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Recovering from car accident, Maple Park dad treasures time with family

Eric Bettag and his five children (clockwise from bottom left) Ben, 10; Alice, 15; Elizabeth, 18; Isabel, 13; and Sarah, 16. Eric was injured in a car accident in 2007.
Eric Bettag and his five children (clockwise from bottom left) Ben, 10; Alice, 15; Elizabeth, 18; Isabel, 13; and Sarah, 16. Eric was injured in a car accident in 2007.

MAPLE PARK – When a car accident left Eric Bettag physically disabled six years ago, it didn’t seem like any good could come of the situation.

After years of rehabilitation and therapy have helped him get back on his feet, he said he realized that the accident brought him closer to his family, which includes his wife, Joan, and his five children, Elizabeth, 18; Sarah, 16; Alice, 15; Isabel, 13; and Benjamin, 10 – something to celebrate for Father’s Day, which is Sunday.

In March of 2007, Eric Bettag of Maple Park was heading east on Dean Street across Randall Road in St. Charles when his car was struck by a vehicle driven by a teenager who ran a red light. His car rolled over and over again before coming to a stop near a construction vehicle. As Eric Bettag made an attempt to escape through the sun roof, he realized he couldn’t move.

“I knew it was bad news at that point in time,” he said.

He was taken by helicopter to a hospital, where doctors stabilized his broken neck with screws and plates. Because of his injuries, Eric couldn’t move any ligaments below his chest. Doctors told his wife, Joan Bettag, that her husband would likely become an invalid.

After three days of intensive care, Eric Bettag was able to transfer to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he started his months-long effort to regain mobility.

He’s come a long way in the last six years.

When the accident happened, the youngest of their five children was 3 and the oldest was in sixth grade.

At the time, Eric had been wrapped up in opening his own podiatry clinic and his children usually were in bed by the time he got home from his long workdays.

He said it was difficult to see his children while he was unable to move.

“That was probably the hardest thing for me in the beginning,” he said. “They had seen me my whole life a certain way, and all of a sudden you’re like this blob.”

Despite grim predictions from doctors, Eric Bettag said he was determined to walk again.

He started by making his way down his driveway, which is at the end of a dead-end road in Maple Park. Eventually he was able to walk the length of his street.

Now, he walks two to three miles every day, and his children regularly accompany him on his walks up and down their street.

He said that’s where he saw the good that came out of the whole ordeal.

“Everyone said they didn’t think any good would come out of it, but there has been some good,” he said. “I think everything happens for a reason. At the time, I was so transfixed on the office. I needed to be shaken up.”

He said in the three hours he spends walking with them each day, he’s learned a lot more about each of his children than he ever would have if he still was working long hours, like he was before the accident.

His oldest, Elizabeth, is getting ready to head to college after this summer, which means it’s not long before Sarah leaves, followed by Alice. He said he learned that Elizabeth is fun and social; Sarah is studious and booksmart; Alice is intelligent and organized; Isabel is very athletic; and because Benjamin is the only other male in the household, the two “cling to each other.”

“I didn’t know any of that before. My job was to provide, and I just didn’t have time for a lot of other things,” he said. “I would have missed the whole thing. They would have been gone [to college].”

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