Riverhead Police Officer Rob Sproston has returned to work after a 15-month recovery from serious injuries in a crash on March 31, 2020, as he responded to a call. Photo: Peter Blasl

Riverhead Police Officer Rob Sproston is back — strong, vigorous and just about the happiest guy around. He knows he’s a living, breathing, walking, talking miracle.

The Calverton resident came close — like, a couple of centimeters close — to losing his life last March 31 in a line-of-duty crash as he was responding to a call. The crash left Sproston impaled by a metal pole, which entered the right side of his face and exited from the left. His jaw was destroyed. He had no airway and was aspirating blood. He was gasping for air and struggling to survive.

The young officer doesn’t remember any of it and he counts that among his many blessings. He’s heard about some of what happened from other cops and first responders.

“Somehow, a trauma doc just happened to be passing by,” Sproston said. “A trauma doc, right there. Can you imagine? He just appeared out of nowhere. That just doesn’t happen.”

An ER tech arrived at almost the same time as the trauma doctor, Sproston’s father Bill said. “He managed to find an airway and keep him alive. He was like 15 seconds away from doing an emergency tracheotomy right at the scene,” he said.

“That kid had angels over him that day.”

Bill Sproston, like his son, is a Riverhead volunteer firefighter. He was on a fire truck that responded to the accident that afternoon, unaware that his only son was the driver of the mangled vehicle.

“They wouldn’t let me near him,” Bill said. “They told me, ‘You don’t want to see this.’” He could tell from the scene it was bad. The ground quaked beneath him and he was shaking, he recalls. When he lets his mind go back to that day, Bill said, his whole body hurts. “It’s like PTSD,” he said.

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps transported Sproston to Peconic Bay Medical Center. He was then flown to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he underwent 12 hours of surgery — “just to put me back together,” he said. “The doctors said, ‘as long as his body will allow us to work, we’ll keep going.’ And if I was shutting down, they would stop. But luckily, I pushed through.”

“I have so much metal in here,” Sproston said, touching his cheek. “It’s incredible.” He describes what the surgeons did to reconstruct a functioning jaw. “That’s not in any textbook, I don’t think. They just figured it out. And I tell you what, my face, aside from not having a symmetrical smile, I would never know. I feel fine.” He’s undergone subsequent surgical procedures after the initial marathon surgery, and will have a couple more, to repair muscle damage on the left side of his face and give him back his smile.

“I damn near feel like myself again. It’s just amazing,” he said. “It’s so amazing. I can never say thank you enough to the doctors who put me back together,” he said.

Dr. Michael Proothi, oral and facial surgeon and Dr. Alexander Dagum, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, reconstructed Sproston’s jaw and face. Dr. Jaqueline Abraham did the extensive dental work he required. “I can’t thank them enough,” he said.

Sproston said he really doesn’t remember much of anything from his stay at Stony Brook, where he was kept in a medically induced coma for a good part of his recovery there. He was transferred to St. Charles for rehabilitation and that’s where he has his first post-accident memory.

He’s found he’s had to work to recover his memory of life before the accident, too. In addition to having to “re-learn how to walk,” he’s had to become reacquainted with his past. But he finds his memory comes back just by talking with people about his past.

Sproston had some brain injury in the crash, his father said, but it was minor and he’s recuperating nicely, his father said.

He was discharged from St. Charles May 15. Sproston has no trouble remembering the welcome he got from the community that day, as police, firefighters, local residents and town officials — and even three military aircraft from the 106th Rescue Wing — gave him an unforgettable welcome.

His rehab continued at home, both with specialists from St. Charles and with his dad, who he calls his best friend. Bill Sproston rarely left his son’s bedside and made it his mission to work with him to build up his strength and help him recover his memory.

“It’s been a hell of a journey the last 15 months,” the elder Sproston said.

“The kid is a go-getter and he strives be the best. That’s his attitude. He goes all out with everything,” he said. “Words can’t describe how happy I am to have him in my life. He’s back being Rob.”

Sproston, who turned 29 in March, has just returned to work. He’s on light duty, “for now,” he said, handling the security post at Riverhead Town Hall. He’s looking forward to getting back on patrol. He joined the force in 2017 and loves his work.

A Marine Corps reservist, Sproston returned to duty at his base this weekend, where he was surprised by a promotion to the rank of sergeant.

He’s back to answering fire alarms for RFD and he goes to the gym every day with a buddy. “It’s therapy,” he said.

The support he’s had from his fellow police officers, fellow firefighters and friends has been incredible, he said.

When he thinks about what happened to him, how far he’s come, he’s overwhelmed with gratitude, Sproston said.“I’ve always been a very appreciative person,” Sproston said. “Now it just so much more amplified. I’m just so damned lucky.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.