In time, however, he got better. He started working at the Chesapeake Fire Department's warehouse in December 2012 and returned to his old fire station in Deep Creek in February 2013.
Novellino works a 24-hour shift as a firefighter-EMT about every three days. Any given day, he might be driving a fire engine, treating a patient in the back of an ambulance or running into a burning building.
"I was asked several times from the fire chief all the way down to the firefighter level if I needed anything, just ask," said Novellino, who started with the Fire Department in September 2001. "And if I did ask for some assistance, it was provided without hesitation."
The wreck required Novellino to make one major change. He eventually asked to be moved from Deep Creek - one of the city's busier stations - to St. Brides, one of the slower ones in the rural, southern end of the city. The fewer calls he has to answer, the better he feels the next day, he said.
Novellino's doctors attribute his recovery in part to his physical condition before the wreck.
"He was in terrific shape and that certainly helped," Roberts-Atwater said.
She said Novellino's recovery can be considered "somewhat of a miracle" in light of all the injuries he sustained - not just the head trauma.
She stressed that he is not necessarily unique, though. She and her colleagues at Eastern Virginia Medical School work with a lot of severely injured patients, and many of them also make full recoveries.
"That's what we do," Roberts-Atwater said.
Novellino and his family are still trying to put the traumatic incident behind them. He and his wife took the uninsured driver of the minivan, Zsarie Wilson, to court earlier this month and won a $2.5 million judgment.
Mike Imprevento, the couple's attorney, noted that the only other punishment Wilson has faced is a ticket for failure to yield, which cost her $91 in fines and fees.
Imprevento said Wilson was apologetic and respectful at the trial, where she represented herself because she could not afford an attorney.
"I don't ever expect to collect anything from her, but the Novellinos deserved a day in court," he said.
Attempts to reach Wilson were unsuccessful. She moved after the accident and did not return a Facebook message.
Novellino said the one-day trial was hard for him.
"It made everything come back to the surface," he said.
But he and his wife needed it, too.