Check out Ryan’s Grandpa’s Testimony with being with Ryan in the hospital, and what he experienced with him, in the video, below.
TBI Talk –
I asked my grandson, Ryan, if I could write some articles for his website, my thoughts being the many hours, days, and months I spent with Ryan during his hospitalization and aftercare. I feel my observations, experiences, and overall education could not only aid in helping the TBI sufferer, but family and loved ones as well.
First, what I hope Ryan and his website accomplish: I remember one statement I heard from many sources. “Most of the gains regarding brain function will happen in the first year to year-and-a-half. After that, progress is slow.” This statement turned out to be pretty accurate.
So what do you do when progress slows down, and you want to get more of your life back, be more self-sufficient?
I would like to start my answer by telling a story of (I feel) great success about the blind. I was walking with my wife in front of Lincoln Center NYC, where Broadway, Columbus Avenue, and W. 65th St intersect. We watched as a blind man, with a cane, crossed multiple streets, first from west to east, and then north, then entered a subway station, going down the stairs by himself. But when I thought about it, I realized that he was actually NOT unassisted.
Someone invented the walking cane for blind people. Then instructors trained them in the use of the cane. Over time, sidewalks, traffic lights, buildings, stairways, subway stations, and intersections were specially designed to accommodate the blind person’s disability. Although you cannot give them back their sight, you can make effective use of their other abilities to help them function independently.
By the same token, you can’t repair the damaged parts of the brain from TBI, but you can invent other ways to accomplish everyday tasks. It is tedious and slow trying to do it by yourself. So wouldn’t it be nice to have a website to visit, where you can share ideas, problem-solve, hear success stories, and most of all give a voice to the tens of thousands of TBI sufferers and their families?
In the future you will be hearing from people who have TBI and have used the skills they have to create careers and positive additions to their lives.
As I wrote earlier, I will write articles on how we got through it with Ryan, and what kinds of things gave us the most positive results.
Let’s break through that 1½ year wall!
Article #2: When You Get That Call
Nov. 12, 2017
My wife and I were in our New Jersey home when I got the call from my son, Richard, about Ryan’s accident. It didn’t look good for Ryan. The doctors were preparing his parents for the worst.
I just wanted to know if Ryan had any vital signs. They were extremely weak, and it didn’t look good…but he had vital signs. I said, “We’re on our way.” The hospital was nearly 2 hours away, so I asked my wife, Chris, to drive. I didn’t know how I could possibly handle driving, and she felt able to do it.
This turned out to be a good decision as I was able to really focus during the drive. Ryan had vital signs. He was strong and healthy. He played soccer and he was on the high school wrestling team. That was the thread I was looking for. I prayed that he would make it through the night. Every hour he survived, I felt his chances would improve.
When we got to the hospital, the waiting room was packed and filled with energy. Family and loved ones. Ryan’s best friend’s mother drove her son to be there. Ryan’s parents’ friends, even one of Richard’s customers drove a long way to be there. Friends and family all across the country were starting prayer groups for Ryan. The love and positive vibes flowing through that room lifted everyone’s spirits, and any negativity just faded away. It allowed everyone who would be involved with Ryan to stay focused, and to just move forward.
Unbeknownst to us until later, that night set up the solid foundation for the long journey ahead of us, and the challenges to come.
Ryan survived the night. He had a traumatic brain injury and was still not responding to any stimulation. His vitals were still very weak. The doctors still gave him little chance of survival, and an even slimmer chance of recovery. Only Richard, Karen (Ryan’s mother) and Lauren (Ryan’s sister) were permitted to be with Ryan and the doctors. So they all spent the next several days at Ryan’s bedside.
It was then decided that someone from the family would be with Ryan day and night. We formed a team to support Ryan every minute in his fight for survival Since I was retired, I was able to take the day shift during the week. As a family we filled up every possible hour, watching and caring for Ryan. He was never – not even once – in his room alone.
And this is something I strongly suggest: We kept a notebook to record anything we were told by the doctors, nurses, therapists. We also included anything that was done in these sessions, and any observations we made of Ryan during the time we were with him. We found that these notes were invaluable in terms of keeping track of what was happening at all times, so that every member of the team was on top of any new developments.
There would be no failure in communication.
And although Ryan was in a coma, he continued to survive.
Those first days with Ryan moved along from minute to minute. A ten-hour day was like 600 individual minutes. They were so important, and I don’t want to rush through them, so I will put them in the next article. But this is another strong point I want to make. Many thoughts go through your head in 600 minutes. The way I was able to stay focused and positive was through my communication with God. I would run all my thoughts by God and ask for guidance. It always worked!
Signed: GP (Grandpa)
Grandpa’s Corner #3: THE FIRST DAYS
As I am writing these articles, I have an opportunity to go back and review how Ryan’s care and healing success evolved from actions we took during those first days.
Here are some of the important things we learned. So, when you get the call, and you are the parents, guardians, spouse, person or persons who will make the decisions…
- TAKE ACTION. Get to where you have to go, meanwhile contacting the people in your support group that will get things moving.
