After emergence, Jared Antle faces long 'hard to predict' recovery

Staff writer

Jared’s Journey Part 2.

ATLANTA — Jared Antle stands tall and takes step after step. Distances once measured in feet are now yards and partial miles.

But he can’t do it alone. Harnessed into a massive articulative treadmill that helps support some of his weight, Jared is pushed to walk farther.

This sort of physical therapy is made possible in Jared’s current home, the Shepherd Center — a hospital in Atlanta that deals strictly with traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries.

But with every step, every day, every week, Jared faces new challenges as he works to recover from a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a hit an run.

On Aug. 24, just two days after his mother dropped him off for his sophomore year of college at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, a Harrisonburg man allegedly hit Jared with an SUV before fleeing the crash.

Jared was taken to Sentara RMH Hospital in Harrisonburg before he was flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. He sustained a traumatic brain injury on both sides of his head and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.

Four weeks later, Jared was flown to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for specialty care. When he arrived, he was placed in the intensive care unit.

Twelve weeks later

On Dec. 14, Dr. Andrew Denninson told Jared and his parents he thought Jared had emerged into consciousness.

Emergence is a transient term to describe the process of a person going from a coma, to a vegetative state to semi-consciousness and finally to lucid consciousness, Jared’s speech-language pathologist Alexes Venuti said.

Functional object use or functional communication, such as throwing a ball or answering yes or no questions, are criteria the hospital uses to determine whether or not a patient has emerged.

In the past three weeks, Jared began to throw a number of objects — baseballs, tennis balls and even a foam basketball. When his girlfriend visited recently, he tried to pick up a cup of coffee and take a sip, Jared’s mother Cathy said.

“It’s functional object use to me,” Dennison said. “He’s trying to throw a ball. We’ve always suspected that because of some potential … issues that he really wasn’t able to show his emergence as well as he actually was emerged.”

In one session, his brother Jeremiah tossed him a baseball and Jared tossed it back as best he could. Therapists held Jared erect and helped move his hands to make the catch.

The process takes a lot of hand-eye coordination for Jared. He stared at Jeremiah, waiting for the ball to come. When the baseball was in Jared’s hands he held it tight, but struggled to throw it farther than a couple of feet.

Measuring recovery

Jared’s recovery could take months and it’s uncertain how much of a recovery he might make, his therapists said.

“When Jared first got here (at the Shepherd Center), he wasn’t able to hold his head up,” physical therapist Annalise Perez said. “Now he can stand up on his own.”

Venuti agreed about the uncertainty.

“A year down the road is too hard to predict. It’s always aiming for the next step on the ladder. Brain injuries are a world of the unknown.”

Therapy at the Shepherd Center is oriented toward functional recovery — performing the everyday activities a healthy adult can do on his or her own, such as standing, walking, making a bed and cooking.

Jared’s next goal is to be able to get out of bed, stand up and sit down in his wheelchair with minimal assistance, Perez said.

The longer Jared stays at the Shepherd Center, the better his prognosis, his father Ed said. Discharge dates are at least partially determined by the amount of progress a patient makes.

Cathy and Ed heaped praise on Perez and Venuti for helping Jared stave off multiple discharges. “Their creativity and positivity benefit Jared,” Ed said.

Jared’s first discharge date was Nov. 16, Ed said. That date was pushed back three times and now Feb. 7 is the newest deadline for improvement.

Discharge is contingent on Jared’s progress. If he keeps meeting goals, the discharge date could be pushed back further.

“The celebrations are way too short and the challenges come so fast,” Ed said.

Waiting on words

The Shepherd Center’s end goal is to help Jared recover as fully as possible. “The best-case scenario is that he's independent and able to do everything he was doing before,” Venuti said.

Her therapy centers on helping Jared re-learn how to speak, swallow and eat.

On Dec. 14, she asked Jared if he wanted to speak. His response: a slight nod of the head “yes.” She hopes actual words will come soon.

Both Venuti and Perez constantly think outside the box to come up with new approaches when a certain kind of therapy isn’t getting results.

For Perez, Jared’s trauma and recovery have left a mark. “I go home and think about Jared every night,” she said through tears.

Venuti and Perez’s unique process can include skipping a step in therapy, or they might see Jared focused on grabbing at his pant legs, so they’ll ask him to try and touch his toes.

Jared’s therapy includes walking in a “Zero-G” machine and in on an articulative treadmill. Both therapies help him relearn how to walk.

On Dec. 14, Jared walked nearly seven football field-lengths on the articulative treadmill while supporting more than half his body weight. The machine attaches to each joint from the waist down. It takes the therapy technicians and therapists about 15 minutes to strap him in for between 20 and 30 minutes of walking before they extricate him at the end of the session. The therapy teaches him to pick up his toes when he walks so he doesn’t stumble. It helps him initiate steps. Most importantly, it helps stimulate neural pathways and muscles that have atrophied since August.

Longest road

“They say it’s a marathon, traumatic brain injuries,” Cathy said. “The recovery is a marathon. It’s just the waiting and seeing him go through it that’s the hard part. I wish for just a few minutes I could get inside his head so I could see what he’s seeing so I could better understand where he’s coming from.”

As Jared recovers, his family is concerned about how he’ll handle the trauma emotionally.

Not every task is simple or easy; he can become frustrated or dejected with his therapy. In one session, he became agitated enough that he tried to kick a physical therapist.

In another session on the articulative treadmill machine, he fought against therapists as they strapped him in. Ed and Cathy stepped in: Ed held Jared’s hand while Cathy played his favorite music.

“From a mom’s point of view, I worry about how it will affect him emotionally,” Cathy said. “We’ve had 16 weeks to get used to the idea that there was an accident. As he emerges, it’s the first time that he finds out about this…. I worry about his journey because his journey starts now.”

Both Ed and Cathy credit their faith and the “thousands of prayers” the Williamsburg community has said for Jared’s survival and recovery. They continue to ask for prayers for a swift and full recovery for Jared.

“Things are OK because of people’s support,” Andy Antle said. “Without the support, it’d be more of a train wreck.”

At the end of the day, the Antles want Jared to have hope and faith as recovers.

“It’s obvious we’re a real faith-filled family, and he is, too,” Cathy said. “I’m hoping along with his determination and drive and competitiveness, that he sees God on his side. That He’s not against (Jared). That He’s for (Jared).”

How to help

To donate money toward Jared’s recovery, visit gofundme.com/support-jared. Read the Antle family’s online journal entries at caringbridge.org/visit/jaredantle/journal.

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