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Drew Christy fighting his way back from brain injury

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

South Putnam High School graduate Drew Christy, right, arm wrestles with Mark Wildman, who was Drew's high school football coach. Drew, who was involved in a serious car crash and sustained a traumatic brain injury a year ago, continues to convalesce at his Fillmore home. [Order this photo]
FILLMORE -- "The most important day is today."

Just over a year ago Drew Christy -- a 2006 South Putnam High School graduate who had been a star athlete and scholar during his high school career -- helped come up with that phrase as the theme for the 2008 football season at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. He was a sophomore studying engineering and a member of the football team.

Today, Drew and those who love him are living that motto in ways they never could have imagined.

On Feb. 22, 2008, Drew was driving alone on U.S. 40 east of Manhattan Road when he struck a patch of ice and careened into a tree. Drew, who was coming home to Fillmore after completing a semester of college, sustained massive closed head and chest injuries in the crash.

"We got the nightmare call," said Drew's mother Debbi. "It was 911 dispatch asking us if we owned a 1999 Pathfinder, and if we knew the person who was driving it. Then they told us there had been an accident and it was serious."

With the medical helicopter unable to land because of icy conditions, Drew was taken to Putnam County Hospital. Debbi and Drew's father, Mark, made it there before Drew.

"I knew it was really bad because no one was hurrying around," Debbi recalled. "If the staff at the hospital think there's something they can do, they're hurrying around. People just kept telling us they were sorry."

One year later, a young man who was not expected to survive is defying all odds.

Drew suffered a diffuse axonal injury -- a traumatic brain injury in which damage occurs over a more widespread area than in the case of a focal brain injury.

In DAI, many lesions occur in the brain's white matter tracts. These lesions often lead to unconsciousness or a persistent vegetative state. Ninety percent of those who sustain a severe DAI never regain consciousness.

"First they couldn't tell us if he was going to survive, then they couldn't tell us if he was going to wake up," Debbi said. "We called the day he had his MRI 'Black Monday' ... it was just such a devastating reading."

Drew was hospitalized until Oct. 31. He started out at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he stayed for 2 1/2 weeks. He was then transferred to the pulmonary unit at St. Vincent Seton Hospital, also in Indianapolis.

Through those harrowing months, Drew's parents rarely left his bedside.

"At first he was alive minute to minute, so I wasn't going to leave him for a minute," Debbi said. "Then when he was in a coma, I didn't want to not be there when he woke up."

Four months after his accident, Drew came out of his coma.

Drew Christy balances himself unassisted as his former high school football coach Mark Wildman and his mother Debbi Christy look on.
"It's nothing like anything I'd imagined it would be," Debbi said. "It's not like in the movies when the person's eyes fly open and they start talking. It's very gradual."

Drew's recovery has been a succession of small victories and tiny miracles -- a raised eyebrow, a clenched hand suddenly opening, a deliberate sound escaping from his mouth.

"He'd been planning on going to med school, and I would read to him from his anatomy books even though I didn't know what I was reading," Debbi said. "That was one of the first times his eyebrows started moving, which is how he shows emotion."

Drew's older sister Kaila said she is sure her brother will write a book one day and call it "Eyebrow Stories."

Drew can now stand assisted for quite some time, and can stand by himself for a shorter time if he is propped up against a pole or wall. He often motions to the pole in the middle of the basement where he spends much of his time at home, wanting to stand rather than lay in a bed or sit in a chair.

"He's really getting his balance," Debbi said.

A feeding tube in Drew's stomach delivers most of his nutrition, although he is starting to take some soft foods by mouth.

Drew has therapy of some sort five days a week -- three of them at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI) in Indianapolis and two of them at home.

He is also receiving speech therapy. He can't form words quite yet, but a look into Drew's deep, cerulean eyes assures one that much is going on in his head.

"The doctors tell me that all of the knowledge is still there, but the routes are gone," Debbi said. "I've been told I shouldn't underestimate the power of an intelligent mind to fight its way back."

His recovery hasn't been a quick or easy process, but Drew is, as he has always been, an easygoing person who takes things in stride.

"He doesn't get frustrated," Debbi said. "There were maybe two weeks when I think he was frustrated by life in general, but that passed."

When the frontal lobe of the brain is injured, the patient often exhibits aggressive or angry behavior. That didn't happen to Drew.

"That was really our prayer for him," Debbi said. "That he would still be our Drew and that he would still be who he was before the accident. We didn't want him to be angry."

Over the past 12 months, support for Drew -- from both the community in which he grew up and the college he attended -- has not wavered. His friends come over often, and Mark Wildman, who was Drew's football coach in high school, comes over every Monday night accompanied by his wife June. The couple helps Drew with stretching and workouts.

"We don't give him time to get frustrated," Mark said.

June has been amazed by Drew's progress.

"We just love coming out here," she said. "Every week he's doing something new or he's doing something better than he was the week before."

Valerie Rayce, Drew's trainer from high school, also pays him weekly visits.

To test Drew's memory, he was given a Nerf gun and asked to shoot the people who were named. These days, Drew's visiting friends all bring their own "weapons" for Nerf wars.

Drew's playful nature is still apparent. He winks, breaks into smiles and sticks his tongue out at people. When his therapists ask him questions he thinks aren't challenging enough, he will roll his eyes, smile and give a deliberately incorrect answer.

Drew's friends at college have set up a Web site for him at www.caringbridge.org/visit/drewchristy. That site has been an eye-opener for Drew's parents.

"People post on there that I've never met," Debbi said. "They talk about what a great guy Drew is and how he touched their lives. I've learned a lot of really nice things about my son."