- TRY TO HAVE SOMEONE WITH YOU WHENEVER YOU MEET WITH THE DOCTORS. That way, one will talk while the other listens. This will allow you to ask the right questions and go over it with your partner afterward, so you have all the facts and choices clear in your mind. Ask for God’s guidance that you will make good choices and decisions.
- CREATE A SUPPORT GROUP: Have people you love, trust and respect. NO negative people, or anyone who will take energy away from the group (people who might need consoling or extra attention), The group is there to support the people making the decisions (parents, spouse, etc)
- CREATE A POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE, CALM AND RESOLVED. When I think back to that first night with Ryan, walking into that waiting room…it could not have been a more positive, uplifting mood; one that Ryan’s parents and sister must surely have felt. After all, we couldn’t do anything for Ryan (except to pray) or make any of the critical decisions. We were there for the people who COULD make those decisions.
I keep mentioning the positive energy in the waiting room, and I want to explain. It was not loud or boisterous, phony or “Can-Do Ra Ra” at all. But there were no long faces, everyone was engaged in normal, meaningful conversation. There were no tears, just love and positive energy. An understanding that this was another challenge to be faced in life.
- PRAY. It works. It will guide you along the journey, keep you on the right path. Ryan must have felt our prayers and love, because he chose to come back.
- BE POSITIVE. I use this word a lot, and I want to be clear about what I mean. It means moving forward, making good clear choices based on the facts and your own personal moral compass. You are never choosing what YOU want, but what is best for the people involved (most importantly, the ones who have to make the hard decisions). Once again, asking God’s advice helps.
- 24/7 FAMILY ATTENDANCE. As I wrote in the last article, a family member was with Ryan at all times. The first thing it accomplished was showing the doctors, nurses, therapists, and supervisors how important it was to us that Ryan got the best care possible (not by intimidation but instead by how much we obviously cared for him). That always encouraged Ryan’s professional caregivers to be at their very best with us, and to take the time to explain to us what they were doing, and why. Some family member was present for every examination and treatment, and could therefore be educated by asking questions for clarification of what had to be done.
We were there also to attend to Ryan. Even though he was in a coma, he was often very agitated, and was constantly trying to pull his tubes out (including all night long). It required constant vigilance! The hospital staff could never have had that level of attention. As time went on, we were able to do more and more for Ryan, to keep him clean and safe. (Since the nurses and therapists spent the most time with Ryan and others with similar conditions, they could give us very helpful advice based on their experience.)
- THE LOG BOOK. All the information from the examinations, doctor conferences, observations, progress (tiny steps forward) were recorded in he log book for all responsible parties to see. All that information (for example, the temperature of his shower – as he was very sensitive to the hot water) got passed along to everyone who tended to Ryan, including doctors, supervisors, nurses, aides, and all his family caregivers. It was incredibly helpful and important.
Critical Decisions, Critical Times
As I mentioned in earlier articles, the first week Ryan was in the Trauma Center at North Shore University Hospital, only his mother (Karen), his father (Rich) and his sister (Lauren) were allowed in the room with the doctors and staff. You could not find better people to be making the critical decisions, not only to save Ryan’s life, but to help determine what kind of life Ryan would have in the future. They were able to clear their minds so that they could take in all the information and options, and make the decisions Ryan’s doctors needed in order to proceed. Ryan’s parents were given percentages of success, best- and worst-case scenarios, and were constantly updated so they could make quick and intelligent choices.
The first thing doctors had to do was stabilize Ryan’s brain and body. Procedures were done to relieve pressure on the brain, medications were adjusted to control his vital functions, a breathing tube, feeding tube, waste evacuation tubes and IVS were administered. Monitors for blood pressure, heart rate, breaths-per-minute oxygen, and temperature had to be watched constantly. The slightest adjustments could cause pressure on Ryan’s brain.
It took several days to achieve any kind of stability and balance to the brain. It was still touch-and-go, but doctors had to start repairing Ryan’s broken body. His femur (thigh bone) was shattered, and a metal plate (from his hip to his knee) with screws had to be surgically installed on the bone of his left leg. It was not possible to do the surgery on an operating table like they normally would, since laying down would severely increase the pressure on Ryan’s brain. Instead, they had to perform the operation in an almost standing position. The surgeon did not have the time or the ability (under those difficult circumstances) to set the leg perfectly. It took three more surgeries to accomplish that.
Nurses would regularly have to suction the fluid out of Ryan’s lungs and x-rays were taken daily to make sure he wasn’t developing pneumonia.
Ryan needed additional surgeries, but after the surgery on his leg, he developed an infection that was difficult to get under control. (Almost 2 years later, when he went in to have his leg corrected, the infection was discovered hidden under the metal plate.)
So at the end of the first week, Ryan was in a coma, running a temperature, and everything was still touch-and go.
This is when I started taking the weekday daytime shift. I was relieving my son, Richard, who was with Ryan during the night. I had no idea what to expect. Since Ryan was in a coma, I assumed that I would just have to sit by his bedside and let the professionals do their jobs. For about 15 minutes, that was about right. It was quiet, my son went over all the monitors hooked up to Ryan and what the numbers meant, and the ranges they should be in.
