Marion Hedges always loved Halloween. Every year, she’d decorate her family home on the Upper West Side, where an annual block party hosted disadvantaged kids for a trick-or-treating bonanza. “We went all out — it gave us a lot of joy,” she said.
But one routine uptown candy run would change her life forever.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, Hedges brought her then-13-year-old son, Dayton, to the East River Plaza mall in Harlem to buy bulk candy for the needy kids.
As she was paying for her parking with about 1,000 pieces of candy in tow, two youngsters hanging out at the mall hurled a red shopping cart off a fourth-floor walkway by Target that crashed onto Hedges’ head 79 feet below.
Hedges was left with broken ribs, a broken collarbone and traumatic brain injury. She spent the next four days in a medically induced coma at Harlem Hospital. “It’s in God’s hands now,” Hedges’ stricken father-in-law Michael Hedges Sr. told The Post at the time. “It’s her just lying in bed unconscious with 50,000 tubes in her.”
Now, ten years after that fateful day, Marion is channeling the tragedy into a new project: a charitable organization geared to the very kind of troubled youth who caused the incident.
“My motto is, I refuse to be a victim,” Marion, who continues to suffer from severe cognitive issues, told The Post. “I’m not ‘the shopping cart victim.’ There’s a future, and I don’t like to look in the past.”
But she is remarkably frank about the ordeal she’s been through.
“I was minding my own business, with a cart full of candy,” Hedges, 57, said. “Literally, the sky fell that day.”
Dr. Gaurav Patel, who happened to be at the store with his wife and one-year-old baby, heard Dayton’s screams as he watched his mom fall to the ground. Patel, who was a second-year resident at the time, revived Hedges with CPR.
When reached by phone this week, he recalled the horror: “I went into that emergency mode. And I saw Marion face down on the ground with blood streaming out of her head. She wasn’t breathing, she didn’t have a pulse,” said the psychiatrist. “I saw this boy standing there in shock as I was doing CPR. My wife just assumed she was dead.”
Upon waking she had no recollection of the incident that nearly took her life. “She was extremely confused. She could only say two or three words at a time,” her husband, Michael, who was working in Spain at the time, told The Post this week. She would never be the same.
Marion was left with severe injuries, including permanent brain damage. “She’s like Swiss cheese — there are parts of her brain that are there and parts that are missing,” said Michael, 59.
Life until that point was good for the married mother of two. Marion was raised on the Upper West Side, attended the Spence School and graduated from Barnard before she became a successful luxury real estate broker. “I really liked it. I’ve always been passionate about real estate,” she told The Post.
But it was volunteering that truly fueled her. Aside from making and delivering dinner every Sunday for people with terminal diseases, Marion, a longtime board member, was named Junior League’s “Outstanding Volunteer” in 2006.
Today, even modest activity leaves her winded and she no longer has an active social life.
“Some things have changed. I’m not invited to stay at someone’s house for the weekend. I’m not considered a fun, easy, happy-go-lucky person,” said Marion, who currently lives in Darien, Conn. “That’s changed, but that’s OK.”
During three six-month stints in a cognitive rehabilitation program, Hedges’ fortitude and moxie helped her in her grueling recovery to rebuild her life.
“I have a lot of grit and I don’t like the word ‘no,’” she said. “A lot of people just give up. The first day of my brain cognitive therapy, I was told that those brain cells aren’t going to come back. And I refused to believe that.”
She had to relearn basic things, like how to fry an egg, write things in a calendar and use a phone. But Hedges was determined to persevere. “I had to learn to swallow again and eat again and read again. I was really a mess. I had to circle the letter A in a 16-font and I couldn’t do it.”
She bought a word search book for kindergarteners with words like bed, cat and dog. “I took the cover of the book off, because I was so embarrassed,” she said. “People on the bus always want to see what you’re doing. I didn’t want them to see.” She eventually worked her way up to children’s crossword puzzles.
Her life — once filled with adventure and spontaneity — now revolved around lists and routines.
“I used to hop on a plane and meet Michael — I’d go to Argentina for a weekend — or London and Paris,” she said. “I haven’t been on a plane in 10 years. Now, even packing a bag for me is Herculean. I can’t do it.”
She continues to have severe double vision and cognitive issues: She can no longer drive, walks with a cane and has compromised short-term memory. (She might apply deodorant five times without realizing it.)
When she’s tired, she has to drink with a straw, otherwise she chokes and spits up water.
Michael, who had regularly worked abroad in finance, was forced to make career sacrifices to care for Marion, who requires around-the-clock care.