Since Drew's accident, Debbi and Mark Christy have met many families whose loved ones have sustained traumatic brain injuries, and have realized they have much to be thankful for.

Drew gets help stretching before a workout from June Wildman.
"I had 20 great years before this happened," Debbi said. "He was incredibly gifted as an athlete and academically and was just an incredible young man. I'd look at him across a room when he was just talking to and mingling with people, and I'd just be so proud. I had 20 great years, and I have more to look forward to. But with some of the families I've met, what we're going through now is all they've ever known."

When Debbi really longs to hear her son's voice, she calls his cell phone and lets his voicemail pick up. In addition to his other considerable talents, Drew was a gifted musician. He played the guitar and had written and recorded several songs before his accident.

"If I need to hear more than 'Hi, this is Drew, leave a message,' I listen to one of the songs he recorded," she said.

As he progresses, Debbi hangs on to the knowledge that her son has always set goals for himself -- and achieved them.

"When he was in sixth grade, he said to me, 'Mom, I want to be the valedictorian,'" she said. "Then he said, 'And I want to win the Lilly Scholarship. I'll need to get all A's then, won't I?'"

With steely determination, Drew did both of those things -- capping a high school career in which he excelled at football and won numerous atletic and academic honors.

One day, Drew may well go back to college. But right now, he is getting ready to enter RHI as an inpatient. He will receive two to six weeks of intensive therapy, depending on how he responds.

"If he does really well, I'll let him stay and keep going," Debbi said.

And there's no reason to believe he won't do well.

After all, there has been little in Drew Christy's life that he didn't achieve once he set his mind to it.

For him, today truly always is the most important day.

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God bless everyone who had a hand in Drew's care and those who will have a hand in Drew's life. May the Lord continue to give them all the strength and peace of mind they need for this journey.

-- Posted by mad-mom on Wed, Feb 25, 2009, at 6:28 AM

What a wonderful story. I have followed Drew's journey through the Caring Bridge website.

-- Posted by mal on Wed, Feb 25, 2009, at 9:50 AM

Of ALL the achievements Drew has the one I remember the most is when he lead a team mate to the Lord. Drew loves the Lord and we as his grandparents give God the Praise for Drew and for all the Lord is doing in Drew's life. We believe!We are a blessed family, with each child and grandchild. To God be the Glory!

-- Posted by MeMee on Wed, Feb 25, 2009, at 9:55 AM

Thank you for this heartwarming story. We have followed Drew's story through the CaringBridge website also. This family is remarkable and they should be an inspiration to everyone. We continue to pray for Drew, his family, and for his complete recovery. We will be looking forward to reading "The Eyebrow Stories."

-- Posted by greatstuff on Wed, Feb 25, 2009, at 11:23 AM

Good Luck Drew and family.

-- Posted by Harmony Church on Wed, Feb 25, 2009, at 4:36 PM

It is hard to look at a young man in Drew's predicament and think of the word "lucky"..or "blessed"..but he is both. I have been part of the praying community for him from a Reelsville Church, and we get updates, though not as detailed as this (great) story. We continue to lift him up to the Healer of all. Lucky to have survived at all, Blessed by a boundless love from his family, friends and care givers.

Go on, Drew, we're all pulling for your complete physical recovery. A special prayer for the caregivers too, their job never ends.

-- Posted by countyboy on Thu, Feb 26, 2009, at 12:56 PM







-- Posted by takeastand on Fri, Feb 27, 2009, at 2:34 PM

you know, i don't even know this kid, but have family that had been good friends with him.

this story really shows how our community can pull together, put aside ridiculous differences and really form a family.

good job putnam county.

-- Posted by putnam_native on Sat, Feb 28, 2009, at 11:45 PM

Dear Mr. Christy:

I'm proud of your parents desire to maintain your treatment, because my mother wanted to institutionalize me after my survival of a three month coma in 1977 at age 12. My father would not hear of it, so he maintained care for me on the farm.

Also, I know how intelligent you are because not until recently did the right drugs allow me to optimize my brains' potential. That is 30 years of the wrong drugs, so hope is real for you.

Shaun best, Protector of the Natural State

-- Posted by Shaun Best on Tue, Mar 3, 2009, at 2:01 PM

I recently met Mark and Debbi Christy, proud parents of Drew in Indianapolis as they had gotten away to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. I felt inspired by their story and I know that there is great hope for Drew's recovery. I am an energy worker. In the Tara Approach to Resolve Shock and Trauma there are 26 points where one can place your fingers and palpate an energy pulse that may exhibit different qualities. Point # 10 is named "Transformation, Beginning Anew, Birth." It's names are varied because supporting the meridians in this modality is dynamic. This point influences the voice and Clears the mind. It is a good point to hold for someone who has had a stroke and lost their ability to speak. Where is it located? On the back. If you locate the middle of the scapula or the wings and hold on either side, (right or left) between the spine and the scapula, you will be holding point #10. These are powerful points. May his # 10's be held and may you feel his energy and may he progress towards speaking his truth. My love to you Drew!

-- Posted by youressentialself on Wed, Aug 12, 2009, at 12:32 PM

Dear Drew's family

My daughter, Ada, was at Methodist Hospital-CCU at the same time that Drew was there last year.

It is nice to hear that Drew is doing great and seems like he is making progress.

Ada is doing fine, slow progress but learning new things everyday.

Please visit her blog www.dearada.blogspot.com

My email is silastones@aol.com



-- Posted by dearAda on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 1:33 PM

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