Ryan had an infection and it was causing the numbers that had to be taken into consideration to spike. Also he had a breathing tube and a feeding tube down his throat that were causing problems. But doctors had to stop the infection before they could do the necessary surgeries to replace those tubes (with a tracheotomy to replace the breathing tube, and surgical insertion of a feeding tube that would go directly into Ryan’s stomach instead of down his throat). Ryan could not breathe on his own, so he needed a breathing machine. He was taking in food and liquid, so even more tubes were required to remove the waste. H had cuffs on his legs that would expand and contract to aid his circulation
Then the day started. Rich stayed with me so I could get into the routine. A nurse came in to change the linents, wash Ryan, and change his befd clothes, brush his teeth, put cream on, change his dressings, suction the fluid out of his lungs and airways, give him his meds, and adjust all the monitor hook-ups. Since Rich was familiar with the routine, he assisted the nurse. This was good for several reasons. It was done correctly, and it gave the nurse the time to go the extra yard, and the time to train us and answer questions.
Next, a team of doctors and trainees (and every other day, the head of the department) would come in and gather around Ryan, go over the charts and history, and decide the next plan of action.
Soon after that, Rich left and Karen, Ryan’s mom, and Lauren, his sister (13 years old and starting high school in a week) came in. Karen immediately started tending to Ryan. She would check him from head to toe, make sure any rash or bed sore was treated. At this time, she showed me the log book and what information needed to be recorded. All medications or instructions were entered along with the time and quantity, and any problems problems were noted. In the future, the log book evolved, as more information was gathered. Karen would wipe all surfaces with sanitizing wipes, as Ryan’s infection was still the main issue. She would then meet with the staff responsible for Ryan’s treatment.
Social workers, therapists, and specialists would come by and explain the lighting and calming mood of the room. Ryan loved music, so Karen brought in an iPad and had Ryan’s music playing in the background. There was no harsh light or noise. As the weeks went by, Karen and Lauren kept bringing familiar items and pictures from home. At about the third week, although he was
still in a coma, Ryan’s eyes were open. We would show him the pictures and familiar objects – and there was absolutely no response. We would talk quietly and explain what happened to him, and what was being done to heal him. He was told that his family and friends across the country were praying for him, and that when he was better, his dad would take him to Turks and Caicos for a vacation. (When Ryan talks about it now, he has a memory of trying to respond to all this, but couldn’t.)
By the middle of the afternoon, things started quieting down and I thought Ryan and I would have a restful afternoon. Although in a coma, Ryan’s body still worked, and he would get quite agitated and start pulling on all the tubes and monitor cords, trying to pull them out. I had to stand over him, and as gently as possible, move his hands away. That would not stop him for long, and he would get more determined to remove them. At one point, staff put giant mittens on Ryan’s hands, but he managed to find a way to get them off.
The point I want to make here is that if someone wasn’t with Ryan, he would have succeeded in pulling his tubes out. He was even tugging at his catheter again and again. All the tubes were hooked up to monitors, so alarms would go off, and if it had continued, the hospital would have had to take some kind of measures to prevent him from doing it. A nurse would have to leave another patient or duty to re-attach Ryan’s tubes, but it wouldn’t stop him from continuing to pull at them. But because someone was always with Ryan, he was never successful at pulling out any of his vital tubes.
Thinking about this now, what if someone wasn’t there every minute to stop him? How would the hospital have solved this problem? And there were so many other reasons to be there. Ryan’s sheets would bunch up, he would slide down in the bed, the bed pads would fold up. All these little things could cause circulation problems, infections, and bed sores. Ryan had to have a chest x-ray every day to be sure he didn’t contract pneumonia. There was always something to tend to. Every minute of the day and night was a new experience.
Grandpa’s Corner #6
Moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2
By Richard Radecki, Grandpa
In re-reading article 5 and the correction, I feel there was still some confusion. So let’s call the five weeks Ryan spent at North Shore LIJ Phase 1. During this time, doctors were able to stabilize Ryan’s vital signs and infection enough to do four surgeries, install a plate on his left leg, hip to knee, install a plate on his broken clavicle (chest bone), perform a tracheotomy, install a feeding tube directly to his stomach, and stabilize his fractured pelvis.
Keeping Ryan alive and fixing his broken body required everyone’s efforts. After five weeks, although Ryan’s eyes were open and he was breathing on his own, he showed no signs of coming out of the coma. It was time for Phase 2. Ryan would have to be transferred to a rehabilitation center that specialized in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Karen and Rich (Ryan’s parents) were given a list of those facilities. There were many things to consider. Karen and Rich spoke to all the professional people for their opinion, and three places stood out, any one of which would be acceptable. They made appointments to see all three. They finally chose Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, NY. It was further than the others, but it was all highway driving, and as long as rush hour was avoided, it was a very pleasant drive – less than an hour. Blythedale caters to teenagers and children, so they have school classes for every grade. All the facilities, doctors and staff are geared for young people. It is very well-organized, and every level of recovery is addressed.
