‘Just remember Adam’: Family devoted lives to care of son who sustained brain injury in 1998 accident in Charlemont

  • Adam Evan Dzialo, who sustained a severe brain injury in July 1998 after getting stuck underwater in the Deerfield River in Charlemont for 25 minutes during a summer camp activity gone awry, died at home in Falmouth on Sunday morning. He was 35. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/28/2021 5:11:18 PM

FALMOUTH — Adam Evan Dzialo, who sustained a severe brain injury in July 1998 after getting stuck underwater in the Deerfield River in Charlemont for 25 minutes during a summer camp activity gone awry, died at home Sunday morning. He was 35.

His father, Philip Dzialo, took to Facebook to announce the news and ask everyone to celebrate his son’s life by spreading kindness.

“Do one random act of kindness,” he posted. “If you would like to share that with us, we would be grateful. If you choose to keep it private, just remember Adam.”

The elder Dzialo told the Greenfield Recorder a memorial event and any services will be held privately.

He explained Adam needed constant care following the 1998 accident. Dzialo and he and his wife, Sharon, entered Adam’s bedroom at 5:45 a.m. Sunday and found their son’s mouth contained a large amount of phlegm, which they removed. However, Adam’s breathing continued to slow.

“And he just stopped breathing in our arms,” he said Monday. “And then we called his doctor and she came right down.”

Dzialo said Adam will be cremated and his ashes will be kept in the family’s Falmouth home. He said he does not know an exact cause of death, though his son’s health had been deteriorating for the past two years, developing bed sores and shingles. Adam had to constantly be repositioned.

“It was a labor of love and it actually taught us the meaning of unconditional love for a child,” Dzialo said.

The family moved to Falmouth 13 years ago.

“It was good to get away from all of the attention of Adam’s accident,” Dzialo said. “And, of course, the ocean is very healing.”

On July 24, 1998, a then-12-year-old Adam was on his final day of the Adventures Unlimited day camp sponsored by Greenfield Community College. Counselors organized, for the second time, a whitewater rescue exercise on the Deerfield River in Charlemont and Adam was selected to portray the person in need of help. Dzialo said his son was improperly given an adult-sized flotation device and, unbeknownst to anyone in Adam’s 14-member group, a dam had just released water behind him.

Dzialo said his son panicked and tried to stand up, getting his foot lodged in some rocks. The swift river current pulled Adam’s head under the water, where he remained trapped for about 25 minutes before being rescued by Charlemont emergency medical technicians and nearby rafters from Crab Apple Whitewater, who fought the current in a human chain. Adam was airlifted to Baystate Trauma Care in Springfield.

Dzialo, the principal at Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland for roughly 25 years, recalled he had just returned from the school to his Greenfield home when he received a call about his son.

“The message from the hospital social worker was, ‘Your son’s been involved in a water accident and you’ve got to get here, and don’t come alone,’” Dzialo remembered. “And that was the beginning of the story.”

Adam’s parents arrived in Springfield just as their son was leaving the trauma center and moved to the pediatric intensive care unit. Dzialo said Adam stayed in Springfield for a month before moving to a hospital in Hartford, Conn., for three weeks.

The Dzialo family sued Greenfield Community College, filing a civil rights lawsuit on the grounds that Adam suffered “deprivation of rights, privileges and immunities” provided under the U.S. Constitution. One counselor was with the youngsters when the accident occurred, as a second counselor had left the river on an errand with another camper. In 2004, the family reached a $936,000 settlement with GCC. Most of the money was paid into a professionally managed fund for Adam’s lifelong care.

In 2010, Sharon Dzialo, a retired Franklin County Technical School guidance counselor, wrote a book titled “Ceramic to Clay: A Mother’s Search for Authentic Healing for her Severely Brain-Injured Son,” about her family’s ordeal. Philip also maintained a blog for five or six years.

Philip Dzialo said Bob Pura has been a friend of the family since taking over as GCC president in December 2000. Pura called the family to check in every year on the accident’s anniversary.

Speaking Monday, Pura said he received the news of Adam’s death in a text message from Dzialo on Sunday night.

“It broke my heart,” he recalled, adding that he told the Dzialos “to hold in their heart that Adam lived and passed knowing what true love is.”

Pura retired as GCC president in 2018, and was succeeded by Yves Salomon-Fernandez.

Robert Cohn, chair of the GCC board of trustees, referred to Adam as “a wonderful young man with a phenomenal future ahead of him until that moment in July of 1998.”

“We feel bad for the Dzialo family,” Cohn said. “They went through a lot.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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