“I had to make sure she didn’t burn the house down,” he said, adding, “She hasn’t spent a night on her own in 10 years because it’s not safe. It’s affected all of us — it’s affected every aspect of our lives.”
Things got so bad at home that their children, Dayton, now 23, and Elizabeth, now 24, had to move in with their grandmother.
Elizabeth, in particular, had trouble processing her mom’s reduced cognitive state.
“It caused her deep emotional issues — she couldn’t be around Marion. For Marion not to spend Christmas with her kids was terrible,” Michael said. “The pain was as much emotional as it was physical. It was devastating.”
“For many years I thought, why did I survive? I had survivor’s guilt for many years,” Marion said. “Why am I alive? I’d go to church on Sunday and sit there and think about that. But I was so brain damaged, I couldn’t even follow a program in church. I couldn’t find the hymn to sing. I’d get there early and put [in] a book marker.”
In spite of her daily struggles with mundane tasks, Marion is determined to look ahead.
“I’m the luckiest unlucky woman in the world,” she said.
Her new charity, Sweet Returns, aims to help adolescents create a sound future for themselves, with after-school programs, mentoring and a safe place to go.
“It’s an opportunity to turn something bitter into something sweet. The reality is, they have a big future, and it can be really squashed by any choice they make. This is about good decisions,” said Marion.
“The boys who threw the shopping cart on me did not make a good decision. It really destroyed their lives and, while I refuse to say it destroyed my life, it did change my life forever. Those kids needed someone to give them guidance on being healthy young adults.”
In 2012, the two boys who hurled the cart — Raymond Hernandez, then 12, and Jeovanni Rosario, then 13 — pled guilty to assault. Rosario was sentenced to six to 18 months in a juvenile facility in Westchester, and Hernandez to six to 16 months in a therapeutic group home. In 2015, Hernandez was busted in a string of 14 burglaries.
An uncle told The Post by phone that Rosario “was in a couple of programs after that,” but is now “working — he’s doing good” and has stayed out of trouble. “He stayed clean after that.”
His lawyer at the time, Shahabuddeen Ally, who’s now a judge, told The Post on Wednesday that he hasn’t spoken with Rosario in years, but added, “This was a tragedy all around.”
After the attack, Marion wished the perpetrators well and said, “I feel very sorry for them.”
Her compassionate attitude remains unchanged.
“Hate is a waste of energy and time,” she said. “I survived for a reason. They made a tragic decision — that’s why I don’t hate them.”
In 2011, Marion, Dayton and Michael sued Target, the mall and its security company for negligence, claiming the businesses ignored prior incidents involving kids fooling around with carts.
She settled with Target in 2016 for a confidential sum, but a civil case would drag on until this past summer — forcing her to endure years of being tracked and monitored.
“For 10 years, I had people following me, watching me, recording me, taking pictures,” Marion said. “Are they really expecting me to be doing cartwheels on the front lawn? They want the ‘aha’ moment — ‘I caught you.’ That’s what they do.”
In June 2018, Hedges was awarded $45.2 million dollars in the civil case, with the jury finding the teens 10 percent responsible while assigning 65 percent of the fault to the mall and 25 percent to Planned Security Services. (Dayton was awarded $2.5 million and Michael $2 million. The appellate division later reduced the award to approximately two-thirds of the original sum — roughly $29 million for Marion.)
While the security company accepted the decision — the mall didn’t withdraw their appeal until August, according to the Hedges’ lawyer.
“They sent us checks at the end of August — they [the mall] just gave up,” Michael said. “They just let the problem go on. And our family is destroyed in the meantime.”
(The Post’s requests for comment from the mall’s lawyer went unanswered. Planned Security Services lawyer Jeffrey VanEtten told The Post: “We have no surveillance on Ms. Hedges … My client and I wish Ms. Hedges and her family the best in their future.”)
Two years ago, Michael suffered a heart attack. He says the past decade has put incredible pressure on him and his family.
“She’s not the woman I married,” he said. “I have to deal with a lot of things that I didn’t choose to take into my life. And there are things missing from my life, aspects of romance — things I miss and make me very sad. It’s tough. Do I stay with the person I love, or do I go and try to find other happiness?
“Marion and I have been together 30 years and I’m not going anywhere. But at the same time, that comes with a choice.
“What keeps us going is the love of our family and our kids and the opportunity to make a difference in the world going forward. Those things drive Marion through the hardest times.”
Marion said she plans to use a portion of the money she was awarded to support and fund her charity, noting it’s controlled by a trust and the courts have to approve what she does with it.
Still, hopes to do good with it.
“You only have so many days to live — you have to make it worth it,” she said. “Looking back doesn’t change anything. The what-ifs in life do not make a future.”
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