Here is a story that I can understand and relate with. In 2001 my nephew Kevin was in a terrible auto accident and spent about 2 weeks in ICU at Baptist Hospital. During that trying time in our lives we met another young man and his family who were also there at the hospital.
That young man was Josh Hill. Josh had been hit by a drunk driver. Our families spent a lot of time together for those weeks in the hospital and we became friends.
Here is Josh’s story.
My Hero JOSH HILL
Through the eyes of his father
Saturday, November 10th, 2001, began as a normal crisp fall day. Josh fixed pancakes for breakfast and afterward he helped me rake the yard and gather up leaves. He had played in the season ending football game for Patrick County High School the night before and he was looking forward to his first practice with the varsity basketball team on Monday. Josh had a part time job at the local Lowe’s grocery store and went to work later that evening. After work he went to hear his brother, Daniel, and his band play at the local Rotary building.
I play the drums for a gospel group, “The Joyful Noise” and we played for a hospice benefit the same evening. My wife, Lisa, and I also stopped by to hear Daniel and his band play on our way home from the benefit. When we got there, Daniel said we had just missed Josh. He was tired and going home. Lisa and I stayed about 15 minutes to hear Daniel’s band and then left to go home. In all about 30 minutes behind Josh. I had mentioned to Lisa several times during the evening that I wished I had told Josh to wait for us at the Rotary building.
On our way home, approximately 3 miles from the Rotary building, we could see the night sky lit up with bright lights. Traffic had backed up and we could smell smoke. We knew there was an accident ahead and we were both afraid it could be Josh but we didn’t share our fear with each other. Lisa had tried calling our house several times hoping Josh was home and would pick up the phone. I had been in the rescue squad for many years and as we got closer to the scene, I decided I would see if I could help. When I got out of the car I told Lisa I hoped it wasn’t Josh. I ran up to see if there was anything I could do and didn’t realize it was Josh in the car until I was looking at him slumped behind the steering wheel. The car was mangled so badly I didn’t recognize it. There was one small area that wasn’t totally crushed and that was where Josh was. Stuart, Virginia is a small town and everybody knows me. Fire and Rescue didn’t know I was on the scene until I let out a wail and cried “is he alive, is he alive?”. They told me Josh was alive and led me away from the scene. I ran back to our car and to Lisa crying out over and over “it’s Josh, oh God it’s Josh”.
The hospital was less than five minutes away. When the ambulance pulled up, the ER doctor jumped in the back of the ambulance. Lisa and I didn’t know what was going on so Daniel, who had arrived at the accident scene before Josh was transported, went over to see what he could find out. He came back to tell us that Josh was being air lifted to Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The doctor jumped out of the back of the ambulance, closed the door and hit it a couple of times to signal for them to go. We went back to Rotary field to wait for the helicopter to come pick up my son.
The hardest call I’ve ever had to make was to Josh’s mom, Linda Mize, and tell her Josh had been in a car accident. She asked me to have him transported to Northern Surry hospital in Mount Airy, North Carolina, where she worked. I had to tell her it was bad and he was being air lifted to Baptist.
Upon arrival at Baptist Josh was immediately placed in the intensive care unit in critical condition. We were told he had suffered a moderate to severe head injury, a broken femur, and later we learned he had a contusion on his spinal cord. Because of the head injury, we were told the first 72 hours would be critical to his survival. We were told that Josh’s age, he was 16 at the time, and his being in shape from football and working out would be a big plus in his favor. The doctors also told us that because of his youth, he was not using nearly all of his brain and that the brain could re-route itself to compensate for the part that was damaged.
During the first few hours of Josh being admitted to Baptist hospital, the waiting room started to fill with friends and family and details of the accident began to emerge. We learned that Josh was hit head–on by a 19 year old illegal Mexican immigrant who was driving under the influence, without a driver’s license and without insurance. The vehicle that he was driving had caught fire and burned, hence the smoke that we smelled when we got close to the accident scene. The driver and his two passengers escaped serious injury. The driver was also brought to Baptist hospital and was in the ICU adjacent to the one Josh was in.
On Monday November 12, instead of the first day of basketball practice, his coach, Bryan Davis brought the whole basketball team to the hospital waiting room. Their heart wasn’t in basketball practice when one of their teammates was in the hospital fighting for his life. Josh’s brain began to swell and a couple of days later it had swollen to the point that emergency surgery to remove part of his brain was the only chance that Josh had to live (medically the only chance, we know the One who was always in control). Coach Davis again brought the basketball team to the hospital and as Josh was being brought back from the operating room, the team lined up on both sides of the hall and was clapping for him and cheering him on. A couple of weeks later, at their first home game, the Patrick County Cougars honored Josh by putting 42 seconds on the time clock and cheering for him to get well. 42 was Josh’s number.
