Sunday, February 8, 2004

79-year-old crash survivor cheats
death a second time

Cincinnati 101

Never count out Henry Meyer.

"I am not," he declared, "a giver-upper."

He is quite the contrary. That's why he is alive today.

The famed violinist and teacher with the feisty demeanor sat in his living room days ago and savored its river view for the first time in 11 months.

Meyer last left his East Walnut Hills home on March 1, 2003. That night, a hit-skip driver's car slammed into his 79-year-old frame. Leaving a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert early, Meyer was thrown to the cobblestones in front of Music Hall.

The driver is at large. No one has come forward to identify him.

The accident marked the second time in Meyer's life he cheated death.

The first occurred during World War II. Meyer survived the horrors of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

The March calamity sentenced Meyer to nearly a year in hospital beds, on operating tables and in agonizing physical therapy.

Meyer's head hit the street, causing bleeding on the brain. The impact broke his right leg and battered his right knee. Each injury called for surgery. And concern.

Local friends feared the worst. Especially when his heart stopped. Meyer recalled how a German friend calmed their fears.

"You don't know that guy," the German said. "He's going to snap out of it."

Meyer did. Just barely.

He takes a dozen pills daily. His blood sugar is out of whack. And he's wheelchair-bound. For now.

"When I came to after the operation on my brain, I had no command of my limbs," he said.

"They tried to stand me up and 'pffft!' down I went. Now, my hands are strong enough. They can push me up to get out of this chair."

He placed his hands - whose palms still bear the indentations of a lifetime spent holding a bow and a violin - on the wheelchair's handles. Up he went.

Meyer intends to walk again.

He plans to return to Music Hall "for the May Festival." Two summertime teaching commitments await, one in Michigan, the other in Germany.

"When I fly," he said, "I'll have to tell them about the metal rod in my leg."

He won't tell them about his latest brush with death.

"I have no recollection about the accident," he said. He remembers leaving the concert at intermission. "I had heard the program before. Fabulous playing. But once was enough."

His feistiness showing, he added: "I also left the concert because Cincinnati closes its restaurants too early.

"You have to leave at intermission to get a good meal."

Meyer does not dwell on the past. He's not bitter about no one turning in his assailant. "If he's caught, it won't do me any good."

Still, he wants to see him behind bars. To keep someone else from getting hurt.


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