U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant David Smith Survives Against All Odds

When David Smith was more than 30 minutes late coming home, his fiancée Vanessa Potts grew concerned. She unsuccessfully called his cell phone and then sent her father to retrace David’s usual route home. That’s when the phone rang and a Palomar Medical Center (PMC) social worker told her David had been brought to the Trauma Center.

It was July 31, 2011, and U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant David Smith was returning home from a haircut. Sitting on his motorcycle at a red light one block from home in Rancho Bernardo, David was rear-ended in a horrifying and senseless mid-day crash.

Her father drove Vanessa to PMC to be with David, who she planned to marry in October.

“I felt so helpless, seeing him and not knowing if he would live or what the future would hold,” Vanessa says.

While David was on life support, Vanessa made the emotional decision to postpone – not cancel – their wedding, which had been scheduled for October 8. And then, she waited for a hopeful sign that David would come back to her.

“My first glimpse of hope was about 24 hours later when he blinked is eyes,” Vanessa says. “It was still a few more days before he started moving anything, first the fingers on his right hand. I kept hoping that he would continue to improve, but I knew he had a hard fight ahead.”

David remembers waking up after neurosurgery on August 9 and being confused.

“The last thing I remembered was slowing for the red light,” David says. “I was confused because I could see tubes in my nose and mouth. I couldn’t feel my left leg.”

Then he saw Vanessa and his commanding general at his hospital bed.

“Three things kept me going, kept me working to get better even though doctors didn’t know if I would ever walk again,” David says. “First, I was getting married in October and I wasn’t about to let Vanessa down. I was going to be there.”

“Second, my daughter Kaitlyn. I have her name tattooed over my heart so she is always close to me.”

“And, my Marines. They were there for me, like they were always there for me in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am part of them and always will be.”

After David had neurosurgery to stabilize his cervical spine, he took his first steps. Each day, with physical therapy, he walked more.

“He became a little celebrity,” Vanessa says. “People would stop by to watch him walk. We ran into Dr. Marcisz in the elevator one day and he was surprised to see David standing upright so soon.”

“The doctors and nurses were wonderful because they kept me informed at every step,” Vanessa says. “Everyone made sure I never felt left out. I talked with David’s doctors everyday and the nurses always let me know what procedures they were doing for him.”

“The entire staff at PMC is amazing, from saying a cheerful good morning to knowing exactly what to do,” David says. “Dr. Marcisz is an angel. What he can do with his hands is incredible.”

“I still get cards from all over the country,” David says. “That’s why I’m still here, to tell people: ‘don’t give up hope. Even when it’s really bad, you have the chance it will get better. Do everything to the best of your ability.’”