ELKHART — Darrien Lewis is grateful to be home. To be alive.
But sometimes he thinks about what he used to do before the accident that changed his life. He liked to write music and draw. He looked forward to getting his driver’s license. He was working on getting his GED diploma and going to college.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s going to be a long time before he is back to normal,” said Umicha Baker, Lewis’s mother.
Four months after an accident that left him in a coma, Lewis, 18, is making strides in his recovery.
Lewis was released from the rehabilitation center Jan. 10. And though he has made efforts to get better, he’s still far from being who he was prior to the accident.
Though he moves somewhat slowly, Lewis can walk without any help. He struggles seeing with the upper-right quadrant of his visual field. He can move every part of his body, but he needs to build strength around some parts that were affected.
For now, he continues to work his way up — one slow step at a time.
Lewis doesn’t remember anything from the accident. He doesn’t even remember leaving his house that day, Oct. 12.
Lewis and Cameron Wilson, a close friend to the family whom he considers a brother, were riding their bikes that evening. They were riding east on C.R. 16 when a car going the same direction collided with Lewis.
Tia Guffey, a witness at the scene, helped Lewis by trying to keep him conscious while first responders arrived.
He had serious injuries to his head, a few broken ribs and a broken foot, and was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend.
The driver of the vehicle, Aaron Hardesty, 19, of Elkhart, suffered relatively minor injuries, according to police.
When Baker heard about the accident, she rushed to the hospital to find out her son was in a coma.
As days went on, Lewis’s body had started to heal, but he remained unresponsive.
Lewis started therapy as soon as he was transferred to Hook Rehabilitation Center. While he was still in a coma, Lewis was able to open his eyes, but he couldn’t even stand on his own. Baker compared her son’s movements to those of a doll.
Still, staff from the rehabilitation center would take Lewis to the therapy room and move his legs and arms.
Gradually, Lewis began to react and move around. His first thought — that he remembers at least— is that of wanting to go home. But he still had work to do — therapy with physical, occupational and speech specialists. He also had community group therapy, in which he talked with other patients at the rehabilitation center.
Baker stayed with her son throughout his time in Indianapolis. The staff placed a bed in Lewis’s room so Baker could watch over him. She also made sure her children, who were staying with their grandmother for the time being, were going to school and had everything they needed.
Lewis was released from the hospital on Jan. 10, but stayed in Indianapolis for a couple of days more. When he did go home Jan. 12, friends and family threw him a welcome party.
It was during the party that Lewis and Guffey were able to finally meet face-to-face. Since the accident, Guffey stayed in touch with Lewis’s family. When Lewis was at Memorial Hospital she would visit him, and during his time at the rehabilitation center, Lewis and Guffey would talk on the phone.
“That was just so special,” Baker said about the welcome party.
The road to full recovery is not simple or fast. Lewis has more therapy to go through, but because each session is designed to challenge him, the continuous struggle to remember how to do things that came to him so naturally prior to the accident can often leave him frustrated.
“It reminds me of school,” he said.
At Memorial Outpatient Therapy Services, Lewis must go through speech, occupational and physical therapy. On his second visit he meets with speech therapist Karin Thomas, who asks him if he remembers her. He doesn’t.
She sits him next to her and asks him to complete some exercises on the computer while she starts a conversation. She wants to see where his multitasking skills are at that point.
Next, Lewis moves to another room for his occupational therapy. There, Heather Beaver, his occupational therapist, tells him to write down what he has done so far that day. He struggles to remember; he looks at his mother trying to remember what he did just before arriving at the hospital.
Baker is worried about Lewis’s short-term memory loss. She wants him to continue the program for his GED diploma in the fall this year, but she wants to make sure he can first hold on to the information he is receiving.
At the rehabilitation center, Baker was given a list of the activities her son cannot do while he is recovering. Among those activities are driving, cooking or going out for a walk unsupervised.
“He was so independent,” she said. “He has his restrictions now and he’s very irritated. He can’t even get his driver’s license, so he feels left behind.”
While he’s at home, Lewis doesn’t do much. He watches TV and he works out sometimes. With some guidance from his therapists, he will be able to add more activities to his schedule.
Baker stays at home to watch over her son. With all the restrictions he has, she cannot leave him for long periods of time on his own. She hopes that after his full recovery she will be able to work again.
“Now I think that so far this is the hardest part,” Baker said about her son’s recovery. “Some people ask me ‘well, wasn’t it when your son was in a coma that it was the hardest part?’ And I tell them no, that was the most painful part. But this is the hardest.”
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
Baker says the support from friends, family and the community have given her strength since the day of the accident. And there were a few times where she held on to the support she was receiving and her faith to continue facing some of the toughest days of her life.
Baker says the most painful part when she was in the hospital was hearing, two days after the accident, that her son might never wake up from his coma. A person of faith as she is, she prayed from that day on for her son’s recovery.
“I also had a lot of support from family and the community,” she said. “I have a Facebook page and there would be hundreds of comments and likes on my posts giving me support.”
That outreach kept her going when she saw herself in the darkest moments.
Hardesty received a citation after the accident. Baker said she had hoped, at the very least, she would get an apology. After about 11 days, Hardesty’s parents tried to establish contact with Baker, but at that point she was not willing to talk anymore.
Now, she just feels thankful for having her son at her side. She looks at the positive side to this incident, like how it brought her family closer.
“I don’t hold anybody responsible because now that I look back on this entire thing I would like to think that all of that was in God’s plan to happen.”