Mother of man hit by car rejoices in 'baby steps'

Joseph Reilly is responding to family as his bruised brain heals

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoJoseph Reilly Brain was bruised and pelvis crushed when he was hit by a speeding car Nov. 27

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Terrina Vough has learned to appreciate small successes in the month since her son, Joseph Reilly, was severely injured in a car crash while walking to work in Hazel Dell.

Reilly, 21, had a brain contusion and crushed pelvis after being hit by a car in the Nov. 27 accident. The driver, Annastasia Morrison, 20, lost control while speeding and was killed in the wreck.

Reilly has been in the intensive care unit at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center ever since. It's been a rough road, but he's making progress -- and that's keeping his family's spirits high, Vough said.

"They tell you, 'baby steps,' and it's the little things that are huge right now," Vough said. "Hand squeezes are huge, winking is huge. We get smiles from him now."

For a while, she worried that her only child wouldn't come back to her, that the swelling in his brain had caused permanent irreversible damage.

Hand-squeezing, she discovered a few weeks ago, is a huge deal.

Doctors told her that if her son grabbed her hand it was probably just a reflex. But if he could let go and re-grab, it was a sign his brain was starting to engage.

"I just wanted to know that he was still in there," Vough said. "And then he squeezed my hand, and I said 'let go,' and he did. And I said 'do it again,' and he did. He started opening and closing his hand and I started dancing around the room."

From there he's progressed to smiling and winking. And occasionally raising his eyebrows at his cousin, Aaron Hahn.

"He's regaining some motor skills," Hahn said. "He's still not talking. He's got a long recovery in front of him, but he's done well."

Reilly is off of the ventilator, but he still has a tracheotomy tube in his throat. His surgeries, including eight-hour and four-hour pelvic reconstructions, are mostly finished, his mother said.

"It's a long, long road," said Vough, 44. "It can be anywhere from a year to two years before he can get to a normal level."

Vough and her husband, Bob Vough, live in Winslow, Ariz., and both work at a hospital there. She's in materials management and he's a lab manager.

Reilly's biological father passed away several years ago; his stepfather has raised him since he was 4 years old, she added.

After the accident, Vough took a leave of absence from work to stay with her son. Her husband has visited but is still in Arizona.

"We still have bills to be paid, so somebody had to go back to work," she said.

Vough is staying with her mother, who lives in Vancouver, as do several other relatives.

Reilly decided to move here in February because he wanted to get out on his own, she said.

"With him being my only child, I didn't want him to go; but he was working hard and paying his bills," Vough said. "He's such a good guy, a 'yes sir, no sir' kid. He was doing so well."

He was also learning to love cooking through his job at Smokey's Hot Oven Pizza, she said.

"Growing up, he would even have trouble making toast," Vough said with a laugh. "Top Ramen was the only thing he could make. So he gets this job at Smokey's and he calls me and says, 'Mom! I'm making the best thing ever.' I said, 'Is it Ramen?' He said, 'No, it's Cajun coleslaw and jalapeño corn bread!'"

She was impressed by how much he was growing and changing, she said.

"He was calling me for recipes, asking me how to make different things," Vough said.

Reilly has much tough work ahead of him, but Hahn said he thinks the support from the public is helping his cousin stay strong.

"The prayers from the community are working," Hahn said. "Is Joseph going to be the same as he was before the accident? Probably not. It depends on how his brain and body recover. But seeing him, he already looks so much better. I have no doubt he's going to recover as best he can."

Watching her son make small but progressive steps each day has made Vough's faith stronger, she said.

"We're a family of faith, and between the doctors, the great care he's been getting here and the power of prayer, it's been unbelievable," Vough said. "Sometimes tragedy brings you closer to God."

Cards and well-wishes have been pouring in as well, which Vough said she is immensely grateful for.

What brings a small well of tears to her eyes now, though, are thoughts of Morrison's loved ones.

"I feel really bad for Annastasia's family," Vough said. "I have no hard feelings at all. Truly my heart goes out to the family. To lose somebody so young."

She paused, trying to regain her composure.

"At least I can see my son smile," she said.

It's still unclear what sort of help the family will get to pay for Reilly's care. They've applied to a few organizations for assistance, including the Department of Health and Human Services, she said.

"He's going to need things like wheelchairs, hospital beds, rehab," Vough said. "Right now I'm on paid leave and my job is still there, but if need be, I'll take him home with me and we'll do physical therapy where we live."

Hahn also set up a fund for his cousin's medical expenses at TwinStar Credit Union. Those interested can donate to the "Fund for Joseph M. Reilly" at any branch.

"We haven't looked at the fund yet, but if there's nothing in it, that's fine," Vough said. "People's cards and well-wishes are great. They really help. And every day I see something new from him. I see another baby step, and I'm so thankful."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://twitter.com/col_suevo;sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.