TALK ABOUT GUTS!
The doctors told the family of Daren Dieter he would never be able to talk. They told them he would never be able to eat. They told him he could never be off a ventilator for more than a few minutes.
They underestimated the courage and determination of this young man who was shot four times in a senseless crime on Sept. 23, 2007, and rendered paralyzed from the neck down.
And certainly no one thought that Daren, a talented artist, would ever be able to go back to his art.
Wrong again. A recent painting of his is featured on the cover of the current Magee Rehabilitation Hospital calendar. He painted it holding the brush in his mouth.
He worked on his computer using a head-controlled mouse, which directed a beam at the keyboard on his computer screen.
In other words, Daren, although devastatingly wounded, made a life for himself. It ended with his death Tuesday night. He had just turned 29. He lived in East Oak Lane.
Daren was on a date that tragic night and he and his girlfriend had just picked up takeout food at 19th Street and Chelten Avenue, East Oak Lane, when they were accosted by Tyree Bohannon, who was nursing some kind of grudge.
Bohannon pleaded guilty to attempted murder and other charges and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. He presumably will now be charged with murder.
Daren was the adopted son of the city's consumer advocate, Lance Haver. His adopted mother, the former Lisa Brannan, is a retired teacher.
Daren displayed the spirit that would carry him through the next agonizing years when he was admitted to the Einstein Medical Center after the shooting. Somebody had to tell Daren, an outstanding track star in his school days, that he would never walk again.
His brother, Ramsey, accepted the task. He broke the news in Daren's hospital room. Daren, who could not talk at that point, could communicate only by nodding at letters his brother pointed to.
Ramsey came back to the family with Daren's reaction on a sheet of paper. It read, "Does this mean I'm going to be a genus."
Genus? What could that mean?
His mother, Lisa, said the family figured out that Daren, who had always been a terrible speller, meant "genius." And it finally occurred to the family that Daren was referring to Stephen Hawking, the genius physicist and cosmologist who is paralyzed with Lou Gehrig's disease.
Ramsey went back in the room and asked Daren if that was what he was referring to. Daren nodded.
"It was a most terrible time and we were laughing," his mother said. "We were amazed that he was paralyzed and making jokes."
From Einstein, Daren was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, where much of his amazing progress took place.
It was there, too, that he returned to his art, first by spitting paint at the canvas, and then learning to paint with the brush in his mouth. An aide, Lori Tiberi, helped him with his art at Magee.
Daren also was able to stay off the ventilator for five hours, not the five to 10 minutes his doctors had predicted.
Most remarkable was that his speech was restored.
"He was always a talker," his mother said. "He was never one of those monosyllabic teenagers."
Daren also learned to operate his wheelchair with the "sip and puff" method. To go forward, he would puff into a tube connected to the wheelchair mechanism; to reverse, he would sip on the tube.
Using this method, he was able to navigate the Reading Terminal Market last week to buy food for the birthday party he was arranging for himself.
He went on Facebook and emailed invitations to friends, former track buddies from Central High School, fellow Magee patients, nurses and others who had had a part of the remarkable life of Daren Dieter.
"He was still a partyer," his mother said.
Daren was born to Lee and Carol Dieter. He and his brothers Ramsey and Brandon were adopted by the Havers when the Dieters were unable to care for them.
He graduated from Central High, where he was an outstanding runner on the track team, and also ran track when he went to the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in visual arts.
He worked for a time in that field before the shooting.
Daren had an entrepreneurial spirit that led him to buy and sell computers on eBay shortly after he arrived home from Magee. He even hired a helper. He also ran a silk-screen business in the basement, making T-shirts, posters and the like.
Daren had just been accepted into an experimental program for spinal cord patients at Jefferson University, where his parents hoped he would be able to learn to move his arms and hands.
He had started the evaluation procedure when he died.