He’s a miracle.
The words are echoed with awe by family, friends, and even the surgeon who treated Mattituck’s Benjamin Pileski, 20, who was critically injured after being struck by a taxi in Montauk in July.
In his first interview since the devastating accident, Benjamin opened his heart to SoutholdLOCAL today — and spoke firsthand about his astonishing recovery.
His voice, too silent for the many days he was hospitalized in a coma, is a joyful burst of gratitude blended with excitement for his bright future.
Despite suffering a traumatic brain injury, Ben, just four months after the accident, defied the odds: He has already been released from rehab and is now at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he’s back to work.
For now he’s on light duty, at a desk and taking indoctrination courses, so the doctors can keep a keen eye on his incredible progress.
His first words, to the legions of North Fork angels who prayed furiously and constantly for his recovery, are spoken with deep emotion: “Thank you so much.”
Speaking about his long journey back from the dark night that changed his life, Ben said he does not even remember the first two weeks after the accident, when he was in a coma. After, he was taking medication for the pain.
There were moments when doctors “thought I was going to die,” he said.
Others thought he might never be the same, that the TBI would mean life-altering changes.
Benjamin proved them all wrong.
“A week before I left the civilian hospital the doctor who did my surgery saw me and said, ‘Honestly, you’re a miracle.’ I’ve done this surgery a couple of hundred times and you’re still teaching me new things.”
Once the portion of skull that was removed — it had been taken away so his brain could heal — was back in place, the gripping headaches thankfully subsided.
The headaches were caused by the shifts in atmospheric pressure, Ben said.
Forever changed by his experience, Ben said he found a new sense of deep-seated spirituality in the still of the dark hospital nights.
“I pray all the time now, every night,” he said. “I say ‘thank you.'” At the hospital, he’d sleep all day, and at night, when the guests had gone home, he’d lie awake.
“I had so much time to think. I realized God is keeping me alive for some reason — and I can’t wait to find out what that reason is,” he said.
His voice filled with emotion, Ben said he plans to live his life with renewed purpose. “I’m going to do my best at everything I do, because I don’t know what He has planned, and I might not be expecting it when it happens.”
Growing up on the North Fork, Ben said he loved going to his church, Old Steeple in Aquebogue, where he taught Sunday school and found an affinity with the other members.
“They’re all these old-time farmers,” Ben said.
A love of farming runs deep: “I was working on a farm since I was 12. I’d sit there in church, at 15 years old, and have conversations with them about tractors.”
He loved everything about the farm, and being outside. “I’m a huge outdoors person; I enjoyed learning about growing crops” and later, working on the Shamrock Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue.
With the holidays coming, Ben’s thoughts turn to home. For Thanksgiving, he may see some family members at his brother’s house in Norfolk.
And he hopes to be home for Christmas, surely the best gift anyone who loves him could ever receive, to see his smile illuminated by the lights — and hear his laughter resounding as he and his brothers engage in a time-honored tradition of finding a pickle ornament in the tree.
“I also really enjoy the nice, big breakfast,” he said, laughing.
Another wish is to spend time on the North Fork, getting out and seeing friends, and thanking the community that joined together to pray ceaselessly for his full recovery.
“I was talking to my grandmother and she said she went to Waldbaum’s two days after I was hit by the car,” he said. “She said everyone was asking about me.”
T-shirts and hats, designed by Kathleen Shea, are also being sold to help; the Ben’s Corner gear is worn with pride by scores of supporters.
In addition, a little Cutchogue girl helped in a big way, selling lemonade to show her support for Ben.
Friends and family have rejoiced together in the news of their boy’s improvement with words and messages of love on the Ben’s Corner Facebook page.
A steady stream of friends visited, many traveling for hours to say good-bye before he headed to rehab.
And now, back at work, Ben said he’s long had a firm plan for his future, one he hopes to still pursue. “I just hope this, the accident, won’t get in the way,” he said.
The goal is to remain in the military and later, return home to the North Fork, where he wants to join the Southold Town police force.
“I just really love Mattituck, so much,” he said.
Reaching out to others in need is something that’s always come naturally, making him a perfect fit for a life of public service. “Even in high school, if anyone needed anything, I’d help them out, no problem,” he said.
For now, he’s content to just have his life back, to be at his post in the Navy, serving his nation.
And he’s thankful. So very, very thankful.
“I got here on October 28,” he said. “November 5 would have been four months since the accident — I was here in just under four months. All the doctors told me that for most people, it’s eight to 12 months, if people go back to work at all. I know I’m the one that did it, but I can’t even believe it myself.”
Maybe it’s his always-smiling, can-do attitude, a hallmark of his personality that has shone through since childhood. Perhaps it’s the powerful prayers that came pouring in from across the country and a rock-solid support group that never wavered in their faith. And maybe it’s God’s plan, still to be revealed.
But Benjamin Pileski is alive, and laughing — a bonafide happy ending in a world too often marred by tragic outcomes.
“You know how you hear about someone getting hit by a car, but you never think you’ll be that person? I never thought that something would come close to killing me. My recovery is really what’s making me so happy.”
Added his father, Thomas Pileski, repeating what others have said joyfully, and often: “He’s a miracle.”