A thousand miles away in Madison, Wis., Kirk Daubenspeck searches his memory trying to put a name with a face.
There's an uncomfortable silence on the telephone as he tries to process the information. Finally, the former South Carolina Stingrays goaltender says, "Sorry, I don't remember you."
There's another awkward pause to muster the courage to continue and remind him when you two last spoke. But Daubenspeck can't contain himself any longer and starts to laugh. "Of course I remember you," he says with a chuckle. "Sorry, I'm just messing with you. I couldn't resist."
You both laugh and realize that even after all he has been through, he is still the same person.
It was a foggy early morning in rural Wisconsin when Daubenspeck, a medical equipment salesman, drove his car and nearly lost his life.
The fog was so thick Feb. 18 near Dodgeville that school had been cancelled. The car collided with an 18-wheeler, sliding under the semi-truck, decapitating his 2006
Acura and nearly killing him. Had Daubenspeck not ducked underneath the dashboard, there's little doubt he would not be alive today. He is sure that years of training as a hockey goalie, honing his muscles to respond to even the slightest sense of danger, probably saved his life.
"No question, that's why I'm still alive," Daubenspeck said.
He has no recollection of that morning nor the six days he spent in a coma.
"There's a month or so that's still a complete blank for me," Daubenspeck said. "I don't remember a couple of weeks before the accident and a couple of weeks afterwards. ... Each day I remember more and more, but I think it'll be a while before I remember what actually happened that morning, if ever."
Kirk's wife, Peggy, had been at a church play day with their 1-year-old son, Axel. Her cell phone rang several times, but she ignored it. Soon, she had a half-dozen voice mails.
Days earlier, the couple learned they were expecting a second child in October.
"I didn't recognized the number, so I wasn't sure who had called," Peggy said. "I didn't know if someone was calling to congratulate us or what."
What she heard nearly stopped her heart.
"The first message was from some doctor at a hospital I'd never heard of telling me Kirk had been in an accident," she said. "They wouldn't say what had happened or how Kirk was doing. We were both so happy about having another child. It went from being one of the best weeks on my life to one of the worst."
At the hospital, she was told Kirk suffered a severe head injury and had bleeding on his brain. He was heavily sedated and transferred to a hospital at the University of Wisconsin, where Kirk had been a star for the Badgers.
The early prognosis wasn't good.
"Once the sedative wore off, he didn't wake up and the doctors realized that Kirk was in a coma," Peggy said. "At first you didn't want to believe it. The doctors said 90 percent of the patients who had a similar injury never wake up."
Each day, Peggy prayed that her husband of seven years would wake up but pondered the possibility he might never regain consciousness.
"I think the not-knowing was the hardest part," she said. "Even if Kirk woke up, there was a good chance he would be in some kind of vegetative state the rest of his life. No one knew what was going to happen, and that was horrible."
As word started to get out, Stingrays president Rob Concannon was among many who visited Kirk.
"He looked like he was asleep," Concannon said. "There was a little cut over his eye, but other than that, he looked like he was sleeping."
A Facebook page was started for Kirk, and more than 2,000 joined as friends.
"I just couldn't believe how many people out there really cared about Kirk," Peggy said. "It was overwhelming."
After six days, Kirk finally woke up.
"I was in the waiting room and my mom and sister were in with Kirk," Peggy said. "My sister came running out and said he was awake. When I got in there his eyes were open, but he couldn't talk. This wasn't like in the movies where he makes this instantaneous recovery and everything is fine. He couldn't follow commands or tell you what was wrong, but it did give you hope."
His doctors considered transferring him to a facility specializing in therapy for traumatic brain injuries.
"He had to follow two commands in a row, and Kirk couldn't do it," Peggy said. "The day they were going to transfer him to Milwaukee, the doctors were talking about it and I think Kirk heard them. The doctors asked him to give a thumbs up and he did it. Then they asked him to point his finger and touch his nose, and he did that. You could tell he was just determined to show them he was getting better."
Five weeks after the accident, he was released from the hospital. Since then, Kirk has had to relearn nearly everything from walking to talking.
"It's been a frustrating process at times," he said. "My mind is saying one thing and my body is saying another. There are times when I'm talking I know what word I want to use, but my mind is working so quickly, I can't get it out. Things are getting easier each day."
Daubenspeck hopes to return to work in the near future. His ultimate goal is to get back on the ice and play hockey. Not as a goalie, but as a skater.
"Just the thought of Kirk getting back on the ice is terrifying for me," Peggy said. "But he loves the game so much. ... If anyone can do it, Kirk will."
The medical bills from the accident have been staggering.
"You can never plan for anything like this," Kirk said.
So friends, former teammates and fans have worked tirelessly to raise money. Fellow Stingrays Hall of Famer Dave Seitz has held a couple of fundraisers.
"Kirk is such a great guy, and I know if the situation was reversed, he would do the same thing for me," said Seitz, who along with Kirk led the Stingrays to a Kelly Cup title in 2001.
On Saturday, more than two dozen current and former Stingrays will play in a fundraising alumni game at the Carolina Ice Palace, with a jersey auction to follow.
The idea came from Bill Reid, whose son, former Stingray Matt Reid, was Daubenspeck's teammate.
"(The players) just wanted to know when and where and they would make it," Bill Reid said. "A lot of these guys didn't even play with Kirk, but have gotten to know him over the years. I just think it shows you what kind of guy Kirk is and how tight-knit the hockey community is."
Kirk has flown down from Wisconsin for the event.
"Charleston and the Stingrays will always have a special place in my heart," Kirk said. "It'll be great to see so many friends and fans again. I'm sure it'll get to me, but it's a great feeling to know there are so many people out there who really care about me and my family."
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