Months after wreck, victim ‘wakes up’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2010

It’s a thumb-up prognosis for Tyler Rasberry, shown here with brother Jonathan Rasberry, sister-in-law Kim, and dad Joe Friday. Rasberry has been in a ‘minimally conscious state’ since a December 2009 car accident. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News

“It was like they passed each other in transit – T.J. leaving, and Tyler coming back to us.”

Those are the words of Andalusia High School baseball coach Jonathan Rasberry, about his brother, Tyler, who for last seven months has lain nearly catatonic after suffering traumatic brain injuries during a December 2009 traffic crash. Tyler is a Florala High School graduate who was attending LBW Community College.

And no sweeter words have been spoken for the small city of Florala, who is still reeling from the loss of two young citizens – 8-year-old Lexi Worrell, who was killed in a school bus accident, and 20-year-old T.J. Fleming, who lost his battle with cancer almost two weeks ago.

Incidentally, it was the same day that Fleming died – Tues., May 25 – that Tyler “turned the corner,” Rasberry said.

“He said his first word Tuesday night,” Rasberry said. “He asked why, which is a very good question when you wake up in a nursing home with an 85-year-old roommate.”

Since his December accident, Tyler has been in a “minimally conscious state” and has been breathing with the help of a tracheotomy. After the accident, he was transferred to a rehab unit in Atlanta and later to the Florala Health and Rehab to be closer to family.

Dad Joe, a retired Covington County schoolteacher, remembers very well the day when his son, 20, was traveling from Andalusia to Paxton, Fla., to help him prepare for a cookout.

“It was nasty out,” Joe said of the weather.

“We think he tried to avoid something in the road and hydroplaned. It was the worst phone call in the world to get. The first thing I wanted to know was if he was all right and because of the severity of the accident, no one could tell me if he was going to live or die.”

But, Tyler fought to live, brother Jonathan said.

“Tyler is a fighter,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s a tough guy.”

Since that Tuesday, Tyler has made significant progress – standing beside his bed for a brief period and interacting with family and friends.

On Monday, Tyler’s trach was removed, and he’s vocalizing more, mouthing words when his strength fails.

Tyler knows he’s been in a car accident, Jonathan said.

“But he doesn’t know about T.J.,” he said. “They graduated together, played ball together, were just really tight. We thought it would be too much on him at one time.”

LBW Community College baseball coach Steve Helms, who was visiting Tyler on Friday, said the last two weeks have been heart wrenching for the Saints team. “It’s like going from one extreme to the other,” Helms said.

“I’ve always heard that when something bad happens, something good will follow. In our case, I guess, with the passing of T.J., we got the blessing of Tyler. It’s just amazing to see.”

Family also credits the intense prayers and months of continued support from the community for Tyler’s recovery.

As for the future, there are now months of intense speech and physical therapy at a new rehab unit home ahead for Tyler. Mom Laurie, a nurse who lives in Tennessee, said these are happy days.

“We’re just looking to the future and smiling,” she said, by way of phone.

Dad Joe said, “We’re just so happy he’s alive, and that God’s given him a chance to improve.”