAREO: The front of my pelvis is gone and I have no hip socket, no femur bone.

GRACE: To attach the prosthetic to.

SAREO: Right, the prosthesis attaches around my waist like a corset.

GRACE: Got you.

SAREO: So, it took about a year-and-a-half to really get used to walking on it.

GRACE: Now your CD, "Alive Again," you started writing songs for it before the crash.

SAREO: Right. .

GRACE: I was looking at the back of it. "Alive Again, Wishing, Again, Amazing, Get Over Yourself, Blue Skies of Tennessee."   Tell me about it.

SAREO: Well, I started writing it before the accident and then, I finished it after .  So, some of the songs are about my emotional experience dealing with this.

GRACE: And you are also Theresa Sareo, I have her pamphlet, "Her Journey of Survival," a motivational speaker.

SAREO: Yes. I was trained by the Amputee coalition of America to be a peer counselor. And with that, I started a volunteer program at Belleview Hospital, which is the largest trauma hospital in the country.  I work with trauma patients who come in with amputations.  I also speak at colleges and corporations and with medical students and staff to heighten their awareness of what disability is and what trauma recovery is.

GRACE: You make me want to just crawl under the desk. I mean it. I'm looking at some of your lyrics. "Sometimes I think I'd give everything to change what has happened to me." "I wish I could walk a million miles or simply walk into your arms."

SAREO: (Nodding) Yes.

GRACE: It's beautiful.

SAREO: Yes. My story was very courageously told by my friend Gregg Williams for "New York Magazine." And you can read about it on my Web site.

GRACE: Theresa, if you could speak out to people tonight that are suffering, that have gone through trauma like you did, what would you tell them?

SAREO: I would tell them to reach out, reach out to your loved ones and to have hope, really. You have to focus on what your sense of purpose is in life and that will take you to places you didn't think you could go.

GRACE: And where did it take you?

SAREO: It's true.  It's taken me -- to the LARRY KING SHOW!,  meeting you, who I'm a big fan of, and most importantly, it's -- I have this chance to spread my message, which is so powerful and helps me to cope with this experience.

GRACE: Theresa, what was the hardest thing you overcame, when you were there in that hospital bed.

SAREO: Well, like I said, I don't remember the accident, so I woke up to it about a week later and I didn't know what life with one leg was going to look like.  I think that was the hardest part.  It wasn't until some amputees came in to visit me -- they were like my life raft.  I started having a more positive feeling about this. And so, that's why I'm doing this now for others.

GRACE: Everybody, again, Theresa Sareo. Her CD: "Alive Again," just the lyrics I'm reading on the back, incredible.

SAREO: Thank you, Nancy.

GRACE: What a pleasure to meet you, friend.

SAREO: You, too.

GRACE: Thank you.

Everybody, I want to thank you for being with us tonight and thanks to Larry for letting me sit in his chair tonight. He'll be back tomorrow night for another edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

And I'll be back on "HEADLINE PRIME," tomorrow night 8:00 Eastern.  Stay here, everyone, as the news continues here on CNN.  Good night, friends.

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Associated Press