Sam Dodge and Krystle Wright

Sam Dodge and Krystle Wright

Love and support get young Rowan couple to commencement
Love and support get young Rowan couple to commencement

Sam Dodge and Krystle Wright are both aspiring novelists, so they get fairytales, where the prince and the princess meet, fall in love and chase happily ever after.

In fact the two Rowan University 2011 M.A. in writing/B.A. in writing arts graduates were blissfully, uneventfully on that Prince Charming path. That is, they were on it right up until the day Dodge’s car hit a slick of oil that sent him rushing by ambulance on roadways, shoulders and medians through three counties to the emergency room of Cooper University Hospital.

The fairytale starts much earlier.

Building bridges
Dodge, 22, and Wright, 23, met in a ninth grade geometry class at Millville Memorial High School when they worked on a project constructing bridges out of toothpicks.

“We had to use hot glue guns, and I was sitting near the outlet where they got plugged in,” Dodge recalled. “That’s when she realized I was the quiet guy who sat behind her.”
They started dating that year.

As Wright remembered, “He called my house and I wasn’t home. He left a message on my answering machine, and my dad was the first one to get the message. He wouldn’t let me go out with Sam until he met him. And Sam’s mom decided he couldn’t go out with me until she met me. So we had a family date at the bowling alley.”

They’ve been together ever since. Neither Dodge, of Cedarville, nor Wright, of Millville, ever has dated anyone else. They graduated from Millville Senior High School together in June 2006. They entered Rowan together that fall. And they opted for the accelerated M.A./B.A. in writing arts, sharing numerous classes during the five-year program. They got engaged Nov. 23, 2009 and hope to marry in 2012, depending . . .

Accident changes things
The accident happened on Oct. 5, 2010, between 7:15 and 7:35 a.m. as Dodge was driving to work at the Starbucks in Millville’s Target.

In books, the heroine would have had a dream that thrust her awake at just the moment her beloved was in danger. In reality, Wright slept through the accident, home in her own bed, no storybook premonition waking her that Tuesday morning. Her eyes were barely open when she got the phone call at 9:30 a.m. telling her the man she loved was in critical condition in the trauma unit. The fallout from the accident: Broken left arm, right collarbone and shoulder, right leg, four ribs, nose. Skull fractures. Brain hematoma. Two punctured lungs. Bruised right kidney.

Dodge doesn’t remember the accident or a lot of the 29 days — 17 of them unconscious — he spent in ICU at Cooper or the 39 total days in the hospital — which were followed by five weeks of in-patient rehab at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Vineland.

He doesn’t remember Wright’s vigils by his bedside or her long days filled with classes and her Rowan job as a graduate assistant in Media & Public Relations for the College of Engineering. He wasn’t aware for much of the time she spent in his hospital room. He was beyond caring when she was running interference with profs and others to make sure he had the option to make up the semester and stay in the program and on target for graduation.

Professors make a difference
With cooperation from faculty — he cites Professor Julia Chang, Dr. Jennifer Courtney and Professor Carla Spataro in particular — and support from his fiancée, Dodge didn’t drop out; instead he took incompletes in three classes. He came back to school for the spring semester — with a cane and some vision problems, nerve damage and mobility issues — and steadily knocked out his assignments to make up the fall semester and complete his spring classes as well. Chang, advisor to both Dodge and Wright, was one of his strongest advocates — and a visitor during his recovery.

“Thanks to my professors, I could take incompletes and make them up when I was physically able,” Dodge said. “It means a lot. It means I can graduate when I want to. My whole life didn’t get thrown off track.”

Wright also kept up with her class work and her 20-hour a week GA position, missing only two days right after the accident.

Working hard
Today, they are rather nonchalant about the load they have been carrying.

“Right now I’m not working. I usually was working and going to school,” said Dodge of in effect squeezing two semesters into one. “I’d like to graduate with Krystle. I did that in high school. I’d like to do that again in college. And I just got into the (accelerated) program to get my master’s in one year. I was psyched about doing that and just want to follow through with that.”

Things are pretty much back on track for the couple, who have been through more than most young adults and who glow with praise for each other.

“She’s very strong-willed, a very hard worker,” he said of her. “She was very supportive. I’m very lucky. I have a very strong woman who is going to stand by my side through thick and thin.”

And she of him: “He’s very motivated. I don’t think I could have made up what he made up class-wise and rehab-wise. He is the best person that I know and he makes me smile all the time. I do not know what I would do without him.”

They don’t plan on finding out.

After they graduate, both want to be novelists, but they are realistic. He’s also interested in being a community college instructor, and she’s open to anything in the publishing industry.

Wherever they go, they both insist, it will be together.