BILLINGS, Mont. — Almost two years ago to the day, Jessie Gunshows pulled up to the intersection of 12th Avenue North and Broadwater Avenue on a Thursday morning.
Struggling to remain calm, she had driven straight over after learning that her 13-year-old son had just been struck by a car as he crossed the intersection on his way to Lewis and Clark Middle School.
“In the movies, you think people get hit by a car and it’s a broken leg or whatever. They’re going to be fine,” she said. “When I got there, he was just lying there. There was blood in the street, and he wasn’t moving.”
Bystanders later told her that her son, Reese, had been struck by a car so violently he was thrown into the air, flipping twice before crashing to the pavement. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Healthcare in a coma, with a traumatic brain injury, a broken pelvis and a spleen injury. His nose had been smashed in during the collision as well, and the pavement had stripped the skin from portions of his head.
Now 15 years old and revisiting the same intersection for the first time with his family on Sept. 25, Reese’s recollection of that day is far less complete than his mother’s.
“I remember blood rushing through my eyes,” he said. But aside from a couple other still-frames from the moment as he began crossing the busy Broadwater intersection, that’s about it.
The scene of the collision itself didn’t loom especially large in Reese’s eyes when he returned. He stays more focused on the day-to-day recovery he’s still enduring, he said. It wasn’t until about six months ago that he finally “got my mind back.”
But when he’s feeling tired, he said, “I can’t remember short-term, or 30 minutes before. Whenever I’m very energetic and very awake, then I can remember everything.”
Reese spent months in the hospital. During the first month he learned to talk again. It took more than two months to learn to walk again, although he still struggles with his balance sometimes.
Regaining his memory has been a longer struggle. Shortly after he was admitted to the hospital, Jessie Gunshows said a doctor compared his brain trauma to what would happen to a large mold of Jell-O that was set on the ground and then slammed against the wall.
“All those cracks and bubbles in it” emanating from the point of contact caused a ripple effect throughout other parts of his brain, Jessie said.
Beyond the initial concussion, the impact affected other parts of his brain, and the changes still play out in his daily life. Before the crash, he was quicker to arrive at solutions in math class, a subject in which he still excels. And he’s since lost a lot of the motivation that used to keep him constantly drawing, Reese added.
“The only hard moment I had was when they told us he wasn’t going to be like he was before,” Jessie said. “He was the kid who doesn’t do his homework because he just knew how to do it. Now, it takes him a couple minutes more to find the answer.”
Reese also acknowledges that to an extent, he’s become a different person after the crash.
“Everyone thinks of it as bad, I just think of it as a positive,” he said. “I accept things as they are.”
During the first year of his recovery, he decided to start Reese’s Project, which raises money to boost the spirits of other kids working through similar medical situations as patients at St. Vincent’s.
As Reese’s mind and body began to repair, Jessie said that he told her, “When I get older, I want to help people. I want to help people that were like us, in the hospital.”
Reese and Jessie, along with Reese’s father, Allen White Bear, and his 14-year-old sister, Myarae, on Sunday visited the Billings hospital to bring gifts to the nursing staff and deliver a basket full of candy, toys and gift cards from local businesses. Jessie, a cosmetologist, also provides free haircuts to patients and paints little girls’ fingernails.
But just visiting the hospital periodically, she said they also have a chance to provide emotional support to families going through the same difficult journey they experienced two years ago.
Equally important, she said, was believing that things will ultimately get better with time. That’s why on Sunday, Reese and Myarae taped a sign reading “Faith” to a light pole at the fateful intersection.
“Being in a hospital and being sad . it doesn’t accomplish anything, and it makes you stir-crazy,” Jessie said. “Even when he was in a coma, we talked as if he was there, sitting there and telling him funny stories and laughing.”
She added, “We kind of try and make sure the parents know they’re not the only ones that have to go through it.”
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com