It seems incredible when David Ortiz says he has no worries in life. But then, that’s probably not unusual for someone living on borrowed time.
Ortiz, 52, suffered a heart attack in March and a life-threatening car accident on Aug. 1 – one of three injury accidents that occurred within two hours of each other on Miller and Koura roads, and State Route 305.
This week, on his second day back to work after spending six weeks recuperating from the accident, he was reflective while frying eggs on the grill of his Lynwood Center restaurant, Salmon Canyon Cafe. He is still shaky and months away from full recovery after suffering multiple injuries. But his financial situation – a result of his two hospitalizations during the last six months – has forced him to reopen the business (on Monday) as soon as he could stand over a grill without toppling over.
He still doesn’t have health insurance and seldom has during his 37-year journey through the restaurant business, much of it as an owner-operator of restaurants in the South and Midwest. It’s considered a luxury item and one that most food-service employers can’t afford, unless the owner is a large corporation. So it’s business as usual for Ortiz, who shrugs his shoulders when saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it but keep coming to work every day. We’ve got bills to pay.”
Still, he and his business and life partner, Shauna Sheridan, are full of hope – partly because of the community’s response to his plight. Community support in the form of fund-raising events helped them buy a replacement vehicle and pay some bills. Morrie and Kathy Blossom, his landlords in the Lynwood Center Apartments building, have also helped them get though the six weeks the business was closed.
“I feel great about the future because of where I am and the kind of community this is,” says Ortiz, who has lived on the island since 2001 and opened the cafe in March 2007. “When I realized what had happened to me, I was shocked. But then I became overwhelmed by the love. I know that sounds corny, but it’s real here… this community. This is a great place to live. That and the fact I don’t fear nothing any more. I saw the other side.”
Ortiz suffered a severe concussion after apparently trying to turn his Honda around on Miller Road and being broad-sided on the driver’s side by a Jeep. His last memory is of leaving the cafe to buy some supplies and then waking up in Harborview Hospital in Seattle. He was fortunate to live through such a violent collision, but his injuries were still severe: fractures of all of his ribs; a lacerated liver and spleen; a punctured lung; and multiple micro-fractures in his back. He spent one week in the hospital.
“When you don’t have any insurance,” he said, “they get you out of there in a hurry. They pulled the tube (draining his lung), took some x-rays and said it was time to go.” They also told him he needed 24-hour care for at least a couple of weeks.
Sheridan became his full-time caregiver and it was three weeks before he could get out of bed on his own.
“It was scary at first because I wasn’t sure I could take care of him,” she sad. “He got into the room-service mode pretty quick, but his pain was real. He was hurting. The pain was so much a part of it that he didn’t realize he was groaning and moaning a lot of the time. Plus, he wouldn’t take anything stronger than Tylenol. But we got through it.”
Last March he was hospitalized in Harrison Hospital in Bremerton after it was discovered that 80 percent of his main artery was blocked. He had a stent put in place and returned to the cafe three weeks later. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the time to do the rehabilitation exercises suggested for his heart and has to be careful now because of his weakened condition.
“His baseline is not where it should be,” Sheridan said, “so he has to take it easy until his strength returns.” He worked about four hours his first day back and six hours on the second day. But it’ll be difficult to keep him away from a job his loves.
He was operating a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio in 2001 when someone told him about Bainbridge Island. He flew out, took a look around and moved here with his family shortly thereafter. He worked in Seattle for several years until he and the Blossoms agreed that Lynwood Center could use a breakfast-lunch restaurant. He wanted to open a small, familiar place that served good food for a reasonable price and would become a hangout for “regulars.”
He said 12 people came in on the first day; earlier this year they served 216 meals in one day between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“Without the Blossoms and others here this wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve ever been it’s always about the money. I’ve been looking all my life for a place like this. This community is unusual, but I’m not sure we realized how special it is until the accident.”
As soon as neighbors realized the financial difficulty Ortiz and Sheridan were experiencing because of the accident, they immediately came to their aid.
“If this had happened anywhere else,” he said, “we would have closed the doors for good. No way we could’ve kept going. But the Blossoms said just come back when you’ve recovered, and then others helped us. Unbelievable.”
All of this being said as he put together a monster BLT that would make your mouth water.