Remembering how important the positive feeling was in the waiting room that first night of Ryan’s accident…that’s what got us through Phase 1. At Blythedale we couldn’t help but feel positive that Ryan was in the right place.
Phase 2: My first impressions of Blythedale
I arrived between 9 and 10 AM, and it didn’t feel like walking into a hospital. The lobby was bright and had a huge tropical fish aquarium along one wall. I signed in and was given directions to Ryan’s room. Walking down the wide, quiet halls, I noticed that the rooms were mostly empty. I met my son Rich in Ryan’s room. I asked where everyone was and I was told they were either in school classes or therapy. Ryan’s room was large and bright, and he was the only patient in the room. The room had a large bathroom, a round dining table and chairs, along with plenty of open area with lounge chairs and a place to make a bed for whoever was spending the night with Ryan. This was very different from North Shore LIJ hospital, where Ryan’s room was set up with low light and quiet, so that Ryan could rest and heal (as if a hospital is ever quiet or restful).
I had no idea how they were going to deal with Ryan’s TBI, as he still showed no signs of coming out of the coma. Up to now, there was no indication of brain activity or reaction to any stimulation. Where do you start?
The answer was…they went back to basics. Ryan’s room was set up to reflect normalcy. There were more family visitors, lively sounds and conversation going on all around Ryan. Karen (mom) and Lauren (sister) decorated Ryan’s room in colorful holiday themes and traditions. Music was playing or the TV was on. Everything was designed for familiarity and normal family life.
One of the first things the Center provided was a special mattress for Ryan. The physical therapist laid down a computerized mat for Ryan to rest on. A computer screen showed Ryan’s weight distribution on the mat in a grid of light. The mattress was designed with air pockets that lined up with the grid. Since Ryan was still bed-ridden—and even in the future would be spending so much time in bed—it was important to avoid bed sores. The air pockets were adjustable to illuminate any hot spots, so that Ryan’s weight could be carefully distributed for his comfort, circulation, and safety.
Ryan was not able to exercise. But his physical therapist would massage and stretch all his muscles and joints for him. His speech therapist would touch and identify Ryan’s mouth, then place liquid droplets containing familiar smells and tastes on his lips and tongue.
And so Phase 2 began.
At this time I want to point out that all the rules from Article #3 (scroll back to Article 3 where the rules are listed) were as important or more important for setting up and carrying out this crucial Phase 2 of Ryan’s recovery.
Grandpa’s Corner, Article 7 5/14/18
At Blythedale we soon adjusted to the new routine. While at North Shore it was all about quiet and healing, at Blythedale it was all about work!
We needed to get Ryan washed and changed and ready for every day. Doctors and staff would show up early each morning. They would examine Ryan head-to-toe, and order whatever tests were needed. Then they would review previous test results and feedback from therapists, adjust medications and therapies as needed, and set up the next plan of action. Meanwhile, we had to coordinate a schedule with Ryan’s four therapists (two physical, occupational, and speech) on days and times for his treatment, and have him ready when they came. Blythedale also had a program for young doctors in which they would spend six weeks at different hospitals as part of their training. The first doctor spent the first four weeks with Ryan before he was transferred to his next assignment. I don’t remember his name, but he was a really nice guy, very easy to talk to. He would come in usually sometime in the morning and examine Ryan, then try to get Ryan to respond to different kinds of stimuli. He had access to all of Ryan’s medical charts, so he was always aware of Ryan’s state.
Every doctor visit, therapy session and observation, and their results were entered into the log. The first thing we would do, as our shift began, was to read the latest in the Log book. The first two-to-three weeks at Blythedale, Ryan was still non-responsive. His eyes would just stare into space. He did not react to any stimuli. But we did not get discouraged. Karen and Rich formed a great team of family, doctors, nurses, and therapists all working toward one goal. The Log book was the glue that held this all together. We were always working on something.
The First Signs of Life
During breaks after Ryan rested, even though he showed no signs of response, he would sleep after the sessions. I would stand by Ryan’s bed and talk to him, and try some of what the doctors and therapists would do, just one-on-one. When I would talk to him, I would tell Ryan what had happened to him, and what everyone was doing to make him better. But he would just lie there staring into space.
Then one day I saw his eyes meet my eyes. So I kept talking, and held his gaze for maybe a minute before he drifted off again. I couldn’t wait to tell the doctors, but when they tried…nothing. My son Richard noticed the same thing…so we weren’t crazy! After that, when Ryan would meet our gaze, Richard and I would ask him to blink once or twice. It would take a couple of seconds, during which he looked like he was really concentrating, and then he would blink as instructed.
I feel that this eye-to-eye connection awakened Ryan’s consciousness.
To be continued…
As the days went by, Ryan’s consciousness continued to grow and finally the doctors, nurses,
and therapists noticed. At first Ryan couldn’t react to their commands except with his eyes. It
was at this point, about 8 weeks after the accident, that Ryan remembers being asked to do things
and really wanting to do them, but not being able to respond. (This was a point I tried to make in
Article #5, but was not clear enough about the time-line.) As Ryan became more conscious, it
was easier to get his attention, so doctors and therapists were able to do more of their healing.
