Heroic teen track star rallies after losing foot: 'I'll be back'

Teenager Sean English was on his way to church with his parents to sing at a school event when the family saw an overturned Jeep on the highway.

Dr. Cynthia Ray was on her way to work when she, too, saw the upside-down SUV. Six teens were trapped inside.

The doctor, the high school student and his parents stopped to help when their lives were upended.

Ray, a 47-year-old pulmonary and lung cancer specialist at Henry Ford Hospital, was fighting for her life late Monday from injuries she sustained along the highway when a car pulled around a curve and hit her as she tried to help the trapped teens. That same day, in the hospital where she once worked, the heroic teenager who also stopped to help woke up to learn that part of his foot had to be amputated.

English of Northville, an avid runner on U-D Jesuit's track team, also was struck by the car that came around the curve along I-96 on Sunday morning. But the resilient runner known for his humor and wit didn't cave to fear or doubt. Rather, with his head coach and principal at his bedside, he responded with a joke.

"In true 'English-humor,' he said 'Coach, I won't be able to make it to practice today,' " said U-D Jesuit Principal Anthony Trudel, adding English wanted him to relay this message:

"He wanted everyone to know, 'I'm still Sean. I  need your prayers. But I'm still Sean.'"

The doctor's family made a similar plea, issuing this statement Monday: "Our beloved daughter and sister, Dr. Cynthia Ray, remains in critical condition at Sinai-Grace and we continue to pray for her recovery.”

Following the accident, Henry Ford released this statement: "We were so saddened to hear the news about Dr. Cynthia Ray. Ray has been with the Henry Ford family since 2005 and is widely known as a stellar physician and kind, compassionate colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Ray’s family and the entire Henry Ford pulmonary team.''

Both families have been too distraught to talk about the accident.

The U-D Jesuit community, meanwhile, has rallied around the high school junior and his parents. A rosary service was held at his church, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Northville, and drew nearly 300 people, many of them students.  A GoFundMe site was set up by a supporter. And friends have flooded his hospital room with words of encouragement for a young man described by many as selfless, hardworking, funny and empathetic. In addition to running track, he also sings in U-D's choir and is running for a seat on the student senate.

"This kid — when we talk about being a man for others, who cares about the other person more than himself — that's Sean English," Trudel said. "He's just a selfless young man."

English, 17, was on his way to sing for a Mother-Son senior mass at Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit when he and his parents stopped to help six teenage crash victims along I-96 near the Davison Freeway. Police said a Jeep was eastbound on I-96 about 7:50 a.m. when it took the curve too fast and struck the median wall in the left-hand lane, flipping several times before coming to a rest in the left travel lane.

But as the motorists stopped to help, another car came around the curve, lost control and hit Ray and English. The teen's parents were not injured and none of the six trapped teens suffered serious injuries.  However, the driver of the second vehicle was critically injured and was on life support as of late Monday. Police said "alcohol appears to be a factor," but the investigation is still ongoing. His identity is not known.

"Evidence at the scene suggests alcohol containers (were) in the car, however toxicology is needed to verify if (the second) driver had alcohol in his system at the time of the crash," State Police First Lt. Denise Powell told the Free Press late Monday.

Powell credited Trooper Patrick Arena, and his use of a tourniquet, for saving the teenager's life.

Meanwhile, those who know English well expect his motivation, goodness and humor to pull him through, noting he's the kind of runner who tells his coaches how to coach him —  and that they need to push him harder.

"He lets us know how fast he wants to run, and we have to pull him back," said Isaac Piepszowski, an assistant track coach and former U-D student who has known English since he was in elementary school.

Piepszowski said there's no doubt English's feisty spirit on the track field will help him fight through his ordeal, calling him  a "very determined, self-motivated and natural athlete."

"It's going to be crucial to his recovery — knowing that he's got the toughness and mental capacity to overcome obstacles and push through," Piepszowski said. "He's already got his head up. He's got his eyes set on 'how am I going to get moving. How can I get to the next steps of where I want to be.'  It's pure determination."

Nancy Tolkacz, the Christian Service coordinator at English's church, called English a "remarkable young" man. "He went out and didn't think about the danger that might be out there. He was there to help and that's the type of man he is," she said.

U-D's music director Chris Charboneau is equally impressed with English. He visited English on Monday and marveled at his student's optimism and knack for keeping things light.

"I was taken aback by his courage. And his sense of humor was intact," Charboneau said, noting an anesthesiologist had stopped in to see English when he was there.

"His mom asked a question and he said, 'Mom, I've got this.' We all just laughed," recalled Charboneau, noting English also asked him to pass along a message to his classmates: " 'Tell them I'm still me, and I'll be back.'"

Detroit Free Press


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