“Wear a helmet. I didn’t think I needed one, and now I’ve got to wear this one until they put my skull back in.”
This is the message that Nic Altenderfer, ‘23, wants people to take away after he survived a skateboarding accident.
On Aug. 25, Altenderfer fell off his skateboard while riding home from a friend’s house. Altenderfer said he believed he cut his board too close to the curb, stopping the board and throwing him forward, causing his head and shoulder to hit the curb.
After sitting down for a brief minute, Altenderfer said he was able to get back up and skateboard the rest of the way to his house.
“I got an ice pack and went upstairs to lay down,” Altenderfer said. “It was when I laid down, when I was laying there, that I realized I definitely wasn’t okay.”
Once he realized his fall might have caused serious damage, he called some of his friends to let them know what happened. His friends rushed to his house right away when they heard about the accident.
After recognizing the severity of his fall, Altefnderfer’s friends rushed him to medical treatment.
Alex Romanowski, ‘23, picked Altenderfer up to take him to the hospital. When he entered the house, Romanowski said he found Altenderfer in his room lying on top of his air conditioner, saying that he just wanted to sleep.
“He was hugging a pillow and rolling around on the floor,” Romanowski said. “All he wanted to do was lay next to the AC and sleep, and that’s not really him.”
Romanowski said at that point, he and Altenderfer’s other friends picked Altenderfer up and dragged him out to a car to take him to the hospital.
“I’m pulling up directions to St. Luke’s, shouting directions to David (Rawley, ‘23) through the car window, and then Nic started to fall asleep,” Romanowski said. “So I had to climb in through the cab, and I was just trying to keep Nic awake, and he went under on the way to the hospital.”
Romanowski said as soon as Altenderfer lost consciousness, he knew the situation was dire.
“They started running red lights and all that to get me there,” Altenderfer said. “Thank goodness because the doctors said even three minutes more, and I might not have made it.”
Altenderfer said once they arrived at the hospital, the nurse could tell from his eyes that he had a severe head injury and sent him to surgery right away.
Romanowski said after they took Altenderfer away, the pastor came to speak with the group of friends who brought him to the hospital while they remained worried about Altenderfer’s future.
Nic’s mother, Brenda Altenderfer, said when she got a call from one of Nic’s friends about the fall, she didn’t think his life might be at risk.
“He’s fallen a dozen times, sometimes with, sometimes without a helmet,” Brenda said.
Brenda said she got in the car with Nic’s father and sister right away and drove to the hospital, which was an hour and 45 minutes away from their home.
Initially greeted by the chaplain with no word as to Nic’s condition, Brenda said after a wait, the chaplain, who goes by Pastor Dan, finally told them that Nic was alive — for the time being. Pastor Dan told Brenda that according to Nic’s doctors, the next 48 hours were crucial as to if Nic was going to survive.
“I felt very relieved that he was alive,” Brenda said. “That was my only hope when we got to the hospital — that he’d be alive. I thought if he was alive, we could deal with whatever from then.”
To save his life, Nic said the doctors had to remove the right side of his skull to operate. Now, Nic must wear a helmet until the doctors deem it safe to reattach his skull.
Nic’s head wasn’t the only thing injured. He also broke his shoulder during the fall. He said with the urgency of his head injury, the doctors didn’t realize his shoulder was shattered in pieces until two days later.
“Breaking your clavicle, I’ve heard before that’s one of the most painful things to break, and that is definitely true,” Nic said. “That was definitely what hurt the most. My head never really hurt — it’s always been my shoulder.”
Brenda said after she posted about the situation on the Lehigh Parents Facebook page, many people reached out to her. One of them was Nic’s landlord, Austin Scoggin. Scoggin, who is an Amicus landlord, offered Brenda the option to stay in an Amicus house on Birkel Avenue for $25 a month.
One of Nic’s friends from home started a GoFundMe page for the family, which has now reached over $45,000.
“That was a really cool thing to see because Nic is kind of a character, and he’s got so many friends in so many different places, and that really just showed after the incident,” Romanowski said. “He immediately had a ton of support coming from home and within the fraternity.”
Romanowski said Nic’s fraternity had planned to have a party the night following the accident, but instead, they made videos to send to Nic. Initially told that Nic may remain in a medically induced coma for months, his fraternity made videos to keep him comfortable during his recovery, as he was still able to hear.
Nic said receiving letters, gift baskets and other kind gestures from people has been really nice and kept him going while he’s recovering.
“We can feel the love,” Brenda said. “We can definitely feel that people are rooting him on. They want to be a part of that success story, and it will be a success story.”
Nic said he wants people to realize how important it is to always wear a helmet, no matter how experienced you think you are.
“(I) Advise everyone to wear a helmet because I don’t want anything like this to happen to anyone else,” Nic said. “You don’t realize, and you just think helmets are annoying, but I can promise that it’s much more annoying to have to wear one all the time.”