John E A Fighting Spirit

“I’m really grateful to just be here and be able to thank all of the staff, doctors and nurses who took care of me.”

One of John Esposito Jr’s favorite quotes is, “If you’re not moving, you’re dying.”

He’s not sure where the quote originated, but he uses it as motivation to keep moving forward after a horrific accident changed the course of his life in December 2021.

On December 20, 2021, John was part of a Somerset County Public Works road crew completing road repairs in Warren Township when another driver crashed into their truck, pinning John against its trailer. His legs were severed at the scene of the accident and he almost didn’t survive the helicopter ride to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJUH) Level I Trauma Center. RWJUH, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, is one of only three Level I Trauma Centers in New Jersey.

The RWJUH and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) Shock Trauma Program is a leader in providing life-saving trauma care to New Jersey residents. One of only three Level I Trauma Center at RWJUH cares for nearly 3,000 trauma patients annually in an Emergency Department that sees nearly 90,000 patients each year. In addition to treating the seriously injured, clinical faculty affiliated with the Level I Trauma Center at RWJUH and RWJMS conduct research and educate other health care professionals about the most recent advances in trauma care.

While at RWJUH, John was under the care of a multidisciplinary trauma team led by Amanda Teichman, MD, Assistant Professor of Acute Care Surgery at RWJMS and RWJUH.

“We are extremely fortunate to work in a place where a multidisciplinary team of specialists are available 24/7 to provide optimal patient care in an expeditious fashion. I believe this ensures the best chance for survival and positive outcomes,” Dr. Teichman said.

John doesn’t remember much about the actual accident.

“My body went into shock and began to shut down – the last thing I remember was my co-worker calling my name and I could only see black,” John recalled. “When I woke up, I was told what happened. The pilots (transport team) visited me in the hospital after the accident and told me that I almost didn’t make it. I was told I flatlined on the way there and had to be revived.”

Fortunately for John, a multidisciplinary team experienced in treating the serious injuries he suffered was waiting for him at RWJUH’s Level I Trauma Center.

“Having an experienced trauma team (surgeons, anesthesia, nurses, ER techs, OR staff, etc) was critical in ensuring his severe extremity injuries did not result in mortality,” Dr. Teichman explained. “This team allowed us to rush him to the operating room and deliver live saving resuscitation.”

When John woke up at RWJUH following the accident he was lying flat and knew something was wrong.

“I knew something was up because I asked my dad what happened and he didn’t answer,” John said. “He called for the doctor to come and speak with me.”

The news was bad. John had lost both his legs as a result of the accident.

Before the crash, the South Bound Brook resident had a long-time commitment to Muay Thai, a martial art and combat sport that incorporates kicks and punches using the knees and elbows. One of the first questions he asked was if he could fight again. His doctor couldn’t say at that time.

But John left RWJUH after three weeks and went into physical rehabilitation determined to move forward with his life. The philosophy and discipline required by the martial art continues to fuel his positivity and commitment to return to the ring and box again.

He first learned how to use a wheelchair and now he is able to walk with the aid of prosthetic legs. He continues to train at the Dunellen gym where he learned Muay Thai. Although he can’t fight in Muay Thai bouts, he judges them and continues to train with the goal of boxing in a league devoted to amputees.

“I don’t have the stability yet to fight standing up, I need to train more,” John said. “The mindset that I learned from Muay Thai is that you have to keep pushing yourself. If you’re in a fight and you get injured or tired you really have to push yourself. I don’t want to stop because I lost my legs.”

As he looks toward the future, John plans to move to an apartment in Somerville and anticipates the delivery of a modified automobile so he can drive – a gamechanger for him.

A part-time physical therapist where John received physical therapy also teaches students at Rutgers University - Newark. She invited him and his physical therapist to speak to students there about his recovery and rehab.

“I speak to the physical therapy students and try to give them an inside view of what patients are going through,” he explained. “The students are great and they ask really good questions. I really enjoy it.”

When John was honored at RWJUH and RWJMS’ Shock Trauma Program’s Trauma Survivors Day Celebration, he first thanked plastic surgeon Dr. Aditi Kanth for “making my legs look good!” He also expressed gratitude to the entire team that cared for him.

“It was definitely a hard road but I am grateful to make it back here where everything started,” John said. “I’m really grateful to just be here and be able to thank all of the staff, doctors and nurses who took care of me.”