Reinhardt: Potential Tragedy has Happy Ending.
When I write about those who suffer life-threatening injuries, I like to follow up with the people to see how they are doing. Jeffrey Reckinger, 17 and a student at Owen High, was nearly killed in a longboarding accident May 17 after soaring into a bad patch of road and hitting the pavement without a helmet.
None of his crew of friends, four boys who call themselves the “Thrash Brothers,” was wearing helmets. Jeffrey suffered a traumatic brain injury, and doctors told Trish Byers, his mother, he might not survive. And if he did live, they said he was looking at one to three years in rehab, learning everything from the basics such as feeding and dressing himself.
One of the most rewarding aspects of following up on people is discovering the remarkable progress some will make. Jeffrey is one of those who easily could have died, might have spent years in rehab, but is now home and doing well, all things considered. “He’s doing pretty good,” said Trish, who with her husband, Will, owns Byers Pottery Studio. Jeffrey was discharged June 12, after three weeks at Mission Hospital, much of it spent in the neuro-trauma unit. “Miraculously, he’s cognitively in there,” Trish said. “His personality is back, but he’s hypersensitive to sound and smell, and even his taste was affected somehow from the brain injury.”
While a portion of his skull was removed to prevent further swelling of his brain, Jeffrey must wear a helmet most of the time, until the surgery in another week or so to replace the right side of his skull with synthetic bone. “He’s still really tired and fairly weak,” Trish said. Besides the fact he survived, Jeffrey only spent five days — instead of the years predicted — in rehab. “They didn’t even order outpatient therapy,” Trish said. “One of the physical therapists joked that they were releasing him because he’s more coordinated than half the staff.”
There was, however, one huge concern following the days when Jeffrey awakened from a drug-induced coma. Family members feared he would never move his left side. “We were afraid he’d be permanently affected,” Trish said. “My daughter, Charlotte (20 years old), rallied him to try hard, and about five days after the brain surgery, he was able to move his left leg.” During his hospitalization, Trish said Jeffrey made many profound comments. “When one of the nurses came into the room, she said he was lucky to be alive,” Trish said. “She walked out. And Jeffrey said, ‘I’m not lucky. It’s a lot more than luck. I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to figure out what it is. I think the world needs a lot of help, and I want to help people.’”
Since coming home, Jeffrey has enjoyed many of the activities of his life before the accident. He’s taking walks with the dog, playing lots of card games and even shooting his new bow and arrow. “He has wanted a bow and arrow for a couple of years,” Trish said. Jeffrey used some of the money given to him from extended family to buy it and set up a target, where he practices.
He also returned to a new bedroom. The family spent money from a carwash fundraiser to renovate Jeffrey’s room while he was in rehab. “We painted it a really awesome purple,” Trish said. “We got all new lamps, rugs and pillows, …When he walked in, it was very cool. He loved it. He was so happy.”
In about a week, Jeffrey will return to the hospital and undergo general surgery to replace that missing part of his skull. After recovering from this — an estimated three to five days in the hospital — he and the Thrash Brothers will help with the benefit, even discussing the importance of wearing helmets while participating in extreme sports.
The other day Jeffrey awakened late one morning and spoke briefly about his accident. “This is been a very scary thing to go through, and all I can say is if you skateboard, longboard or snowboard, wear a helmet,” he said. “I also want to thank everyone who supported me and my family all the way through this.”
Money from the benefit will help offset hospital and medical costs. Jeffrey’s father, Jeff Reckinger, has been helping the Byerses throughout this ordeal, Trish said. “He’s really been wonderful.” As I said earlier, nothing feels better than writing a follow-up with a happy ending. By Susan Reinhardt