A 18-year-old once on life support tries to beat long odds again to walk.
A year-and-a-half ago, Ann Roche was being asked to consider donating her grandson’s organs after he was in a car accident that crushed his brain stem, leaving him on life support.
Last week, Will Roche was walking, with the help of an Auto-Ambulator. Its robotic arms guide the 6-foot-tall 18-year-old’s legs, putting him on the path to someday walking himself.
The accident occurred in November 2006, the beginning of Will’s senior year at the Blue Hills Regional Technical School.
In the months thereafter, the school, his mother and his grandmother who raised him faced off over whether or not he would receive a diploma with the rest of the class of 2007. He ultimately did not, allowing him to continue to receive educational benefits until age 22.
He doesn’t have a degree, but Will and those around him do have hope, given the progress they’ve seen in recent months.
Doctors initially told the family Will would be in a vegetative state the rest of his life. Now, he is eating meals without tubes, standing with help and saying a few words, a stark difference from the prognosis his family was first given.
“It’s five thousand degrees better,” said Ann Roche, who along with her husband Ray, is her grandson’s legal guardian.
Will has been living at Neuro-Rehabilitation Center in Middleboro since May of 2007. Ann Roche, of Avon, said she hopes he can move to a group home within the next two years.
“It’s not something you can do overnight,” Ann Roche said. “It’s up to him.”
His aunt, Karen Roche, who attends his therapy sessions, has even higher hopes .
“I think he’s going to fully recover,” she said.
While Will’s brain stem was crushed, blocking signals transported from the brain to the rest of the body, the thinking part of his brain remains intact.
“His personality shines through all of this,” Roche said.
At his physical therapy Friday, Karen Roche took photos of her nephew’s progress, asking him to smile. It took the voice of his grandfather to get a grin.
“Smiling is part of his therapy,” Karen Roche said.
Will’s therapy also includes having his aunt read to him daily, a resource that wouldn’t have been available had Will received his diploma from Blue Hills, as his mother, Pamela Roche, wanted.
School officials ultimately sided with Ann in deciding Will had not completed the graduation requirements.
“A diploma, to me, doesn’t make or break anyone,” Ann Roche said. “It hasn’t hindered him in any way. It’s helped him. It was more important to his mother, who did not raise him, than anyone else.”
Blue Hills superintendent Joseph Ciccolo said the school took a lot of heat for the decision, but he has no regrets.
Prior to the accident, Will pitched on the Dalton Post 137 Legion baseball team and had his number 11 jersey retired by the league last June.
Legion baseball teammate Kevin O’Connor, who graduated from Blue Hills last year, said he sees a major difference in Will’s condition.
“He responds to you,” he said. “He understands that you’re there.” “He’s just a great kid,” O’Connor continued. “It (stinks) what happened to him.”
Allison Manning may be reached at email@example.com.