Remember the young doctor I mentioned in the previous article? It was his last week before
being sent on to his next assignment. He worked very hard trying to get Ryan to respond by
giving a thumbs-up. We could all see in Ryan’s face how very badly he wanted to do it. He just
couldn’t make that connection between his mind and his body.
But the next week, after the young doctor left, Ryan was giving the thumbs-up on command!
Not only that, but on one of those days my daughter, Jean, was visiting and as she talked to
Ryan, she asked him to smile. Well, his smile just lit up the room! And he hasn’t stopped
smiling since! What a joy that was, and still is.
Now that Ryan was finally connecting with doctors and therapists, progress came quickly. The
next big step was when my son, Kenneth, visited from Arkansas, since he too was wanting to
participate in getting Ryan well. During one of his shifts, Kenneth was telling a funny story to
Ryan’s dad, Richie, about his own son, Kenny Jr. As they were laughing, they became aware of
this strange sound – like someone getting the wind knocked out of them. They looked over to
see that it was Ryan laughing right along with them!
It was shortly after this event that I came in one morning to replace Ryan’s grandmother. I
entered Ryan’s room, and the doctors and staff were all around Ryan’s bed for their morning
rounds. As I was going over some details with Ryan’s Grandmother, I suddenly heard a voice
answering the doctors’ questions, and I said to her, “Is that Ryan?” And she said, “Yes, he
started talking this morning!”
I was stunned, and immediately got Ryan’s parents on the phone, so Ryan could say hello. They
immediately stopped everything they were doing, got Ryan’s sister, Lauren, out of school, drove
home to get their dog, and then the whole family drove to the hospital, all arriving within a
couple of hours. What a celebration!
I feel that Ryan’s laughter at hearing the story about his cousin, Kenny Jr, led directly into Ryan
being able to talk. And at this point I want to point out how all the real break-through moments
happened with family. I am sure Ryan made all these break-throughs much more quickly
because of our 24/7 family rule. We all worked hard to keep Ryan’s spirits high and a family
member was always with Ryan to encourage him and keep things positive. We didn’t just want
Ryan to get his abilities back, we wanted him to have a happy, productive life.
More of Ryan’s progress to come…
Once Ryan got his consciousness back things moved at a rapid pace. The next 5 months were like watching a toddler grow into a 15-year-old.
Speech therapy – Ryan had to learn to speak, listen, write, and comprehend what he was hearing or reading. He had to be taught how to remember instructions, and read stories and answer questions on what he read. He had to learn how to swallow, so he could start eating food. He still had the feeding tube to his stomach. The first food he got by mouth, after 4-5 months, was applesauce. The therapist gave him a taste, and asked him how it was. Ryan’s face lit up and he said, “It was delicious!” Now that he could swallow, he got a lunch therapist. She would come in at mealtime and introduce solid foods, and soon he was eating his choice of food.
Now that Ryan could talk and read, he started school. At first the head of the Education Department (Mr. D) would give Ryan private lessons, in order to evaluate what level was appropriate for him. And after 3 or 4 weeks, Ryan went to classes. The school was able to be a success because they were transporting disabled children there by bus from all the area programs, ensuring that there were enough kids to fill every level of classes.
Occupation Therapy – These are the skills for Ryan to learn to use in his everyday life, starting with basic skills, like washing, brushing his teeth, knowing the time of day, date, month, and year, remembering his daily routine, what he ate, and what he did for the day. There was more reading and reading comprehension, memorizing key words, vocabulary, working with numbers and problem solving. There was even a full kitchen set up in the department, with fully stocked cabinets. The OT staff gave Ryan a list of items to pull from the cabinets. Then after they were located and assembled, Ryan had to put them back where he found them. At one point, with Ryan’s eyes closed, you could put a pen or an 8-ounce carton of milk in his hand, and he could not tell the difference between the items.
The brain is an amazing organ. The way it can find new ways to learn, and adapt to lost skills. Of course, up till now, some of those skills are irreplaceable. (Hopefully future technologies in the medical field may find breakthroughs???) Knowing one’s limitations allows the patient and support staff know what kind of help the patient will need to be able to function in everyday life.
Physical Therapy – The first problems were Ryan’s coma, and having to heal his broken body. Once Ryan got to Blythedale (5 weeks after the accident), his physical therapy started to be planned. As I explained in an earlier article, the first thing done was to set up a pressure-point-free mattress, since his treatment would begin in bed, as doctors and therapists would manually work Ryan’s muscles and joints.
One major problem was Ryan’s broken leg. He had a metal plate installed from hip to knee during his emergency surgery when it wasn’t known if Ryan would survive. The procedure had to be done quickly and in a body position that made it impossible to line up the joints properly. So the first problem was that the leg was about 30 degrees out of alignment. Ryan’s foot pointed way too far to the left. The second problem was that his leg was bent at the knee. Special braces were made to gradually straighten the knee, but they did not work.