Josh still had not emerged from the coma and we got very little encouragement from the doctors. We knew it was pretty bad when the neurological doctors wouldn’t make eye contact with us. There were two doctors who didn’t give up on Josh, even encouraged us to take him to a facility that dealt with coma stimulation after his release from Baptist. One was Dr. Chang, the Director of Trauma Services, who was on call and in the emergency room with Josh when he went in, and the other was Dr. Mondi. These two men were so compassionate and even in the darkest hours told us to never give up. Dr. Mondi went so far as to tell us repeatedly “I just know that Josh is in there”. We had one intern to tell us Josh’s quality of life was likely to be what we saw at that time – in a coma with machines breathing for him and a feeding tube for nourishment. He went on to suggest that we look for a nursing home for Josh when he was released from the hospital. This was said at Josh’s bedside when we had been so careful to be positive and not get emotional when we visited Josh during the limited visiting hours. Josh’s mother and I were stunned that he would say such a thing and furious that he said it at Josh’s bedside. Josh’s mom was the first to recover and pull him to the side of the ICU. I didn’t have any trouble reading her lips as she took him to task for his bedside manner. When she got through, I had my say. I had to tell him that he wasn’t the one in charge, God was and I had faith that God would bring him out of the coma. I almost felt sorry for him but I bet he learned to be more respectful.
As Josh finally stabilized, they operated on his leg and put it in a cast. We couldn’t understand why it took so long, about 7 days after the accident. They told us they were going to do it a day or so after he was admitted. They kept putting it off and it finally dawned on us they weren’t expecting him to make it past the first few days. When they finally set his leg, we rested a little bit easier. Josh was at Baptist for a total of 59 days, for the most part in ICU.
As the days at Baptist started coming to an end, we had to decide what the next step would be in his recovery. At the suggestion of Dr. Chang, we decided to take Josh to the Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation, part of Carolina’s Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. They had a coma stimulation program and according to what we had read, the sooner they could start working with a patient the better the success rate. Josh had been evaluated and accepted into the program when we heard from our insurance company that they considered coma stimulation experimental and would not pay. The cost for Josh’s stay was estimated to be $30,000.00 – $40,000.00, money we did not have. We were determined Josh was going to have every chance to recover that we could give him even if it meant selling our house and everything we owned. We appealed their decision three times and on the third appeal the Commissioner of Insurance ordered our insurance company to cover Josh’s stay. God is so good. We got a very nice letter from our insurance company thanking us for allowing them to help us when we needed them.
When Josh got to Charlotte, they immediately started dressing him, getting him up, doing therapy and giving him awakening drugs. We learned that he had had a stroke, at some point while he was at Baptist. It was in his charts but we had not been told. Josh had lost a lot of weight but he looked so good dressed in his clothes instead of a hospital gown. They put his Duke hat on him and he started looking like my Josh.
The trip to Charlotte was shaky at first due to Josh getting pneumonia and having to be admitted to the ICU at Carolinas Medical Center. He stayed for four weeks the first time but had to go home because of the pneumonia. After he recuperated, he went back and ultimately it was a success. They were able to get Josh out of the coma. He said his first word since the night of the accident, a tiny word “ok” but we were ecstatic to hear his voice again. It would be a while before he said anything else but we knew he was on his way back to us.
Over the next few months we saw so much progress. The trach was removed while he was in Charlotte, he passed his “swallow” test where it was determined that he could be fed by mouth and the feeding tube was removed. He was fitted for a wheelchair, he starting saying a few more words, started moving his arms, and he started watching TV and changing channels with the remote.
Along with the good there came a few bad things. Josh started having seizures which is a by-product of the head injury. It is something we have had to learn to deal with but we still pray that God will take them away. He also had muscle spasms which have been brought under control by surgically inserting a baclofen pump under the skin to administer the baclofen in measured doses.
Josh’s recovery has been miraculous, especially his speech and memory. We have recently started him on Aricept, which is a drug given to Alzheimer’s patients. After only a few days of being on this drug, he remembered his social security number, 6 years after the accident. His speech and vocabulary continues to improve and his sense of humor is priceless.
He still gets frustrated when we can’t understand what he is trying to say or when he knows what he wants to say but can’t get it out. He is still in a wheelchair but he can move his left leg and toes of his right foot, it just hasn’t developed to the point that he can walk. We believe that one day we will see him walk and maybe even play basketball again. Our God is an awesome God and through Him all things are possible.
Josh is surrounded by family, friends and people who love him dearly. He is such an inspiration to all who know him or meet him. His smile is contagious and God was so good to bless Josh with his old personality, not the anger that is common in head injury patients. He has spent numerous days and weeks in the hospital with various complications but through his strength and God’s will he has conquered every illness.
Since the very hour of the accident prayers have been lifted up in Josh’s name for his recovery. We have always believed in prayer and I firmly believe that the prayers offered up on Josh’s behalf were heard and answered by God.
I have been angry, scared, happy, and sad but through it all I have never been alone. More importantly is the fact that Josh has never been alone; God has always carried Josh in his arms.
A couple of years after the accident, the principal of Patrick County High School called and asked if I could put something together for their anti drug and alcohol week. Lisa and I sat down and came up with “How much does a carton of beer cost”? It tells what a carton of beer has cost Josh and his family.
Nascar driver, Morgan Shepherd, has his own ministry. I gave Morgan a copy of “How much does a carton of beer cost?” and he uses it in his ministry. He has told me of telephone calls and letters that he has received from people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because of it. I have given a copy to our sheriff, our Commonwealth Attorney, numerous deputies and state troopers. Wherever the Joyful Noise plays, we close with a recitation of “How much does a carton of beer cost”? It’s hard for me to do and hard for Josh to listen to but he has told me he wants us to do it every time we play. If it will cause one person to turn away from alcohol and turn to the Lord it is well worth it.
Rick and Josh speak at schools, churches and other functions telling Josh’s story. For information scheduling an engagement please contact Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org .