Late one night in June 2007, Marty Kasteler and his wife were riding their bikes near 600 East and 2500 South when a driver of a white delivery van ran him over and sped away. Kasteler, a body piercer at KOI Piercing Studio at the time, spent months in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries to heal a crushed pelvis, a collapsed lung and a leg that was nearly torn off, to say nothing of myriad internal injuries and a cracked skull. In recognition of all he’d been through, City Weekly awarded Kasteler the “Best Survivor” in its 2008 Best of Utah competition. But, Kasteler says, his darkest days were yet to come. In the intervening years, Kasteler struggled with depression and opiate dependency, so much so that he discarded his Best Survivor award plaque. After weaning himself off painkillers, Kasteler went on to college and became a teacher. Now, he feels he truly has survived the accident and stopped by the office to pick up a replacement plaque.
Are you mostly healed from the 2007 accident?
Yes and no. I have a different body, and my pelvis still has something like 25 screws and 5 plates. Because of the damage to my sacrum, I have nerve loss and nerve pain, but not in any disabling way. Anytime you reconstruct that much of yourself, you will lose some function. I lost a kidney a couple years back as an indirect result of my damage, so I am mindful to keep the other one healthy. ... I can do most of the activities I once could, but on a more limited level.
What would you say to someone dealing with a major physical injury such as yours?
Still believe in the life you wanted before your injuries. Of course, it might look different. A lot of it for me was how I imagined I looked through my wife’s eyes. You will always be harder on yourself than your loved ones, but the idea of being a burden instead of a support to my wife was unacceptable to me.
What surprised you the most about the outpouring of community support?
Every day surprised me. It was really overwhelming. It seemed like every day, someone was giving support in some way. It actually made me shy of social settings because I felt incapable of expressing enough gratitude. I still feel incredibly grateful and indebted to everyone.
Are you able to ride your bike again?
Yes. I never made negative associations with what one crazy person did and my love of bikes, but I still struggle with the physical aspect of how I could ride and the limitations my body has now.
Are you more cautious when you ride?
Not really. What happened to me was the result of one person’s actions. These things can happen whether in a movie theater, school campus or riding home. Caution would not have changed this person’s choice.
How did you overcome your dependency on pain meds?
It was not easy. It was ironic to me that I had survived the injuries, but one of the most difficult battles was the aftermath from the painkillers. I have a lot of sympathy for vets struggling with addiction after they come home with injuries. I failed multiple times to go cold turkey, getting really sick and emotionally wrecked. I finally quit going to the pain clinic altogether and talked to my normal physician. He helped me understand the level of opiates I was actually on and that I couldn't go cold turkey. I began weaning myself off over a monthlong period. Ultimately, you have to have a reason to want it. We had lost several friends to addiction, so it was important for me.
What is your level of pain nowadays?
I have some nerve pain that haunts my legs and feet—completely manageable. I also have pain in my hip joints if I don’t stay active. I made the choice to not treat pain with medication. It is just not an acceptable long-term solution.
You found a new career through it all. How did you decide to be a teacher?
I had always planned on becoming a teacher, but economically, it just didn't make sense. After my incident, I decided it was time to make the move from piercing to teaching. I just started a new job at Utah International Charter School. I can't begin to tell you what a great school it is. I am a special-education teacher and mostly teach math.
Do your students know what you went through? Do you want them to know?
Not really. Some know I was run over. The truth is until you have been through something like this, you really can’t relate to the experience, so I rarely try to explain. You can’t expect people to understand what something like that was, especially when they are young.
Were the police able to identify the person who hit you? Is the case still active?
No. I don't know if it is still active. We have this idea that investigations are like CSI. The truth is that most criminals get away unless the evidence is right in front of your face.
Is there anything you'd like to say to that person driving the truck?
No point in saying anything. In a way, I am grateful that I never had to know who it was. I never could focus anger or blame on them, and [instead I] just had to concentrate on recovery. I know that whoever was capable of it will never have the quality of life I had or have. Every day they have to be themselves is punishment enough for me.