Nearly three months after he left home on a Harley-Davidson to run a work-related errand, Douglas Navolt finally returned to his family’s home in Huasna.
His homecoming was bittersweet — Navolt, 51, had been critically injured in a motorcycle crash on Oct. 29. At first it was unknown whether he would survive, and then, when he woke up, how fully he’d recover.
While Navolt has steadily improved — he walked out of Arroyo Grande Community Hospital’s Acute Rehabilitation Center on Jan. 21 — he still faces challenges, with the most difficult, and frustrating, being memory loss.
His wife of nearly nine years, Christine, didn’t realize the extent of his memory loss until they arrived home last month. Then, she was stunned to discover that Doug Navolt didn’t remember pivotal events: how the couple met at church; their wedding in 2004; the days their four daughters were born.
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“He really doesn’t remember much at all about our life together,” said Christine Navolt, 34. “I’m showing him pictures and trying to help retell him things so he can hear what happened.”
Sometimes memories flood back to him in chunks, like icebergs on a vast sea. He’ll see a friend and the visit will jog his memory. Or he’ll recall a pair of pants or shoes, long discarded, and become frustrated when he can’t find them.
He does, however, recall much of the accident, Christine Navolt said.
Doug Navolt was riding his motorcycle in Arroyo Grande about 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 when he was hit by a car whose driver hadn’t seen him before making a left turn. He was wearing a full-face helmet.
The crash fractured his neck, skull and ribs. His lungs collapsed. Both sides of his brain were injured but the right side suffered the most damage, which affected his memory, threw off his balance and weakened his left arm.
“A day for us, from start to finish, it’s kind of a roller coaster of emotions,” Christine Navolt said. “He can be happy and laugh at things but he also feels like he’s broken and can’t be the man he wants to be for his family. He feels really frustrated.”
Still, Doug Navolt grows stronger each week. Christine Navolt is encouraged by his consistent progress.
“I personally feel that he’s going to fully recover,” she said. “It’s just that it could take a long time.”
Before the crash, Doug Navolt was bust doting on his four young daughters and working on plans to start a nonprofit organization in memory of his 20-year-old daughter, Holly, who died on Christmas Day 2011 after a long struggle with cystic fibrosis. Plans for the organization remain on hold.
Doug Navolt was also building up his contracting business, which provided air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and other work.
To help his family cover living expenses, a group of friends have organized a barbecue fundraiser on Saturday at Shouts of Grace Church in Grover Beach.
It will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. at 675 W. Grand Ave., at a cost of $20 a plate for either tri-tip or chicken, and beans, bread and salad. Tickets can be purchased at http://dougbbq.brownpapertickets.com or at the door.
In the meantime, Christine Navolt continues to ask her friends and family for their prayers. Church members and others in the community have been hugely supportive of the couple.
And Doug Navolt, whose experience has brought a new aspect to his faith, is constantly praying for others as well, his wife said.
“He can bless people and pray for them and love them and he’s putting everything into that because it’s one of the only things he can do right now,” she said.