Taking his first steps in three years is “like a get-out-of-jail card,” said Frank Vinci, who has many things he hopes to do in his remaining “seven lives.”
There’s going to Florida to see his daughter, MaryEllen Hughes, and his grandchildren, Liam and Mia.
And San Diego, where eldest son “Frankie V” has a morning radio talk show.
Maybe even Indianapolis, where younger son “Mikey V” is also a radio personality.
But first, he’s looking forward to going places in his Framingham home he hasn’t able to reach while confined to his wheelchair.
And being grateful for those who helped him reach the point where he can go home, hopefully this weekend.
“When I first came here, I could barely roll from side to side in bed,” Vinci said Saturday in his room at Wingate at Sudbury on Rte. 20. “I don’t think I could be where I am without these people.”
It’s been a long road since the spring of 2004.
At first, it seemed as if he had the flu. Tests showed he had an infection that had affected his joints and his heart. A few days later, an aneurism on his aorta burst.
After 10 hours of surgery at Mass. General Hospital, 10 blood transfusions, more than 200 stitches and 125 staples, he was put into a coma to give his body time to heal.
When he woke up two months later, on his 52nd birthday, he felt he had used up the first of his nine lives.
From there, “I had a few pretty good years, then it went downhill.”
“After Frank’s aorta burst, it left an infection in his body. This kept manifesting itself for years. The infection and arthritis caused him so much pain he did not walk for three-plus years,” said his wife, Carol Vinci.
This spring, he was faced with the prospect of having his left leg amputated.
“Finally, with the care of the Natick Visiting Nurses and his doctors at MGH, his infection cleared and he was allowed to have his knee fused” in May, said Carol.
The fusion procedure makes it impossible for him to bend his leg.
It also meant a wait of more than a month before he could attempt to put any weight on the leg.
“While waiting, the staff at Wingate worked at building up muscles he had not used in years … arms, stomach, legs,” said Carol. “They were awesome, working endlessly on him. They built his soul as well as his muscles.
“They talked to him, cared for him, built him up phsically as well as mentally. They kept saying once he can bear weight (on the leg), he will take off. ‘It is our intent to give him his life back,’ they said.
“It was a team effort: doctors, nurses, aides, physical therapists, occupational therapists … and, of course, Frank,” said Carol.
The man who figures the past three years add up to another one his nine lives credits family, friends and particularly his wife’s steadfast care with getting him this far.
“Carol’s the greatest thing that ever happened,” he said.
But, he, too, says the rehab facility’s staff made the road back toward independence far smoother than he envisioned.
“You do something right in therapy, it’s like, ‘Rah, rah, rah.’
“They’ve taught me how to get out of bed myself. They have me walking with the walker. They had me down in the kitchen making brownies.”
All of which makes him feel “like a new man,” he said.
“It has been a wonderful journey … giving us the strength to move on,” said Carol, who is a longtime teacher in the BLOCKS public preschool program at Framingham High.
As for what the next stage brings, the Vincis are sure of one thing.
This is a moment to appreciate.
When he talked to his father on the phone after seeing a video of his first steps, “you would have thought he won the lottery and won a million bucks,” “Frankie V” told his listeners in California last week. “It was like a little kid at Christmas who got the present he wanted.”
The lesson he’s learned from his father’s journey is “don’t take things for granted,” Frankie said.
He also told listeners he plans a visit to Framingham next month to see his father on his feet again.
And while Frank is looking forward to his son’s visit, he’s hoping it won’t be too long before he can make the trip to California.
“I’ve never been out there,” he said, but “I have seven more lives to go.”