In early July, about a week before becoming the victim of a freak accident that would nearly take his life, longtime public-relations professional Gary Schweikhart became the president of the Carbonell Awards. To honor this occasion, he commissioned a new official headshot for himself. “And I had gone to see [the photographer], and I said, ‘make me look younger, and make me look thinner.’ I said, ‘this is probably going to be my obit picture.’ Little did I realize how close it came!”
On July 11, as we reported earlier this week, Schweikhart was at his home in Boca Landings, drafting a press release, when a reckless driver drove through a berm, then through about six feet of bushes, then straight into Schweikhart’s office, burying Schweikhart in the rubble and destroying the office entirely—as well as portions of his kitchen, a guest bathroom and the entryway of the house.
Schweikhart was rushed to Delray Community Hospital, where he was unconscious for two days. When he came to, Rich Pollack, his friend and fellow-publicist, was there to greet him. The first thing Schweikhart did, he said, was flip his colleague the bird—a sign to Pollack that he would make it through.
Schweikhart would spend several days in the ICU and two weeks in rehab. Today, he’s slowly recovering while living at an extended-stay Residence Inn—with the help of a metal plate inserted in his head. “My face was basically broken in half, and the mandible was broken; my nose was broken,” he says. “The area between my eyes were broken, and had to be rebuilt. I had to have plastic surgery under my eye and on my right cheek. I’m still very, very numb on the right side of my face. My eye is still kind of droopy and drooly on my right side. I have a lot of abrasions, contusions on my left arm and on my right arm and on my stomach.
Medical professionals, he said, “told me that several times that I was really lucky to be alive.”
Schweikhart imagines his health-care bill will be “astronomical,” and his home will take at least six months to repair. That’s where the community comes in, and perhaps you, dear reader.
On Aug. 28, Arts Garage will host “He DID Survive,” a benefit concert for Schweikhart featuring many of the P.R. man’s clients and friends, including Avery Sommers, Deborah Silver, Rob Russell, Jill and Rich Switzer, Phil Hinton and Anthony Nunziata, all of whom will be donating their time and talent.
“Gary has done work for Arts Garage in the PR world for years now,” says Arts Garage President and CEO Marjorie Waldo. “When I found out what had happened, I was speaking with Rich Pollack. The idea [for the concert] came up, and I jumped on the opportunity, because I know how much he is loved and admired and respected. It’s a way for Arts Garage to say thank you for the work he does in the cultural community.”
For these entertainers, giving back can mean more than performing at the benefit. Deborah Silver, for instance, has brought him food from local restaurants and has made sure his fridge is full. Schweikhart says his friends in the industry have been invaluable these past three weeks.
“I work at this amazing intersection of three groups of people,” he says. “I work with the Gold Coast PR Council, I work with the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, and I work with the Carbonell Awards. So I work with all these entertainers, and they all have rallied around me in this most amazing way. It has just inspired me so much to get up and start moving again.”
And, he adds, he fully expects to be onstage Aug. 28. He’s been planning a few jokes. “I’m a ham,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Tickets for “He DID Survive,” Aug. 28 at Arts Garage, are $50. Showtime is 7 p.m. Call 561/450-6357 or visit artsgarage.org.
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