WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — There was a time when fighting against gay bullying at school was the biggest fight Carolyn Venditti thought she’d have to suit up for on behalf of her youngest son Tony.
“When I found out about that, I was immediately in the middle of it, and I was up at the principal’s office, and if I had to be, the district office,” Venditti explained. “No, you can’t do that. I can’t do that to you ‘cause you’re Black. I can’t do that to you ‘cause you’re Mexican. You can’t do that to him because he’s gay.”
But, a nighttime visit from a police officer on April 19, 2001, two days after Tony’s 21st birthday when he was supposed to be celebrating in San Francisco with friends, Venditti learned what kind of fight she would be in for Tony, for the rest of her life.
“He was in a rent-a-car. The driver was under 25 years old. They’re not supposed to rent cars to people under 25,” Venditti recalled. “The driver was doing 95 plus on I-5 going north and flipped it three times, and Tony was thrown out, landed on the fast lane on his head.”
He was rushed to U.C. Davis Medical Center.
“That was horrible because when I got there, his head was this big because he had landed on it. He had broken his neck — 4,5, and 6 vertebrae,” Venditti said.
The medical center became his home for months, but Venditti says doctors had no hope to offer a newly brain-injured quadriplegic and no plan.
She said she was told to take him home and wait for the inevitable.
“‘Take him home,’ Venditti remembered. “Take him home. And, they had no advice. So ya’ know, I didn’t want him to stay in that position. I don’t want him to stay at that level.”
Venditti decided Tony would learn how to eat on his own again instead of using the feeding tube that was advised for the rest of his life.
“We would learn how to use his tongue because he didn’t know how to control these things. So mimicking me was the way to teach him, Venditti said.
Thanks to Venditti, cruises to Mexico and trips to Hawaii have been on the itinerary for a 40-year-old man whose doctors didn’t expect to live past his 20s.
Tony himself has used his learned lesson about not wearing a seatbelt while squeezing more people than seats allow into a car for a fun night out as an educational tool for high schoolers learning to drive.
For helping him through his journey, after surviving breast cancer and the passing of his father, Tony says his mother is remarkable.
Looking back, Venditti said she can’t believe she’s made it.
“I don’t know where the gut came from, or the backbone, or the speak-out-ishness to doctors,” Veditti said. “You know that guardian angel they talk about? Oh, I think I have overworked ’em They have served me immensely well.”