Bay Shore’s Jack Baker never expected to be kissed as many times as he was this St. Patrick’s Day.
The holiday marked one of Baker’s first appearances in his hometown after being badly injured in an accident in Costa Rica in January. Not only did the Bay Shore community welcome him back, but it played a role in getting him home.
On Jan. 14, Baker, 21, was traveling in Costa Rica with a friend when the brakes on the golf cart they were driving malfunctioned and they were hurtled down a mountainside hill. When the cart finally crashed, Baker was flung through it, breaking his pelvis in three places and both thighbones. He also suffered serious lung damage.
He saw the insides of four different hospitals within a few days. Doctors operated on him and induced an eight-day coma to force air into his fragile lungs.
His parents -- Ned and Loretta Baker -- had flown from Bay Shore to Costa Rica to be by his side, but they were only allowed to visit him for one hour a day, one parent at a time.
While in recovery, he was bedridden in a room with no windows and nine roommates who only spoke Spanish.
“I was isolated,” he said.
But back at home, Bay Shore’s residents were proving Jack Baker was not alone.
After hearing of his accident, Baker’s aunt and uncle, Bobbi and Jack Baker, rallied the community for a fundraiser to help the Bakers with their growing medical bills, their monthlong stay to be at their son’s bedside and the cost of bringing their son home.
On Jan. 29, just a few weeks after Baker’s accident, more than 600 people showed up to a dinner and auction at the Bay Shore Knights of Columbus hall. Attendees were asked for a $25 donation at the door, and the community responded generously.
“And the donations still come in,” said Jack Baker’s uncle Jack. “We get mail from all over the country -- friends from high school, relatives out of town -- everyone wants to help.”
Bakers declined to disclose how much money was raised but Jack Baker emphasized it was “a lot.”
Ned Baker, 61, said the money allowed his son to be sent home earlier than planned because he could fly first class. Doctors had ruled out using a medivac or flying economy because Baker had blood clots in his legs and needed room to stretch out. It also allowed his parents to fly with him.
Ned Baker, who is the fourth generation of Bakers to live in Bay Shore, said the support was overwhelming and surprising.
In addition to the fundraiser, his brother, sister-in-law, and the rest of the staff at The Southside Hotel, which Ned Baker has owned for the past 12 years, also jumped in to run the establishment while he was away.
“When I found out the scope of it, I was in shock,” he said. “That’s the way Bay Shore is, though. Everyone pitches in.”
Since Jack Baker arrived back in Bay Shore, he has been swiftly relearning how to walk with the help of physical therapists.
Brad Matalon, owner of Allied Home Physical Therapy, has worked with Baker three times a week for about two months. He said with injuries as serious as Baker’s, they started with simple exercises he could do in bed.
“He’s worked really hard, I can tell you that,” Matalon said. “He’s not at his end point yet, that will take 12 to 18 months and he knows that.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, still confined to a wheelchair, Jack Baker said he was being welcomed home by complete strangers.
“People were hugging me and kissing me that I had never seen before,” he said. “But they all got me home.”