Once Ryan started to come out of the coma, doctors wanted to get him out of the bed and into a chair. Since Ryan could not put weight on his leg, he was wrapped in a harness, and with the help of a hoist (similar to one used to take an engine out of a car) he was lifted out of bed and into a chair. After awhile, the hoist was also used to put Ryan in a wheelchair so he could be mobile. When all the efforts to get Ryan’s leg to straighten out failed, it was decided to do a surgery in which some of the cords of the hamstring were cut to allow the knee to straighten out. The results were still not great, and it was still a problem to extend Ryan’s knee fully. His foot still pointed out 30 degrees. But Ryan did learn to walk on it and climb stairs. It took two more surgeries, as well as refreshing and installing new hardware at a later date, to finally correct the leg. Ryan has full use of his leg now, although it is one inch shorter than the other leg.
With the exception of his leg, Ryan’s physical therapy went well, and his range of motion and coordination came back, and was mostly pain-free.
Because I was the daytime weekday support person, I was present for most of Ryan’s therapy and treatment. Again, using the log book and verbal communications, I was able to relate all this to Rich and Karen, as well as the others in the support group, so they could coordinate and plan Ryan’s treatment with the medical team.
All this activity, physical and mental, really tired Ryan out, so it was extremely important to make sure Ryan got the rest he needed for his well-being. At one point, at the end of a day’s activities, I noticed some anger in Ryan. So I was able to report this to Rich and Karen. They then consulted with Ryan’s treatment team, and his meds were adjusted accordingly. That was an example of the crucial importance of Ryan’s support team.
Grandpa’s Corner #10
As Ryan’s abilities and speech were returning, he was kept very busy with therapy and school. When he would finally get back to his room, he would need to rest. We would also get a chance to talk.
It was on one of these occasions that Ryan announced to me that he had met Jesus. I didn’t know what to think, so I went with it and asked him to describe his experiences.
Ryan said he was in complete darkness, unaware of his location or what was going on. He felt helpless and scared out of his mind.
Ryan was raised as a Catholic, attended church, religious instruction classes, and made his confirmations. But, like most 15-year-olds, religion was not one of his priorities. So when he started describing this religious experience I couldn’t imagine where it was coming from.
Here is the gist of what Ryan told me, to the best of my memory.
When Ryan found himself in that frightening position, he flashed back to his second grade religion teacher who told the class that whenever they found themselves in position of helplessness and despair, to “go to Jesus.”
Ryan called out to Jesus and soon found himself rising up through the darkness, and at the end of the darkness was Jesus.
“Jesus was big,” were Ryan’s exact words.
Then together they started going over Ryan’s life, all the good he’d done and the bad, and Ryan had the realization that he had not been going in a good direction. Jesus asked Ryan if he accepted Him as his Lord and Savior.
At this point I asked Ryan how they spoke, and he replied that he didn’t have to speak, he just understood, more clearly than any words could describe. As soon as he thought of a question, he knew the answer. He felt he had a knowledge far superior to anything he ever experienced in life.
Ryan accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and Jesus introduced him to Heaven.
Ryan said that heaven’s light was so brilliant, yet it didn’t hurt his eyes. The beauty and colors were more magnificent than words could describe. And there was beautiful music, better than any he had ever heard. Ryan said, “It was a million times better than any Christmas morning he’d ever had!” He said he never wanted to leave, and he never even thought about his life on earth.
It was at this point that Jesus let Ryan know that he was going back to his earthly life. Jesus wanted Ryan to live an exemplary life, and to share his story among the people in his life. I didn’t ask Ryan many questions, as the information was just pouring out of him and I didn’t want to stop the natural flow.
Soon after that day I got together with Ryan’s dad (my son, Richie) and asked him if Ryan had told him anything about his out-of-body experience. Ryan had indeed told Richie, who shared more details.
I will share one of them now.
While Ryan was in a coma, his grandfather (“Papa”) was hospitalized and passed away.
Once out of the coma, on the first day Ryan began to talk, his father, mother and sister came to the hospital. The first words he said to his mother were, “Papa says he’s fine.”
And yet, there was no way for Ryan to have known that his grandfather had passed away.
Ryan has shared his story in a number of churches and organizations. Hopefully you will get t hear Ryan tell the story himself. It has brought much joy to any who hear him tell it.
Grandpa’s Corner #11
It has been 10 years since Ryan’s accident and his Near Death Experience (NDE).
In that time, Ryan’s life-threatening trauma, his NDE, and his recovery have
profoundly changed our family, both individually and collectively, and those
changes continue to unfold in remarkable ways.
I want to explain how Ryan and his family, with God’s help and guidance, actually
benefitted over time, beginning with the terrible evening when we received the
dreaded message—the nightmare phonecall that no one ever wants to get— that
our beloved Ryan probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
But first, here is some history of Ryan and his family before the accident. Ryan
was only 15 when the horrific accident changed his life forever. But what was
Ryan like at that age? What was the condition of his family in when catastrophe
Ryan was the first child of my son, Richard, and his wife, Karen. He was also the
first of nine grandchildren, with a full complement of aunts and uncles,
grandparents, and even some great grandparents. Ryan took center stage for a
good two years before his sister arrived.
