'He's definitely Joseph; he's all in there'

Joseph Reilly of Vancouver shows signs of progress after being severely injured by a drunken driver Nov. 27

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Joseph Reilly recently gave his mother a confused look at she sat by his bed in a Portland rehab facility.

He asked her why he was there — which in itself is a bit of a miracle, said Terrina Vough, Reilly's mom.

Reilly, 21, suffered a brain contusion and severely crushed pelvis after being hit by a car while walking to work Nov. 27.

The driver, Annastasia Morrison, 20, had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.26 percent, according to a report by the Clark County Sheriff's Office. She was killed in the wreck.

Reilly was in a coma for several days after the crash, and doctors had to temporarily remove part of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain. He's also had to go through several surgeries to repair his smashed pelvis.

Slowly but surely over the past three months, Reilly has woken up and started giving signs that the fun-spirited young man who had recently learned to love cooking was still in there.

In the past few weeks, doctors removed the tracheotomy tube from his throat and — while his speech is slow and his short term memory is hazy — Reilly began to speak.

Vough said she knew the question of what happened to him was coming, but she wasn't sure how to tell him the answer.

"I said, 'You were hit by a drunk driver,'" Vough said. "He said, 'I was?' And then he was just like, 'OK.'"

Reilly can't yet put weight on his damaged side, but he's been doing physical therapy exercises and working his muscles so he'll be prepared when that stage of his recovery begins.

Doctors told Vough that her son would probably be cleared to stand up on March 21, she said.

"On the right side, which we thought was going to be a dead side, connections are starting to come back now," Vough said. "He's able to bend his right leg now."

Reilly's left side suffered most of the damage, but because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa, there was some question as to how the nerves would recover.

"He had no feeling in his right side (until recently)," Vough said. "Now he's doing ankle lifts and a few other motions."

Aaron Hahn, Reilly's cousin, said he's thrilled to be able to talk to Reilly again — even if it is sometimes in short bursts.

"The progress has been nothing short of amazing," Hahn said. "I was there a couple weeks ago, and we talked a little bit about music, his favorite bands. I made him a mix CD, which he's enjoyed in small doses."

Reilly has long been a hard rock, metal and punk fan, but the music can be a little intense for him right now, so he's only listening to the mix a little bit at a time, Hahn said.

"It takes a lot of energy for him to make basic movements," Hahn said. "He's retraining his body to do pretty much everything. But apparently he's getting his sarcasm back, which I'm really looking forward to."

Hahn plans to visit Reilly over the weekend, and he's made his cousin a more mellow mix tape, he said.

"He's definitely Joseph; he's all in there, which eliminates so many concerns," Hahn said.

Both Hahn and Vough attribute the startling recovery to prayer and community support, and to the power of God, they said.

"The care he's gotten has been phenomenal, but without God giving him that drive, he wouldn't be as far as he is now," Vough said. "I think God has a bigger plan for him."

She said she's truly grateful for the help she's gotten and said she hopes those who are praying for her son will continue to do so.

"There's prayers that are still going up," Vough said. "I can't even explain in words (how important that is)."

If she has to take long-term leave from her job or just leave it altogether so she can take care of her son, she's OK with that, she added.

"My family is my No. 1 priority, and my job can wait," she said. "His recovery is in God's hands. I don't know what's in store for him."

She added that she has no ill will toward Morrison and feels awful for the girl's family for losing her at such a young age. She said she wasn't surprised to learn that Morrison had been drinking before the crash.

"I kind of suspected it once the sheriff told me there was nothing wrong with the vehicle," Vough said. "Then I thought maybe Joey and I were meant to talk to teenagers about drinking and driving. Teens often roll their eyes at that. I'm sure Annastasia probably thought that. She's already paid the ultimate price. We need to move forward and find some positives."

So far, Reilly has been able to eat only puréed food. He can manipulate a spoon if he's handed one with food on it, Vough said.

After learning to cook as an employee at Smokey's Hot Oven Pizza, though, it appears Reilly is ready for something more palatable than puréed corn, Vough said.

"It's not the most pleasant looking stuff," Vough said. "He took a bite of it yesterday and said, 'Ugh, I need to make some coleslaw.'"

Reilly's eligible time at the Portland rehab center is almost exhausted, but he can't return to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center to start his next intensive round of physical therapy until he's cleared to stand, Vough said.

"What we're looking for right now is a nursing home to get him in until he can bear weight," Vough said. "Then he'll be back at PeaceHealth for what I call "boot camp." It will be two weeks of very extensive rehabilitation."

The family has been able to get some assistance for the health care costs from various local and state programs. 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.

Really, though, prayer is enough, Vough said.

What she really wants now is to be able to take her son home with her to Winslow, Ariz., after his two weeks of "boot camp" at PeaceHealth, Vough said.

"There's this bright light at the end of the tunnel, that he will be able to go home in the future," Vough said. "It's been almost three months since the accident, and he's going from people thinking he's not going to make it, to him being able to go home. Every day, I see a little more of my Joey coming back. It's so amazing. I'm so ecstatically happy."

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