A worthy donation: Man of many miracles receives the gift of a free ride

  • Andrea Angwin and her son Ryan Plourde of Northwood sit on the car that was donated to them by Autosmith Car Company to help get the family around. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Andrea Angwin hugs her son Ryan Plourde and her stepmother Cindy Duguay and her father Doug Duguay in front of the car that was donated by Autosmith Car Company. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Andrea Angwin and her son, Ryan Plourde at the Autosmith Car Company in Epsom with the car they received. Courtesy—

  • Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 21, 2017

A few days after watching Miracle on 34th Street, I saw another version, this one live on Skyline Drive.

In fact, I saw a checklist of miracles at this Concord home – gifts, really – and the first one starts with a 2006 Ford Focus Wagon, which is why we’re here in the first place.

We’d rather have local businesses buy advertising space in our newspaper, but this is one of those times in which we’ll give one a free plug, for giving away a free car: Autosmith Car Company in Epsom, which sifted through 45 nominations and chose Ryan Plourde and his mother, Andrea Angwin of Northwood.

They got the car last Saturday, with just 65,000 miles, meaning Angwin can thumb her nose at the hunk of junk in her driveway and chauffer Plourde to all those medical and dental appointments, needed after he crashed his motorcycle in Warner in August of 2015.

But that’s only the tip of the miracle iceberg.

Plourde’s forehead is caved inward, the front part of his skull gone, which leads to Miracle 2: He’s alive. From there, we move into a few other basic facts, also miracles, like he can walk, talk, reason, even joke about what happened to him that awful early-morning, and what he looks like now.

With his head oddly shaped and his hair a mess, Plourde says he’s going to “Trump” his hair, meaning some sort of comb-over, from back to front.

Then he got serious, responding to my question about the car: “It’s the biggest blessing I ever could have imagined happening,” said Plourde, who turned 29 this week.

There are more miracles to this story, but we’ll get to them later.

First, go back 28 months, after Plourde and his ex-fiancée had an argument. He bolted from her parent’s home in the wee hours, around 4 a.m. on Aug. 25, 2015, then crashed his motorcycle off Interstate 89’s Exit 8.

Reconstructing the accident proved impossible, because no other vehicle was involved and Plourde fell into a coma and stayed unconscious for 43 days. Police alleged he was driving under the influence, but blood tests later showed Plourde was sober and the charge was dropped.

His hospital stay, in both Concord and Lebanon, lasted seven months. “We were told to start planning for the worst,” Angwin said. “He was in a coma and we didn’t expect anything better than that.”

Plourde woke up with no memory of what had happened. His mother called it a black hole in his life.

Part of his skull was removed to alleviate pressure on his brain. He had spinal fusion surgery for his broken neck, a skin graft taken from his left leg and stitched onto his forehead, paralysis on his left side, surgery after surgery, infection after infection, and in fact two teeth pulled this week, making it seven that have been extracted overall, with four more coming out next month.

Since then, though, the miracles have stacked up like presents under a Christmas tree. No, Plourde’s job as a restaurant cook is gone, and he knows the movement in his left arm might not return enough for him to ever slice and dice again.

And yes, Angwin had to leave her state job to care for her son and now struggles financially.

But if you met Plourde, which I did, at the Skyline Drive home of Angwin’s father, Doug Duguay, and stepmother, Cindy Duguay, your initial reaction would be shock.

Not so much because of the indentation on his forehead, or the stitch marks on his head, or the golf ball-sized skin graft near his left ear, used to cover the opening after infection had set in and the front part of his skull had to be removed.

But because of the engaging conversation and thoughtfulness and appreciation that flow from his injured body and spirit.

“There are days I wake up and feel very happy to be alive,” Plourde told me. “But then there are other days that I feel like I’m in jail, with just my computer and TV, and I just don’t want to get out of bed.”

Form here, more miracles. Like the local dentist who’s agreed to care for Plourde free of charge, and the rekindled relationship Plourde now has with his father, who’s been divorced from Angwin for more than a decade.

In his teen years, Plourde smoked pot, cut school and had little contact with his father. But since the crash, that’s changed.

“I did not talk to my dad for like 10 years,” Plourde told me. “Now I see him three times a week, and it’s not like I have to reach out to him. He comes to my door and says, ‘Let’s hang out.’ ”

“He really stepped up to the plate,” Doug, Plourde’s grandfather, confirmed.

And then, there’s the car.

Angwin’s Kia Sportage, with its 190,000 miles, did not pass inspection in October. Angwin recited the list of problems: plugs, wires, brakes, shocks. The thing began to stall when it even started, and Plourde needed rides, lots of them, to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon at least twice a week, to the dentist, to therapists, to counselors, to pain managers, and on and on.

“My poor little car,” Angwin said. “I beat it into the ground the last two years.”

That’s when a car dealership in Epsom grew a white beard, donned a red coat and started shouting “ho-ho-ho.”

“We thought we would help someone,” Lee Adams, the owner of Autosmith Car Company, said. “We wanted to know their story, and we wanted to give it directly to someone.”

That’s when Cindy Duguay joined the fun, writing a letter of nomination which read, in part: “They have had to do so many surgeries and he has had so many infections and set backs, it has been very hard. They need all the help they can get.”

“Very difficult to choose,” Adams told me. “So many heart-wrenching stories.”

In this particular story, there’s a long, hard road ahead. Plourde needs more surgery, to fix his collapsed sinus cavity, to replace his missing skull with a hard, brain-protecting material, to bring feeling back to his left arm.

He and his mother have places to go, people to see.

And now, they can get there, in a car that was given to them wrapped in a red bow.

“I’m excited today,” Plourde said. “This has made me appreciate that I’m here.”