Ryan had always loved to entertain, and he also loved all the personal attention he
received, which he later didn’t like to share! His little sister, on the other hand, was
quiet and shy. Whenever attention turned to her, Ryan was not a happy camper,
and he would grab back the spotlight! But though she was shy, his sister was also
very competitive and perfectly capable of grabbing her own spotlight right back, at
great cost to the peace and tranquility in the household.
I usually spent one day a week with the two of them. They were both good
athletes, and there was plenty to keep them busy. They enjoyed being active and
loved to laugh. They had a great childhood with much love and attention from
both sides of the family.
But life always moves on, and we all must grow up. We each need to take
responsibility for our lives by going to school, doing homework, fulfilling
obligations to church, friends, clubs, learning to make healthy choices both
mentally and physically, building character with our morals and actions – the
building blocks upon which we base a meaningful life.
By the time Ryan was born, I was divorced from Ryan’s grandmother, Pat, and re-
married to my current wife, Christine. Pat and I had been regular church-goers,
and our four children were raised as Catholics, on their way to making all their
Sacraments. The children were all active, and life became very busy, especially
after our divorce. Religion took a back seat to life, and we missed church too
often. We were all believers, but we made the rules to suit our desires
My daughters leaned toward the Christian church, and some of their children
attended a Christian preschool. (I, myself, am now a Christian, but more about that
later.) Rich and Karen attended Catholic church, while supporting their children’s
Catholic education through to their confirmation. They gave the children a strong
home life and were totally committed to putting their children’s best interests first.
This gave Ryan and his sister strong values, which allowed them to make strong
individual choices, instead of going along with the “crowd.”
At the time of the accident, Ryan, at age 15 ½, had been a teenager for 2 ½ years.
Teens in this culture are exposed to all kinds of influences and pressures. They
also represent a very large buying market, with enormous buying power, and
advertisers that are quick to take advantage. TV, ads, magazines, social media, and
movies make it look like life is one big party, with no boundaries. Drinking, drugs,
sex, sports, fast cars, and beautiful bodies are glorified. And if you don’t have
access to that, you get left behind. (We’re just now finding out what kids were and
are being taught in school.) Luckily Rich and Karen’s strong parenting kept the
kids away from smoking, drinking, and drugs, but that didn’t stop Ryan from
wanting the “Good Life.”
Ryan played club soccer and wrestled on the high school team. By age15, he was
already 6 feet tall, in wonderful physical shape, and clothes looked great on him.
He loved video games, and was advanced on the computer. He started a little
business with his own credit card with which he bought and sold products, and a
UPS account for pick-ups and deliveries to his door. He loved his “toys” and he
loved making money. He couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license and a Dodge
Ram Hemi truck. Becoming a young millionaire was his dream.
And Ryan was as stubborn as a mule.
He loved asking questions and talking about the things that did interest him. But
with anything that didn’t stimulate Ryan’s interest (such as homework), it was
simply impossible to get him to do it. He was great at diverting attention away
from any undesirable topic by masterfully asking questions or making statements
that would distract us and wear us down…and out.
Richie had a good income and Ryan’s mother was an excellent money manager.
As the kids got older, Karen was able to work in the travel industry, mostly from
home. So they had no trouble meeting all the family’s needs. They continued their
family routines and Catholic upbringing, and Ryan and his sister were Confirmed.
Everything was on the right track.
Life was good.
Until disaster struck.
How did Ryan’s accident and out-of-body experience change our families’ lives?
I’ll only talk about my side of the family out of respect for Ryan’s mother’s
privacy, other than to say that Karen was magnificent throughout the ordeal as the
caring mother who coordinated all the doctors, the insurance, and taking turns with
On the night of Ryan’s accident we were all there to pray for Ryan, and to support
Rich and Karen. We all prayed to the Lord to keep Ryan alive, and for the strength
it would take for the doctors, nurse’s aides, and all of us to do our part. We were
all believers in the Lord to one degree or another.
That night we prayed like never before. (Just give us the opportunity to show how
committed we could be!) Word of Ryan’s accident went out, and messages and
prayers were literally coming in from all over the country. Family and loved ones
were getting together to form prayer groups in many states. Over time, as Ryan
was making his miraculous recovery, it became evident that it could only have
happened by God’s intervention.
Even more obvious was the effort and time that Rich spent at Ryan’s bedside.
It was beyond human. It could only have been done through the grace and strength
of God Almighty.
The first night, as the medical teams delivered the devastating results of Ryan’s
multiple tests, they counseled Richie and Karen that Ryan had a 5-10% chance of
surviving, and that if he did survive, he had less than a 1% chance of not being in a
vegetative state for life. They said they’d done everything they could, and advised
everyone to go home and prepare for the worst.
That was the very beginning of having our lives turned upside down.
