Alumnus blinded in accident talks experiences
Gabriel Hurley’s life changed drastically on June 18, 2009, when a reckless driver hit him as he was driving to pick up some items for his next-day trip to Las Vegas.
Hurley, a Rutgers University graduate with a degree in criminal justice, said he has no recollection of the events leading up to the car crash.
“When you just graduated from college, you’re at the point where you’re about to take off,” he said. “The last thing I expected that night was to wake up with extremely life-altering injuries.”
Hurley said he lost his eyesight and sense of smell as a result of the accident. Surgery is an ongoing process.
To date, Hurley has undergone 12 surgeries. He is still undergoing dental surgeries because he lost seven teeth as a result of the accident. Since, doctors have reset his jaw, and he now wears Invisalign to reset his cross bite.
Hurley said the only other bone in his body he broke was his left hand.
“This is relevant because as a guitar player, you need your hand to play the guitar,” he said.
It took about six months for him to finally make a fist again and be able to play the guitar, Hurley said.
When doctors removed the wires from his jaw, it took nearly a year and a half for Hurley to be able to open his mouth wide enough to eat pizza.
The accident gave Hurley a new appreciation for life.
“I have always been a good friend, brother and son,” he said. “But after this accident, you start to realize what really matters in life, and that includes the people you have and what you do with your time left.”
Hurley has traveled throughout New Jersey to give talks to students about his accident.
According to Rutgers Today, Hurley has given more than 60 talks throughout the state.
“If there is one thing I constantly hear from staff, administration and principals who have been there for over a decade, it is that they have never seen a presentation other than mine where the entire student body is so hushed and listening,” Hurley said.
Hurley stressed that the crash was not an accident.
“An accident is something unavoidable,” he said. “This was caused by the actions of the individual that could have been prevented. You can be doing everything right and happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
What separates Hurley from others is his attitude. He said he continues to keep his spirits alive in many ways.
Hurley has been a member of the band The New Black since 2002, he said.
He became a part of the band because he knew the band’s singer, Dan McDonough, since they both attended Saint Joseph High School in Metuchen, N.J. When the band’s guitar player left, McDonough asked Hurley if he would fill in for him.
As a guitar player for the band, Hurley said one of his most rewarding experiences was in 2010 when The New Black got to open for Cavo at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J.
Hurley always ends school presentations with a guitar medley, he said. The medley catches upon a lot of different genres and decades, from Nikki Minaj to Super Mario Brothers to Crazy Train.
The medleys are designed for anyone to be able to pick up, regardless of what type of music they like, he said.
“Most times students leave my presentation feeling inspired and positive,” he said. “I try to keep students engaged and make it fun.”
Sean Morgan, a close friend of Hurley, saw Hurley shortly after the car crash.
“It was really hard to see him fresh off the accident,” Morgan said. “I was constantly concerned about him because of the type of accident he went through and thought about all the difficulties he would face.”
Hurley is self-sufficient and very resourceful, and therefore did not need much help following the accident, Morgan said.
“This accident teaches two important lessons,” Morgan said. “Do not be distracted while driving and when something significant in your life happens, it can either get you down or you can persevere, which is what Hurley chose to do.”