York County man ‘lived a lot’ between 1980 crash and recent death
William “Bill” Robertson ran 20 miles and played racquetball for a few hours that day his life changed in 1980.
“He loved to run, he was a very athletic guy,” Todd Robertson, who lives in West Manheim Township, said of his older brother.
Braddock-born Bill Robertson died Tuesday night at WellSpan York Hospital, nearly 42 years after the accident that resulted in the use of his legs and most of his arms. He was almost 68 years old, well beyond the 50-year life expectancy granted to him shortly after the accident.
Todd Robertson said his brother fell asleep while driving outside Greensburg. He descended from a cliff and was thrown from the T-roof of his limited edition 1978 Trans-Am.
“He loved skiing and he loved having flashy cars,” Todd said. “He always had nice vehicles and was very OCD about them. Everything had its place.”
The York County Coroner’s Office report states that Bill died “of septic shock and other complications of quadriplegia following a motor vehicle accident.”
Todd understands why it needs to be reported like this, but he thinks that while the crash did a lot of damage, it didn’t kill him.
In fact, Todd said his brother had been through a lot after that night.
“He went back to work for Westinghouse for another 18 years,” Todd said. “He traveled all over the world to work for nuclear power plants. He maintained an independent life.”
That doesn’t mean he did it all on his own. Bill had a lot of help from his family.
Todd, the youngest of five, was a teenager when Bill returned home after the accident. He said their mother helped take care of his brother until his health deteriorated. Then he went to live with their older sister before moving to a nursing home in western Pennsylvania.
“It was a tough job taking care of him,” Todd said. “He had to be lifted in and out of bed, and it was a dead weight.”
Bill was using his biceps, but not his triceps, and he couldn’t grasp things, his brother said. He had a special splint that he used on his right arm when he needed to write or use the computer.
Todd and his wife brought Bill east to live with them in York County. And it worked until four or five years ago when Bill moved to ManorCare Kingston Court in Springettsbury Township.
“No one was happy that he had to go, but we couldn’t do it anymore,” Todd said. “We were all getting old.”
Todd said his brother’s health was declining, his skin was deteriorating and infections were a constant concern. In the end, it was an infection that led Bill to make the decision to stop treatment.
“He went to the hospital for due process and developed an infection in his lungs,” Todd said. “They were only working 17 percent, and Bill made the decision not to take treatment and stop the antibiotics. He was tired of the fight.”
He made this decision on Tuesday morning. He died 12 hours later with Todd and his wife by his side.
“He said he wanted to see me, my wife and our sister,” Todd said. “My wife and I went to the hospital, and our sister was in the car. He was hooked up to these machines, and the PA came over to check them and said he was gone.”
Todd called their sister, who was still driving, to tell her that Bill was dead. Through her tears, she told him she hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye. It had been 10 minutes since there had been any movement on Bill’s machines, but suddenly his heart returned to sinus rhythm, Todd said.
“I said to my sister, ‘You weren’t going to believe this, but he’s back,’” Todd said. “I put the phone next to her ear and she was able to say whatever she wanted to tell him. When she was done, he escaped.”
Todd said it wasn’t the first time his brother had bounced back. He had a near-death experience while in a coma immediately after the accident.
Bill told his family that his grandmother had come to see him and told him it was not his time and he had to go home. And that’s when he started to come out of his coma, his brother recalls.
This time Todd told Bill not to turn away from that light if he saw it.
“I told him to run over to her,” Todd said. “Today it works, and it hasn’t worked since 1980. How can you be sad about it?
Shelly Stallsmith is trend reporter for the York Daily Record. She can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @ShelStallsmith.