Late on a Wednesday night, in the first week of his junior year, Nic Altenderfer ’23 rode his skateboard home after visiting a few friends.
He had ridden his skateboard around the Lehigh campus and surrounding neighborhood countless times—making the trip from his friend’s house on Pierce Street to his home on East Fifth Street in South Side Bethlehem regularly—and had collected superficial scratches, bumps and bruises over the years. But nothing would prepare him for what would unfold on that fateful night in 2021.
En route, Nic skirted around the side of an oncoming car, but got too close to the curb, which stopped his board under him. He was thrust forward, hitting his head and shoulder on the curb. A person on the sidewalk called out to make sure he was okay. “Yeah, I think I’m alright,” he responded. About a minute later, he stood up and rode the rest of the short way home.
When Nic got home, he told Owen Adlerstein ’23, his roommate and Sigma Phi Delta fraternity brother, he had fallen. Not thinking much of it, Adlerstein responded, “Big surprise,” as it was common for Nic to fall off his skateboard. Nic grabbed an ice pack and headed upstairs to his room.
While upstairs, Nic realized he did not feel normal and called Walker Robinson ’22, his “big” from his fraternity. With urgency, Robinson called fellow fraternity brother David Rawley ’23, who drove to Nic’s house with another fraternity brother, Alex Romanowski ’23.
“I just remember being really hot and moving to my floor in front of my AC because the air blowing on me felt nice,” Nic says. “That’s all I remember because my brain was being squished by blood.”
When his fraternity brothers got there, they found Adlerstein upstairs with Nic trying to figure out what happened.
“We were not sure what was going on, but we could tell something wasn’t right,” Rawley said. “Very quickly we started to realize Nic’s rapidly getting worse in terms of his mental perception, ability to respond and his coherence. He said something about hitting his head and his shoulder really hurting. The second I realized this was a head impact injury, I thought, ‘We’re going to St. Luke’s [University] Hospital immediately.’”