Nice attack victim reflects on his recovery

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It’s been more than six months since a man deliberately drove a cargo truck into a crowd in the French city of Nice, where people were celebrating Bastille Day. The driver was originally from Tunisia but lived in France. He was shot and killed by police. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 86 people and injured hundreds of others.

One of those injured was Greg Krentzman of Culver City. He was in Nice on vacation with his wife, who is French, and his daughter. We talked with him shortly after the attack, when he was in the hospital.

After months of treatment, he and his family have now finally come home.  And we wanted to touch base and find out how things are going.  We started out by asking him to remind us—just what kind of injuries he was recuperating from.

Greg Krentzman: I had 12 fractures from my right knee down to my right foot. My right foot was torn apart pretty good from the truck, so they had to do a skin graft. They took skin from my thigh and they wrapped it around my foot and those were the majority of the injuries. At first they thought that they might need to amputate my leg because the graft wasn’t taking as well as they were hoping. And initially they thought I wasn’t even going to make it cause I had lost so much blood at the scene of the crime. So thank god, no amputation, I’m still here, I’m alive.

KCRW: So grateful for that, yes.

GK: Yes. And the medical system there, what they did was, I was in the hospital for two months receiving all sorts of treatment to my leg and my foot. Blood transfusions, many surgeries, there were seven surgeries, again the skin graft, just so much wonderful TLC and bedside care from so much staff at the hospital and then I moved on to this recovery center, this rehabilitation center where the same sort of TLC continued. I was extremely impressed with my six and a half months there, with the care I received.

KCRW: Now in addition to the wonderful medical care you received while you were there, another possible silver lining of your extended stay in France was that after the attack, it had been a huge challenge for first responders to try to get to everyone who needed care and you said that a man materialized kind of out of nowhere, bumbled you to his car, whisked you to the hospital, you didn’t even know his name at the time, but you ultimately were able to catch up to him and meet him. What was that like?

GK: Yes, that was fantastic. I am so grateful that I had to opportunity to meet this wonderful man. His name is Mark Phillips and it took me several months to really connect with him and um finally get together with him and have some coffee and express my gratitude. It was a missing piece. It was something that I really wanted to have in my life, to know who this wonderful person was. He was a random person that happened to be at the scene the night of the tragedy. He was getting ice cream with his wife across the street from where it all happened and he saw, actually, the truck coming down the road. And he’s a volunteer fireman, so he had wonderful reflexes and kind of knew what to do in a traumatic situation like that. So he ran over and got his car and he was able to get onto the Avenue de Anglais where the incident happened. And he saw all the calamity there. And he found me and he found a Russian woman as well and he picked us both up and put us both in his car. She was in the front seat, I was in the back seat and he quickly took us to a local hospital. And the best part of the situation was that I was one of the first people received by this hospital so they took me right into a five hour surgery and was able to treat to me right away. So I’m just so eternally grateful to this man. He’s a wonderful gentleman. We had a very nice get-together with him and his wife and we’re going to stay in touch with him. We typically do go to France every year, so next time I go to France, which will be this upcoming summer, I want to see him again and give him another big hug and let him see how my recovery is coming along.

KCRW: His quick action was really crucial in your case, right?

GK: Yes, oh absolutely. If he did not pick me up from the side of the road, I probably would not be here today, I would have passed away. I was on the side of the road and because I was losing so much blood, I was getting no care whatsoever; I was just bleeding on the side of the road. Then he actually told me when we got together that he thought I was not going to make it. He thought that I lost too much blood and I just was gonna pass away.

KCRW: How are you doing now? How, how is the recuperation going?

GK: The recuperation is going pretty well, actually, I’m very happy to report. I still have some stiffness and some sensitivity and pain, primarily in my foot,  legs a little beaten up as well, but I’m starting rehabilitation now and I’m working on strengthening my body, especially my leg and my foot. So I’m doing a lot of exercising, a lot of stretching, a lot of walking just to kind of get my bones and muscles used to that process again, of walking and moving around in different ways.

KCRW: Obviously this is a big physical challenge to be dealing with. You sound very upbeat. Has there been any kind of emotional fallout from this? Because that’s a really rough experience to go through.

