Teenager surprises doctors, family with progress after near fatal accident
Surrounded by his friends and family Sunday afternoon, 18-year-old Joe White couldn't hide his smile. He peered down at his cards and tossed his chips down on the dining room table.
After the dealer laid three more cards on the table, White's smile beamed brighter.
The poker game could have happened during any of his visits back to Eudora from his father's home in Topeka. White left Eudora when he was in the sixth grade to live with his father, however he maintained contact with his Eudora friends.
Sunday's game was special, considering three months before his friends had also gathered in front of him. At the time, he was at St. Francis Health Center in Topeka covered in abrasions and connected by tubes to racks of machinery. His friends didn't know if they would see him again. They said their final goodbyes.
"The last time I saw him, I didn't think he was going to make it," Eudora High School senior Todd Roberts said.
He made it.
He's in a wheelchair now. He uses a dry-erase board to help him communicate when the words don't come. He still has at least 18 months worth of healing to go, but he's back.
That fact makes his mother, Rose House, smile.
"He's really made the journey back from practically the other side," House said.
His progress comes after he awoke from a coma caused by a failed film stunt last fall.
White jumped Sept. 29 from a moving car in Topeka and hit his head on the pavement. He was attempting to perform a stunt in front of a home movie camera a day after he and his friends saw "Jackass: Number Two." In the movie, similar dangerous stunts were filmed.
He spent the following weeks at the St. Francis intensive care unit at times bordering between life and death. He survived surgery, which removed an egg-sized blood clot on the base of his brain stem.
He left the Topeka ICU before transferring to a 30-day program at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb.
"That was probably the best decision we ever made -- sending him there," House said.
At Madonna, House saw her son make amazing progress.
"From the minute I walked in, it was the first peace I had in 19 days," House said. "I felt so confident and so relieved that he was in such a good place. It was a place of healing. It was a place of hope."
White worked through six to eight therapy sessions a day at the hospital. The staff helped him improve his speech skills and led him through both physical and occupational therapy sessions.
White also polished his cognitive skills in a classroom setting. He worked on both reading and math skills.
"I never felt it was hopeless," House said. "I felt it was really the place where Joe was going to get better. I felt that's where we were going to get Joe back."
His other family members didn't lose hope either. When House wasn't with her son in Nebraska, his father, Bob White, was. He also bonded closely with his sister, Eudora High School graduate Julie White.
Although improving, White's recovery is characterized by mixed progress.
During the math lessons, for instance, White showed signs of his past acuity with numbers.
His therapist wrote down a series of basic arithmetic problems and offered White a choice of answers.
During the tests, White would pick out the right answer before the therapist finished writing out all the choices, House said.
In other areas, White struggled. He continues to recuperate from aphasia, a condition that affects the language centers of his brain.
"There's a certain amount of frustration in Joe's life right now because he knows what he wants to say," his mom said. "A lot of times he thinks he's saying it, but a lot of times it's not coming out like that."
White's recovery has led to adjustments at his mom and stepdad's home in Eudora.
"In some ways, Joe is still 18. In other ways, he's like 4 or 5," House said.
"He's retained a joy in life."
Although White remains independent to perform basic hygiene functions ---- he can use the restroom on his own and can still brush his teeth ---- he needs help actually getting to the restroom.
He doesn't have the use of his right leg and is still dependent on his parents.
"Joe needs assistance with everything," House said.
Back in Kansas, White continues his rehabilitation for three hours a day at a state rehabilitation center in Topeka working on speech, physical and occupational therapy, House said.
"So far that's been going very well, too. Joe has been very eager to learn, and very responsive to therapy treatment."
It will take White at least two years to recover as much as he can from the accident, his mom said, but the doctors don't know how much that will be.
White used his time in Eudora over the weekend to reconnect with his friends.
"When the kids come over, he just thrives," House said.
His friends also have the opportunity to reconnect with him.
"It's good to see him," EHS senior Mike Ortega said.