By Jay Cook |
BELFORD – By all accounts, Dwayne Reevey is the kind of cop any police department would be lucky to have.
He’s in the schools creating relationships with the youth, allows the kids in town to call him by his first name and has been known to play pickup basketball after school while still in uniform.
That’s exactly why the greater Fair Haven community has rallied to support Reevey, 32, who grew up in town, during his recovery from a tragic July 4 swimming accident that left him with a broken neck.
“Deep down, I was scared,” Reevey told The Two River Times from his Belford home this week. “For a second I thought I was going to die.”
He and his family were celebrating Independence Day on Long Beach Island; they had a condominium there and were on the beaches all day. It was 5:30 p.m. and Reevey headed to the ocean after a sandy game of frisbee. He might have jumped into the water about 15 times that day, but this time he didn’t realize the tide had receded.
Reevey, who stands at 6 feet 4 inches, jumped into a breaking wave in water that only reached his shins.
“Immediately my eyes opened and I could see the water and sand,” he recalled. “My ears were ringing like that scene on the beach in ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ That’s when my fingers went numb. I kept telling myself, ‘get up, get up, get up.’ ”
After a few moments of lying in the surf, Reevey mustered up the strength to stand and walk out of the ocean. He alerted his wife, Christina, that something wasn’t right. A first aid squad arrived in short order and Reevey was at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin in under an hour.
Thinking he only suffered a stinger or a muscular injury, Reevey was blindsided when a physician’s assistant informed him of the serious prognosis.
He had fractured his C1 vertebrae in four places. He said every doctor told him he should be either paralyzed or dead. But remarkably, he wasn’t.
“God gave me another chance,” Reevey said. “I definitely had angels looking after me that day.”
Surgery soon followed. He was transferred to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, and was admitted for seven days. Doctors installed a halo, a device where four screws are drilled into the first layer of the skull and connected to support beams for stabilization. Reevey was then moved to Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank to undergo five days of rehabilitation.
Nearly two weeks after that life-altering leap, Reevey is back in the comfort of his own home with his wife, mother and 1-year-old son, albeit with some changes. His vigorous workout routine has come to a standstill as he can’t lift more than five pounds, meaning he can’t even pick up his son. Sleeping isn’t easy either, but Reevey has begun to find a groove. Soon after returning home July 16, Reevey started taking walks, brewed coffee and cooked his own eggs. He knows he’s lucky to be alive.
“Now I just have a new perspective on life and how short it really is,” he said.
Efforts to support the Reevey family after the accident quickly blossomed. He’s a Fair Haven native with roots dating back to the 1880s in the borough. A graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, he went on to major in criminal justice at Rowan University, where he played soccer and basketball. Reevey joined the Fair Haven Police Department in 2010 as a 26-year-old and quickly became a friendly presence for the police in the local school district.
Reevey’s closest friends dating back to his middle school days set up a GoFundMe account to provide financial help to his family. Remarkably, in only six days, 676 people donated $71,781 to help pay for the impending hospital bills.
“It was one thing to just ‘like’ the post,” said his wife, Christina, “but for people to actually put themselves out there and do that was amazing.”
His impact on school-aged children is evident. Three young girls set up a lemonade stand fundraiser July 9 at the corner of River Road and Lexington Avenue. Later in the week, eight seventh-grade girls from Knollwood School held a homemade bake sale outside the ACME on River Road to raise money for his recovery.
“We had him in fifth grade and we felt really bad because he’s one of our favorite police officers in town,” said 12-year-old Reilly Sullivan. “We just really wanted to do something.”
Reevey said he’s been touched by all the personal sentiments and support from his small hometown.
“I don’t know what to do to show all of my appreciation and gratitude,” he said. “I just feel like screaming to everybody about how happy I am and how much of an impact their support had on my mentality.”
That mentality has kept Reevey focused on an eventual return to work. He’ll wear the halo for two months and, with no setbacks in his rehab, he hopes to return to light duty in mid-September.
“He’s like a brother to us,” said Fair Haven police chief Joseph McGovern. “I’m pretty optimistic that he’s going to have a full recovery. It may take some time but he’s making progress.”
That sense of normalcy will be welcomed with open arms, Reevey said. He’s eager to get back in the schools, protect the community and also fully recover to be there for his family.
“I don’t know what they would do if I didn’t get out of the ocean that day,” Reevey said about his wife, son and mother. “Yeah, it’s scary, but it just means that I have to live my life to the fullest and keep doing what I’m doing.”
This article was first published in the July 19-26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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