By Chaz Scoggins
LOWELL -- We have all known the disappointment, the sadness, and perhaps even the shock of unwrapping a present on Christmas Day and finding that the contents have been broken.
Now imagine the sadness and shock of looking at the shattered body of a human being on Christmas, yet at the same time grateful and even joyful that the one you love is still alive.
Michelle Bazin doesn't have to imagine it. She lived it.
On Christmas Day 2003, Norm Bazin was in a hospital bed in Colorado Springs, Colo., with multiple fractures and beginning his recovery from a torn aorta that nearly ended his life.
Just over a month earlier, Norm, then an assistant hockey coach at Colorado College, had been on a recruiting trip to Canada when his rental car was hit by an SUV driven by a drunk driver just outside Spokane, Wash.
The car was all but vaporized in the collision at a closing speed of 111 mph. Bazin suffered a broken jaw, broken left arm, four broken ribs and a cracked pelvis, and both legs had multiple fractures. But it was the tear in his aorta that threatened his life.
The chances of surviving a torn aorta, says Norm, now in his first year as head hockey coach at UMass Lowell, are minuscule. As many as 85 percent of victims die before reaching the hospital, and less than 10 percent survive after reaching the hospital. It took an hour for rescue personnel just to extract Norm from the wreck and another 45 minutes for the ambulance to transport him to the Deaconess Hospital trauma center in Spokane, Wash., where emergency-room doctors and a cardiothoracic surgeon were able to save his life.
Dr. Dan Coulston tended to Norm during the next few critical days. The Bazins' second son, Coleston, now 4, is named after him.
Norm was in a coma for seven days. Three weeks later, a few days before Christmas, he was transferred by air ambulance to Colorado Springs.
Michelle, seven months pregnant with their first son, Blake, remembers seeing her husband for the first time after the collision.
"To see someone, especially someone who was in as great physical shape, as Norm was, in intensive care on a ventilator with multiple tubes connected to him -- that would be a shock for anybody," she says.
There was a lot of anxiety for the Bazins that Christmas, but also gratitude.
"The uncertainty of everything produced the most anxiety," remembers Norm, who didn't know if he'd ever be able to walk again, much less skate. "But we had plenty to be thankful for at that time. Michelle was pretty well along in her pregnancy, so we didn't need to have gifts for it to be a special Christmas."
"He was heavily medicated but beginning to do some physical therapy," Michelle recalls. "The wires had been removed from his jaw, so being able to hear him talk again after not hearing him talk for a couple of weeks was a nice gift."
Most precious of all was the gift of life.
"I'd always heard that," says Michelle, who met Norm when both were students at UMass Lowell in the early 1990s. "But until you're faced with the possibility of death, you don't realize how true that is."
"Michelle was an absolute rock during this very difficult time," Norm says. "She deserves a lot of credit for her will and strength during a time when her unborn son and husband needed her most."
Blake was born in February, 2004. By then, Norm was home and in physical therapy. Another year would pass, however, before he could return to coaching hockey.
As good as it was to be alive at Christmas in 2003, Christmas 2004 was remembered with much more fondness. Norm got to spend it with the son he almost never saw.
"Presents are great at Christmas," he agrees, "but we were able to spend together the first year of my first son's life. When you do have kids, it's not about you anymore. I remember it best because it was Blake's first Christmas, and that's always a special time of the year."
"Having your first-born child is a wonderful gift," Michelle says, "and it was a good bonding time for him and Blake.
"I could see he was getting better and anxious to get back to coaching," she adds. "But it was good that he took all the time he needed to rehabilitate himself instead of trying to return too soon when he really wasn't physically ready yet."
"I'm very lucky," Norm says. "I've gotten to see both my kids grow up and be with my family. We have a lot to be grateful for, and I enjoy every single day.
"Every Christmas has been special since then and will be from here on in."