In 1977, when Aviva Drescher was just six years old, she mangled her left food and ankle in a conveyor-belt accident while visiting a friend’s farm in Upstate New York. The injury ultimately required amputation, and now, the Real Housewives of New York City star has returned back to the site of so much pain.
In this Star exclusive, Aviva shares the powerful emotions of her heartrending return.
Why did you decide to go back to the farm?
When the accident happened, I was sleeping over my friend Rebecca Morgan’s house. As I remember, it was her idea to ride the conveyor belt, which of course didn’t matter. And then when I went onto The Real Housewives of New York City, Becky sent me an email. I hadn’t seen her in 36 years since the accident, and I sensed that she was absolutely riddled with guilt and pain over this day we had experienced together. I wanted to meet with her to take the weight off her shoulders, because I harbored absolutely no ill will. We were kids. Accidents happen.
Do you remember anything from the day of the accident?
I don’t remember every detail, but I do have very vivid memories from the moment that I woke up — putting on my Mickey Mouse sneakers, playing in puddles, going to the barn, riding on the conveyor belt — to the moment where my foot got stuck.
It took three hours to free you from the machine. How does a little child process that?
I was only 6 years old, so I remember feelings more than thoughts. I remember feeling fear. I remember crying out in pain and wanting my mother. But I think that because I was so young, I wasn’t really able to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. It wasn’t like I thought to myself, “Oh, wow. Maybe I’m going to lose my leg today.”
Was there ever a chance of saving your foot?
They went through great lengths to save it. I was put into a hyperbaric chamber. I was on spectrum antibiotics. They tried to reattach it, but the gangrene was so great that blood couldn’t get to my toes. After a few months, my father came to me and said, “The doctors are going to have to remove a couple of your toes,” and I remember waking up from surgery and being surprised that my whole foot was removed. Again, I wasn’t thinking about the consequences. All I wanted was for the pain to stop and to get out of the hospital so I could play with my toys. I didn’t feel the consequences until I went back to school without a leg, on crutches.
How did the other kids treat you when you returned to school?
That was very hard to deal with. It was a lot of staring and a lot of questions, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my accident. But it was handled really well by the school. Right away they had me tell the grade what happened. And even at 6 years old, I was the kind of child who didn’t want to dwell on it or complain. I just wanted to play in gym class and be like everybody else.
What was it like visiting the farm again all those years later?
It was very emotional for me to see Becky, because I just felt so badly that she was carrying it all. I saw her and felt her pain was worse than what I had gone through. She really had no idea how I was doing until she saw the show. And my memory of the conveyor belt was so much bigger than it actually was. In my mind, I pictured this huge machine with big metal teeth that gnawed my leg apart, but it was just a little wooden plank. I couldn’t believe this rinky-dink thing changed my life forever. I was just thinking, “This stupid little machine did something so big.” It seemed like a toothpick.
Did the visit give you any closure?
Absolutely. My whole life has been riddled with anxiety based on this one day, this one experience. And facing the machine was just so cathartic. There wasn’t something big and bad out there that was out to get me again. It allayed so many of my fears.