GK: Well, it’s been emotional for the three of us, for my wife, myself and my daughter. My daughter just went back to school this past week and she was very anxious and nervous about seeing all of her classmates. We’ve been focusing a lot on my daughter, she’s only 10 years old and of course she was injured in the ordeal as well. She had a broken ankle and she’s been handling it so well, we’re so proud of her. But we were really focusing a lot of our energy on making sure she’s okay physically and psychologically and getting her into some therapy at school. There’s a school counselor. And speaking to the principal and making sure she’s comfortable at school and has all the support that she needs. So we’re very hopeful and positive about how things are playing out right now. Psychologically, ny wife and myself are feeling pretty strong. We feel like we could not be nearly as strong as we’re feeling right now if it wasn’t for the love and support of our family and friends and really the whole city from when we first walked off the plane and seven FBI agents greeted us there to make us feel at home and to get us through the airport process as seamless as possible and to just welcome us. And my mom has been amazing. We’re living with my mom for now because she went through a lot of trauma this past summer with our injuries and my father passing away this past summer. So she’s been through a lot.

KCRW: I’m so sorry.

GK: Thank you. So we feel like we have the love and support that we need. We’re very hopeful and feeling very positive about what the future looks like and thankfully we’re feeling much, much better.

KCRW: Now, the last six and a half months, you have been off work. What are your plans going forward?

GK: Ok, well, I actually just got back to work recently and I’m going to continue working at LA community college district, doing business development. So for the time being that’s where I’m at and we’ll see how it goes and hopefully it goes well and I’ll stay there. If it doesn’t then I’m open to other possibilities whether it’s the nonprofit sector or business development sales in the profit world. And my wife is a French tutor, French teacher so she’s going back to work so we’re happy about that. And slowly but surely we’re getting back into some normalcy, getting back to the things that we enjoy doing and we’re feeling good about the future. We’re grateful again about having the opportunities that we had before we left to go to France, that we could come back here and get our lives back and our jobs back and start making some money again cause it’s been a long time since we made any money so we need to start working again.

KCRW: What was the thing you most look forward to as far as coming home?

GK: Well definitely the family and friends are top of the list as well as our little doggy. We missed our dog a lot. We have a Belgian Malinois, who was at a pet hotel that whole six and a half months we were gone. A lot of it had to do with just the simple things in life. I love to go to the local Starbucks and get a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. I love to go to the gym and workout and actually a lot of that could only be done by getting my car back. I haven’t driven in six and a half months so I can’t wait to get into my SVU and have a little freedom behind the wheel.

KCRW: Be a real Angeleno, yes right.

GK: Oh yeah, yeah I love driving. And just getting back to some normalcy, like I had mentioned. I’m taking hikes in the local Santa Monica Mountains, seeing the sunset over Santa Monica beach. Just doing the things that we enjoy doing here in Los Angeles.

KCRW: You’re coming back to the US in the middle of this big political debate over President Trump’s temporary travel ban on visitors from a number of mostly Muslim countries. Does it feel strange to walk into the middle of this, after what you’ve been through?

GK: Yes, it does actually, also into the middle of the Trump presidency because of course I was in France when he was elected. I’m kind of just getting familiar with all of these new policies, just like everybody else and the travel ban is a big one. Coming from France where there’s a very big Muslim population and it’s not quite as big here in America so I’m just trying to understand it all. My opinions right now are more on the back burner; I’m just trying to wrap my head around it to see what this all about. I don’t really have a strong opinion about it right now, I’m just hopeful that he’s making the right decisions and it’s gonna be good for our country.

KCRW: Now, we mentioned earlier, your wife is French and you and your family go every year to France on vacation and you’re already making plans to go again this coming summer. How does that feel?

GK: Well it feels fine actually. Earlier on right after the incident, I was feeling like I really did not want to come back to France again, I was really traumatized of course and feeling very anti-France. But over time it’s been several months since that horrific night and I’ve had time to digest it and we have moved passed that and we are open to coming back to France. We actually just purchased a condominium in Nice, so we have a piece of property there so we certainly want to take advantage of that. So at this point in time we are going to continue with our lives and continue with our journeys out to France in the summertime. My wife typically goes there for about two months with my daughter. They have a wonderful summer and I typically go out there for maybe two to three weeks to spend some time with them. So our plans have not changed, we’re going to continue going out there and walk around and enjoy the French Riviera and just put this terrible situation that happened to the three of us behind us as much as possible. You know, it was one terrible night surrounded by six and a half months of pretty good times. Well, maybe not good times, but times where we’re in recovery, healing ourselves, licking our wounds. It was just one crazy person and these crazy people unfortunately are everywhere in world. We can’t allow a crazy person to stop our lives so we’re moving forward.