As the familiar sounds of “The Office” theme song blared over the television, Jared Antle sat on his parents’ couch Tuesday watching, waiting for a 30-minute timer to wind down to zero.
Jared’s parents, Ed and Cathy Antle, sit at their dining room table and take the half hour as a coffee break while Jared’s brother Jeremiah watches over him. Their home is a stone’s throw from Lafayette High School, where all five of their children — including Jared — graduated or still go to school.
The Antles sleep on an every-other night rotation; it’s a necessary sacrifice since Jared came home June 6 from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., a specialty hospital that treats brain and spinal cord injuries.
Jared sleeps in fits — he wakes often and needs his mom and dad.
Late at night, they take turns sitting in a chair next to his bed and try to stay awake. They know that even though things are difficult, their youngest son is recovering better at home from injuries he sustained almost 10 months ago.
On Aug. 24, 2018, Jared suffered critical injuries when a motorist struck him and drove off in Harrisonburg, just two days after his mother dropped him off for his sophomore year at James Madison University. Police later arrested a man in connection with the crash.
Jared was taken to the Sentara RMH hospital in Rockingham County, then flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville for emergency brain surgery.
He came out of surgery, but he went back in immediately for a second — doctors didn’t know yet that his brain was injured both on the side that hit the pavement and the side the SUV hit, Cathy said.
No one knew if he would survive, although his family waited and prayed for good news, which eventually arrived: Jared was in the intensive care unit and stable.
About a month later, he and his family flew from Charlottesville to the Shepher Center in Atlanta for more-rigorous care.
By December, Jared’s doctor at the Shepherd Center, Andrew Dennison stepped into one of Jared’s therapy sessions and told Ed and Cathy their son showed signs of consciousness.
“He’s moving right now,” Dennison said in December. “I don’t think he’s going to get stuck where he is … I think he has emerged.”
Jared soon began to speak with the help of his speech-language pathologist Alexes Venuti.
“Therapists will always say there's a ‘look,’” Venuti said in December of patients such as Jared. “Their eye contact with you, you just know they’re in there more than they can show.”
Jared's doctors told the family his brain will continue to recover for at least the next 14 months, Cathy Antle said. Survivors of traumatic brain injury can deal with residual brain inflammation for at least two years after the injury.
“A year down the road is too hard to predict,” Venuti said in December. “It’s always aiming for the next step on the ladder. Brain injuries are a world of the unknown.”
The Shepherd Center was unable to make Dr. Dennison available for this story.
Living out of Room 245 at the hospital, Jared used a wheelchair to get to therapy sessions. He turned 20 there. He had to re-learn how to walk, how to talk and how to eat. He has regained some muscle that wasted when he was unconscious.
Before he was discharged from the Shepherd Center, Jared told Venuti he didn’t like to eat. He told her he was afraid of choking, Ed said.
Jared’s parents have taken extra care to make sure he doesn’t rip out his feeding tube. That’s why they stay awake at night: to protect Jared from hurting himself.
Road to Williamsburg
Weary, Ed and Cathy keep an ear to the living room while Jared sits with Jeremiah.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s like when you’re at Shepherd Center you have so much support from staff,” Cathy Antle said. At home, it’s family and the few therapists they can hire to help.
“It’s extremely overwhelming. We’re so excited he’s here, because that’s what we’ve been working toward for nine months. The fact he could walk through the door, that was just icing on the cake.”
While Jared can pack a punch if he’s agitated, Ed said his son is often affectionate to those around him and his humor shines through like rays of warm sunshine.
“He gave me a dollar after I gave him a ride,” Ed Antle said.
“We say ‘love you,’” he said. “He says ‘love you more,’ we say ‘love you more.’”
Jared will say “love you” then he’ll pause and holler out “MORE!” Ed said.
This is what Jared’s days look like: He paces in his house. He laughs. He takes a nap most afternoons and heads to his room when he feels overwhelmed. Sometimes, he’ll feel agitated by his feeding tube or by too many people talking at once — it sounds like a foreign language, Venuti said in December.
The Antles continue to take leave from work, Ed Antle said. He works from his home office when he can — he’s the marketing director for a California-based solar panel company. Cathy Antle is a registered nurse for Riverside; she’ll likely get back to work in a month or so.
But there’s just too much for them to manage with so little sleep.
Their insurance company has provided them with an in-home speech therapist and a physical and occupational therapist. The family will have help in the mornings and afternoons, but they’re still interviewing for one more therapist or nurse to help fill the gaps.
“Our entire world in Atlanta was built around taking care of Jared,” Ed Antle said. “Here, we’re starting from scratch.”
Beyond hiring therapists and nurses, the family had to remodel two bathrooms so they would work better for Jared’s needs. They also bought a hospital bed for him.
Their home is filled with all the cards, banners and shirts folks have sent them for months. In their dining room, one of the #StayStrongJared Mr. Sunshine banners hangs on the wall.
For Ed and Cathy, this is home. This is their reality. For Jared, it’s an altogether unfamiliar place.
A frequent battle between Jared and his parents is over car rides to see familiar places: Lafayette High School and his childhood home less than a mile away.
“We didn’t buy this house until April before the accident,” Ed Antle said. “That part of his memory isn’t there yet.”
Jared doesn’t quite feel he’s home, Ed Antle said. He knows he’s in a safe place, but his bedroom, his house doesn’t feel right.
“So we drive him over there three or four times a day,” Ed Antle said. “If it was up to him we’d go more often. What’s amazing is he can give us directions on how to get there.”
The family sets a timer for 30 minutes so that they can space out the intervals for the car rides, but before it went off on Tuesday, Jared threw it at Jeremiah and had a hand on his feeding tube.
Ed got up from the table to calm Jared. That calm lasted about five minutes before Jeremiah called for Ed and said Jared was ready for his car ride.
In the meantime, Cathy and Ed Antle will continue to help their son walk down the three short steps in front of their home and help him into their ruby-colored sedan.
They took away his wheelchair when he got home, and he walks in a deliberate, if lumbering manner.
Jared blows kisses at whichever parent waits behind before riding off to visit the childhood home he remembers. When they return to the new home, he fights to stay in the car, asking for just one more visit.
How to help
To donate money toward Jared Antle’s recovery, visit gofundme.com/support-jared.
At a fundraiser at Billsburg Brewery on June 8, about 600 people helped raise more than $16,000 to help Jared’s family with his medical expenses.
Among the crowd was Jay Voorhees. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are always with him and whatever we can do to help him out we’ll always do that because he’s a part of our Williamsburg community and always will be.”
Read the Antle family’s journal entries at caringbridge.org/visit/jaredantle/journal.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.