Close Call

By Kristen Cole / November / December 1999
November 5th, 2007
The surest sign Professor Emeritus of Computer Science Peter Wegner was recovering from a horrible accident in London was the return of his puns. The music of Brahms filled the hospital room where he had only recently regained consciousness after a lying in a coma for four weeks. When a visitor asked whether he liked Brahms, Wegner replied, "Yes, especially Boston Brahms" - referring to the upper-class intellectual Brahmins of nineteenth-century Boston.

On June 11, as he walked toward Trafalgar Square, Wegner was hit by a bus, which smashed one elbow, broke several ribs, and caused sufficient head trauma for doctors to initially predict only a 5-to-10 percent chance of survival. Initial reports about Wegner's condition were so pessimistic that his sons, Mark, Jeremy, and Michael, flew from the United States to join Wegner and his wife of fifty-three years, Judith, at the hospital.

A native of Austria, Wegner's first stop in England was to be a reunion of the 10,000 children on the Kindertransport - Jewish children who had fled to England to escape the Nazis. He was also slated to deliver speeches at professional conferences around Europe before going on to receive the Austrian Medal of Honor for Science and Art. Though the Austrian government offered to give Wegner the award in his hospital room, Wegner refused, saying he wants to travel to the country to receive it as planned.

When Wegner first surfaced from the coma, a tube in his throat prevented him from speaking, but it was obvious he could understand what was being said and recognized his family, says Judith. "That is an unusually long time for someone to recover from," she notes. "He is a fighter. He is a determined person and he is working very hard now." Wegner returned to the United States on September 30, nearly four months after the accident.

Therapy has increased his strength, allowing Wegner to focus on recovering his ability to walk, read, and write. Though retired, Wegner looks forward to returning to his office and to undertaking cruises to Alaska and the Greek Islands. And then there's that quick stop in Austria to make.

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November / December 1999