Commencement 2014: South Kingstown resident overcomes near-fatal injuries to earn degree from URI

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – April 28, 2014 – If you look at Sylvia Bogusz’s resume, you might reach the conclusion that she is just another college over-achiever. But you’d just be getting a small part of her story.

That’s because nowhere in the South Kingstown resident’s summary of academic and professional accomplishments does she list her triumphs over near-fatal injuries she suffered when a drunken driver ran into her June 23, 2007. The incident, during which she was struck by a vehicle going 100 miles per hour and subsequently thrown 125 feet, happened just a week after her graduation from South Kingstown High School and a week after she had already begun classes in the University of Rhode Island’s Talent Development Program.

Bogusz suffered traumatic brain injury, a shattered right arm, fractures to her pelvis and vertebrae, an injured liver and multiple infections, but her will was left intact and she’ll earn her bachelor’s degree in communication studies and Italian from the University of Rhode Island May 18. After the incident, she needed a feeding tube and was in a coma and unresponsive for four months while at Rhode Island Hospital. She was unable to communicate for 128 days. She completed lengthy stays in rehabilitation facilities and continues to get physical therapy.

Bogusz, who was waiting well off the breakdown lane on Route 1 seven years ago for a ride home from her mom, Grace, after her car had broken down, will graduate with a 3.4 grade point average and multiple honors. She received the URI Communication Studies Excellence Achievement Award in 2013, the Golden Key International Honor Society Achievement Award and the Justice Award from the State of Rhode Island in 2009. She was also named to the Gamma Kappa Alpha National Italian Honor Society and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education.

One of the more amazing aspects of Bogusz’s life has been her willingness to relive the incident and its impacts when testifying before the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives in 2008 and 2009 for tougher drunk driving laws. Since 2008, she has given 15 talks to high school and college students and other groups on the impacts of drunken driving on victims and their families.

“I am proud of my speaking, and I am not scared even when I speak before hundreds, but sometimes I cry because it’s still emotional for me even after seven years,” said Bogusz, who walks with a limp and has limited use of her right hand. “But the last time I spoke at the Prout School and South Kingstown High School, I was flawless.”

Bogusz faces barely tolerable pain on many days, but she gathers her strength to brush it off with a smile, telling her friends and supporters at URI, “I feel better when I am at URI and when I am at my internship at Marketing and Communications. I get to work, and my mind focuses on what I need to do and the great people in the office and around campus. When I talk about my accident, I am kind of nonchalant. I can’t make it a big drama,” she said.

As far as her graduation from URI being a great accomplishment, Bogusz downplays it.

“I don’t get too excited about graduating because I feel it has always been my goal to graduate and be successful,” said Bogusz, who was also a marketing intern at Lifespan Corp. last fall.

She was planning to return to URI and knew it was the right decision after being encouraged to enroll in college by Liz Morris, her former speech therapist at Westerly Hospital. In the summer of 2008, she met with Gerald Williams, the director of Talent Development.

She eased her way back, taking just two online classes a semester, and she met Sharon Forleo, associate director of Talent Development, who has been at her side ever since. In fall 2010, she resumed taking classes on campus and studied in Italy last summer.

“She told me I was the bomb because of what I had achieved after what I had gone through. That was very inviting and very flattering,” Bogusz said in her understated manner.

Bogusz enjoyed the online courses at URI because they allowed her to work at her own pace, but added that it takes great self-discipline.

“Education is fun, and professors were always great about my accommodations,” she said. “Plus, they treated me like a normal person. I am going to miss URI, the professors, Sharon Forleo and Marketing and Communications. I feel so welcomed and supported.”

Now she is thinking about working for a year, perhaps in marketing and public relations, but then she wants to pursue graduate school.

Whatever comes next, she will be forever grateful to her family, and especially her mother, for their endless support and love. “My mother has been there since day one. Even when the doctors were telling my family that they should prepare to say goodbye to me because I wasn’t going to live, my mother would not say goodbye. She believed I would live.”

While Bogusz admits to struggling with anger over the lifelong impacts of her injuries, she does not want to live that way.

“I persevere. I don’t want to live in that life, and I don’t want anyone to pity me,” Bogusz said. “There is more to life than that. I want to be normal again, well maybe normal-ish.

Marketing & Communications photo by Michael Salerno Photography.