That was the moment when all the strength left Rich’s body, and he was ready to
give up. Except that he didn’t give up. In the hospital that night, he understood
that he was totally powerless.
During his NDE, when Ryan had found himself in total darkness, and had been so
frightened, not knowing if he was dead, he had remembered his teacher’s advice to
always go to Jesus whenever he was in doubt.
That is exactly what Richie also did. Just like Ryan, Richie turned to God, and he
suddenly felt himself being lifted. He received strength from the Almighty, far
greater than anything he’d ever had or experienced. I knew this enormous strength
had to be coming from God, because what I observed in the following months was
Rich spent every night sleeping in a chair next to Ryan’s bed. Even though Ryan
was in a coma most of the time, he was always active and agitated. He tried to pull
out all the tubes and drains. If any of his vital signs dropped, an alarm would go
I usually arrived at the hospital around 8:30 – 9:00 am to relieve Richie, but even
then, he still wouldn’t leave for hours. When he finally went home, he would take
care of customer issues and update them on Ryan. His customers were very
understanding, and some of his co-workers pitched in when they could. Then he
would coordinate with Karen on Ryan’s care. Richie would return to the hospital
at about 4:00 pm even though I stayed until 6:00. He would come right to Ryan. I
then informed him with detailed information on what had transpired that day –
what doctors and nurse’s aides had said, what decisions were made and why.
Since the doctors gave different options with the pros and cons of each, Richie
wanted every bit of information, which he would then share with Karen so they
could make the best choices. Richie asked for God’s guidance to make the best
decision, and prayed that the doctors and all Ryan’s caregivers would do their best
work on his behalf.
When Ryan got agitated, Rich was usually sleeping in his chair. The agitation
would last for hours, requiring our complete attention and hyper-vigilance. Nurses
and aides came into the room day and night, with alarms constantly going off. I
don’t know how Rich got any rest. He didn’t sleep when he went home, yet he
was focused and energized all the time.
When Ryan finally came out of his deep coma and began speaking, he told Rich
about his visit to heaven, where Jesus told him that he was being sent back to his
previous life to share his experience and to spread the Good News. Richie, having
had his own experience of being lifted up and given almost superhuman emotional
strength on the night of the accident, effortlessly committed himself to Christ.
(footnote: See Grandpa’s Corner Article #10 for details of Ryan’s near death
The family priest stayed involved in Karen, Rich, and Ryan’s spiritual needs, and
they continued to attend Catholic services. But Rich seemed to be experiencing a
spiritual commitment that required support way beyond what he was receiving
from the Catholic Church. He soon searched for and found a Christian church that
gave him the resources and direction that would allow him to grow and choose the
life he wanted to lead.
When Rich (and the rest of the family) thought he was losing Ryan, nothing else
mattered. All of life’s pleasures felt hollow and meaningless. Nothing man could
give him could be enough to guide his life. Since nothing man could give him
would adequately guide his life, Rich understood that his devotion and spiritual
growth belonged with following God through the Bible.
As the rest of my family watched him, we became concerned that Rich was
missing out on so many things in life. But as he studied the Bible and became
totally immersed in the church, Rich and Ryan began delivering their testimony in
many local churches. Just as the Lord chose the Apostle Paul to spread the Good
News, it appeared that the Lord had chosen Ryan (in a much smaller capacity) to
tell his own story.
When my wife and I visited, we often attended Rich’s new church. It inspired us
both so much that when we moved to Tennessee, we searched for, and found, the
perfect Christian church for us, the World Outreach Church. Now we are both
attending church, volunteering with the Teen Choir, reading the Bible cover-to-
cover, and attending a Wednesday evening prayer and Bible group.
I finally understand Rich’s profound longing to live a committed spiritual life.
And my family members are now devoted, Bible-reading Christians who are
committed to living Godly lives.
If you ever get the opportunity to meet Ryan—well, it will be something you will
never forget. He is so loved wherever he is known, and he gets so much joy out of
life. His joy is utterly infectious. Children naturally flock to him wherever he
goes, as if they somehow know that he is special.
For now, Ryan is a cashier at a market three days a week. He loves his job. He
works the rest of the week as IT support at the company his father is helping to
organize. Rich says, “Whether you see Ryan in the dentist’s office waiting for a
root canal, or Ryan on a ride at Disney World, you won’t be able to tell the
difference.” His pure joy for life is palpable, and always on display. Due to his
long recovery from the accident, Ryan missed much of his experience as a
teenager, and as an adult, he has some limitations. His losses can sometimes get
him down, for—maybe—10 seconds, and then he’s right back at Disney World.
I always tell Ryan that God gave him much more than He took away.
Speaking for myself, my life has never been better. I realize now how blessed I’ve
been all my life. Any of the bad times were caused by my bad choices. I now
believe that the times when things weren’t going my way, it was God protecting
me from ruining my life. I’ve learned that I can live a Godly life, and that anything
I think I’m missing would probably have either sent me astray, or would soon be
found unfulfilling and ultimately forgotten.
Life is good.