By Kate Harrold
THIS MAN was so worried about how he looked after a DRUNK driving incident left him with one eye and half a face that he hid behind sunglasses and a hat for TWO YEARS – and now he is helping other alcoholics avoid the same fate.
Animal sanctuary founder, Daniel Sweig (40), from Boulder, Colorado, USA, will admit that he’d been a heavy drinker for much of his adult life. Aged 22, a drunk driving accident left Daniel blind in one eye for six months.
A decade and a half later on November 12, 2017, in Lompoc, California, another drunk driving accident would leave Daniel without an eye completely. After a heavy night of partying – which included cocaine and whiskey – Daniel lost control of his car whilst making a turn at 100 miles-per-hour.
With no seat belt on and the sun roof open, Daniel embraced for the worst. Daniel’s passenger – friend, Jojo – was left uninjured but Daniel couldn’t see out of one eye and was left with an exposed skull. He’d suffered from serious facial degloving in which extensive amounts of skin are ripped away from the underlying tissues.
Other injuries included a rupturing in his left eye, an orbital wall fracture, an orbital roof fracture, and cerebral contusion which lead to minor brain damage in the frontal lobe and several seizures.
Daniel was driven to three different hospitals before surgeons at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, knew how to rectify the problem. It took 12 surgeries to stabilise his condition including a skin graft, removal of Daniels’s eye, and hundreds of stitches.
“The night of the accident, I was drinking whiskey and doing cocaine. It’s hard to say how much I’d had as it was a constant activity at this point in my life,” Daniel said.
“Incredibly, Jojo was left without a scratch but I remember turning to him and saying, ‘I can’t see out of my left eye and I can feel my skull.’
“I was losing a lot of blood. No one was injured or nearly killed except me so no police came to the hospital to press charges – it was just the state troopers that arrived on the scene with the ambulance.
“The next day I knew once and for all that my drinking was over. If I’d have killed Jojo, I would’ve hung myself in shame and guilt.
“During the first surgery, they removed several ounces of gravel from my face before they stitched it back together.
“In order to tackle the degloving, one surgery lasted for just under twelve-hours. I had a titanium plate put in my left cheekbone to hold it in place and a skin graft taken from my thigh to my face.
“They believed they could save my eye so after several surgeries I was released fifteen days after I was admitted.
“During the recovery period, I had to undergo a further five surgeries to reduce the size of the skin graft and I was still experiencing terrible chronic pain. My surgeon found floating bone fragments in my sinuses.
“Meanwhile, I had been hit by an uninsured drunk driver – this was around a year after my wreck – which only added to the chronic pain in my back.
“By March of 2018, I’d started to develop depression. My eyelid flipped in on itself making my eyelashes scratch my eye and the surgeon thought it best to take my eye out.
“That was the most pain I’ve ever felt. I’d experienced this problem with my eyelid before and I’d had corrective surgery. I’m still not sure I should’ve gone back when they said they wanted to take it out.
“They had to inject a nerve block into my severed optic nerve. Around the same time, an MRI revealed that I had herniated discs as my left leg became numb and I couldn’t walk.
“It was also hard in the beginning to deal with the staring so I hid behind glasses and a hat. Overtime, I became more comfortable but it really is a process adjusting to that change.”
Daniel was working minimum hours to retain the medical benefits he needed to pay for his appointments. By 2019, Daniel was forced to move back home to his mum’s house as he no longer could afford to stay in California.
Impacted by the loss of independence, self-reliance, and work – alongside his medical condition – Daniel’s depression worsened.
“I still have phantom eye pains and I get claustrophobic in tight spaces and crowds due to my rather large blind spot,” Daniel said.
“I’ve applied for disability allowances but it could be a year until they decide on the appeal. It’s not a sustainable way of living – or survivable – but I have to do something despite the pain.
“I became very depressed and isolated after moving back home. I began to wean myself off medications, finally stopped smoking, and I even switched to a plant-based diet.
“I’ve now also been sober for two years and eight months. Getting sober isn’t easy but the pain was one hell of a motivator.
“My recovery is dependent on a spiritual practice and through that, I’ve found purpose and meaning which I didn’t have before. I am profoundly grateful for that.
“During all the pain and suffering I began to ask myself what I really wanted. I was talking to a friend when I mentioned that all I wanted to do was grow food and rescue animals.”
In July 2020, Daniel began creating New Earth Animal Sanctuary – a non-profit organisation specialising in taking care of abused, abandoned, and unwanted farm animals. It’s a project that has given Daniel a new sense of both purpose and focus.
“I remember as a child being told that ‘God made cows for rodeos’ and even as a toddler, I knew that wasn’t true,” Daniel said.
“During my recovery, I had the chance to help save injured and abused farm animals and it helped me see positivity and light through those dark times.
“Veganism soon became a part of my physical and mental recovery and my calling became unmistakably clear.
“Today, I know that happiness is directly linked to my level of gratitude – which is subsequently dependent upon my spiritual fitness.
“Today, I try to be of service to others as it is not only productive, but also a meaningful and authentic way to life.
“In the end, I’m grateful for the supernova of facial mayhem that brought me to the place that I am now – proud of who I have become.”