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Long Road Back From a Near-Fatal Accident Leads to Dream Fulfilled

A year and a half after Bruce Toloski was gravely injured assisting a motorist, the wildlife agent is the proud father of healthy twins.

December 26, 2004|Nancy Wride and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

Nobody believed good Samaritan Bruce Toloski could survive, much less thrive.

A year and a half ago, the off-duty federal wildlife agent was helping a man in an overturned Jeep when another car grazed it, hurling a bumper into Toloski's head. He was comatose for six weeks, and doctors had to restore the missing right side of his skull.

But on Christmas Day at the family's Torrance home, Toloski said he was grateful for more than his own life. After a stunning recovery, he fulfilled a longtime dream of having children when his wife, Lisa, gave birth to healthy twins Monday.

"They're a Christmas gift. If we got nothing else, the babies would be wonderful still," said Toloski, his speech only slightly slowed now.

As he waited Thursday morning to bring Timothy Kealoha home from the same hospital where he spent four months recovering from a crushed skull, the 37-year-old Toloski marveled at his luck.

"I never gave up hope that I'd be able to do the things I loved most, like work," he said. "But my No. 1 job now is being a father."

Kehaulani Eve was released from the hospital a day after her brother. They were snug in pink and blue pajamas Saturday, wearing tiny Santa hats and being passed around among family members.

Kehaulani Eve, who weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces, "looks like her mother with dark hair," Toloski said, while her brother, 7 pounds, 7 ounces, "looks like me with light hair." Their names were taken from the Bible and their maternal grandmother's native Hawaii: Kehaulani means "dew drops from heaven" and Kealoha means "beloved," Toloski said.

Toloski said he and his wife, who had undergone fertility treatments for seven years, were more determined after the accident to have children.

"It's so peaceful to hold them. They make me and Lisa feel so great," he said.

Toloski was driving home one April night in 2003 after spending the day investigating the maiming of more than a dozen endangered California brown pelicans around San Pedro and Cabrillo Beach.

On the Long Beach Freeway, he spotted a man who had rolled his Jeep. He pulled over to see if the driver was injured. Moments later, another car hit the Jeep's fender, which struck Toloski's head.

"After the accident, a CHP officer told Bruce's captain that he had two hours to live," said Lisa Toloski, who organized a prayer vigil the next day. She said it was her faith in God that helped her through the ordeal.

When Toloski was released from Long Beach Memorial Hospital on July 30 of last year, he still faced months of physical and vocational therapy. In August, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn. honored Toloski with its annual Heroism Award. He accepted it with what friends, family and co-workers said was typical humility.

One of the hardest things about his recovery, Toloski said, was remembering the names of friends and family members. He said he pored over old photographs, cards and letters to relearn their identities. He spent many months relearning to eat, talk and walk. Seizures dogged him as recently as this summer.

It was difficult for Toloski to not work because of his commitment to the pelican case, which was assigned to another agent. The birds were found with snapped wings, which Toloski and forensic examinations concluded were highly unlikely to have occurred naturally or accidentally (by getting tangled in fishing line, for example). The team of bird rescuers, mostly volunteers, did not forget Toloski's efforts.

Last summer, Toloski's church paid for the rehabilitation of two pelicans that were named in his honor. A third bird, also named after Toloski, was funded by the volunteers.

While helping with her husband's recovery, Lisa Toloski managed to finish her college degree in physical therapy. Neither lost sight of their dream of having children.There had been so many failed attempts, Toloski said, that the couple had created a nursery for foster children in their three-bedroom home. A final try with their longtime fertility doctor led to the twins.

"Two of the eggs took," Toloski said cheerfully as he paced the hospital grounds Thursday morning. "Lisa got to have a natural delivery. She is doing really well. Everybody's healthy."

The couple hope to adopt another child, preferably one in foster care.

With the recovery and the births, the Toloskis said they have come to believe that good fortune is never out of reach, no matter the odds against it.

"There's a lot of miracles in this house," Lisa said. "Bruce and the two babies."

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