Daniel Vance - Disabilities

Last column, I introduced you to 20-year-old John and his mother Gretchen (not their real names). In early December 2009. John survived a violent car accident, was in a deep coma after experiencing a brain stem injury and brain shear, and had only a 6 percent chance of living, let alone thriving. He was on a ventilator and had a tracheotomy. Doctors suggested his mother pull the plug on John and have his organs donated.

But Gretchen believed God was telling her John “would be all right” and had him placed in a nursing home on December 21 instead. Doctors said John was ineligible for rehabilitation services because he couldn’t be rehabilitated. So Gretchen, a registered nurse and respiratory therapist, immediately began rehabilitating her son. First, she persuaded doctors to wean John off the ventilator.


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“Then in the nursing home I started working with him six hours a day,” said Gretchen. “At first, just to get him stimulated, we closed the door and stood him up. It took five of us to do it.”

She had John’s television changed to the Andy Griffith Show, his favorite, and he reacted to the whistles in the show’s introduction. Gretchen rubbed a Tootsie Roll on his tongue and amazingly he chewed and later swallowed. Intrigued, a nurse placed a Popsicle in his mouth and suddenly he awoke from his coma.

“Then on Christmas Day, he wrote his name on a piece of paper and amazed everyone,” said Gretchen. She and her husband stayed bedside thirteen hours a day. She said, “We worked on mental tasks three hours and physical three hours a day. We did puzzles, and had him read simple books and trace ABC’s. Then we’d go to the church where I helped him walk with a walker.”

John went home last April and returned to college in June. “In summer and fall semesters, he couldn’t take notes so he’d come home to tell me what he’d heard,” said Gretchen. “And I outlined his books for him.”

Today, except for learning new information, long-term memory challenges and mild stuttering, John has completely recovered. Physically, he walks fine. Said Gretchen, “At (John’s) last appointment, the neurologist said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re going to be 100 percent.'”

Now John has plans to leave home and start a career that involves helping people.