Brain injury survivor walks again _ to graduate

By

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — At age 14, Tevin Reams was in a rush.

His mom didn't want him out. He knew he had just enough time to grab a soda from the gas station and meet a friend to skateboard before she found out he was gone.

Reams watched the walk signal change from red to white on the corner of 12th and Beverly streets in Casper. He stepped off the curb.

He doesn't remember the driver, who was 16, running the red light. He doesn't remember the car striking his left side. He doesn't remember flying 25 feet from the point of impact or slamming into the pavement in the middle of the intersection.

Now, eight years later, Reams' brain works in spurts. Often it gets stuck. Sometimes, it makes him mad.

Few scars hint at Reams' trauma. He doesn't walk with a limp. His words don't slur together like doctors thought they would.

But there's a mark shaped like a railroad track curving behind his left ear, where doctors twice inserted body fat to stop a spinal fluid leak. Asphalt is still buried beneath the skin near his right cheekbone and hip — reminders of where he landed after impact.

Then there's a scar of his own making, the tattoo he got two years ago depicting a half-man, half-skeleton holding ice in one hand and fire in the other. Inscribed below the fearsome image is the date of Reams' accident, May 15, 2006.

At age 22, Reams has relearned most of the functions he lost after his accident. He still forgets names of people and items, and it takes him longer to process information. Twice, Reams dropped out of Natrona County High School.

On Saturday, he will walk across a stage at Casper College to accept his high school equivalency certificate from the school's adult learning program.

It's a walk he always wanted but sometimes doubted he could make.

Lisa Reams, 43, was finishing payroll at her job when her cellphone rang in 2006. A police officer's voice was on the other line.

"Mrs. Reams, Tevin is all right," the police officer said to Lisa. "He's been hit by a car, and he's at the hospital for a routine checkup."

Lisa hustled to find her keys to the office, thinking she would return to finish payroll after checking on her son. She drove herself to Wyoming Medical Center, where she found her son's friend and the friend's parents, hysterical.

The friend had seen it all happen. Lisa's son just happened to step first into the crosswalk.

A nurse told Lisa to sit down. She asked Lisa if they knew a priest, someone they could call.

"What?" Lisa remembers saying, confused. "Why would I need that?"

A few minutes later, the nurse led Lisa into Tevin's room. His head was bleeding, his face and arms covered in blood.

"Hi, Mom," Tevin Reams said.

Lisa wept.

Reams spent two and a half weeks in an induced coma to ease the swelling in his brain. Lisa hardly left his side.

He awoke one morning while Lisa stood next to him.

He gasped for breath while hooked to a ventilator, tubes sticking out of his head and down his throat. His panicked expression still appears in Lisa's nightmares.

Reams, in eighth grade at CY Junior High at the time of the accident, spent most of the next summer relearning how to walk and talk.

He remembers trying to get out of bed several weeks afterward. The moment his feet hit the floor, he fell to the ground.

He saw doctors for physical therapy most weekdays that summer. One doctor monitored Reams' brain waves while Reams listened to music. He went from a wheelchair to crutches to a leg brace and shoe inserts, trying to remind his legs how to walk.

Teachers had always used an individualized education plan for Reams, who had struggled with reading from early childhood.

But after his injury, social situations became difficult, and reading was even harder to handle. His moods had started swinging dramatically after the accident.

"I can't just read (material) and know it, so I ditched the classes where I had to read all the time," he said.

Reams dropped out of Natrona County High School in 11th grade. He was becoming increasingly angry at what he saw as bullying among several of his classmates.

He had been bullied, too, and he didn't like what he saw. When the anger became too much, he flipped a table in a study skills class and left.

"I never went back," Reams said.

Reams bused tables at the Parkway Plaza Hotel and tried living in Casper with friends. When his friend's girlfriend moved in, he moved home with his mom.

In his late teenage years, Reams spiraled in and out of a depression he always hated but sometimes couldn't escape. He was admitted to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute three times when he had "bad thoughts," he said, like lighting his apartment complex on fire.

Those thoughts have passed, Reams said, and he now says there's more to live for than ending it all.

He feels like he's been riding a roller coaster, he said while sitting at his family's dining room table one recent afternoon.

Lisa chimed in from across the kitchen, where she cleaned before family arrived for Reams' graduation.

"I feel like maybe the roller coaster is dying down for a little bit now," she said.

Reams spent two and a half years studying for his high school equivalency exam.

Paperwork to make sure he could have extra time to finish the test slowed him down, he said. He passed about a month ago.

"He has been positive through all of it," said Connie Colman, one of Reams' instructors at the Adult Learning Center. "I know he got frustrated, but he didn't give up."

Reams wants to take a few courses at Casper College this fall, maybe become a welder. He wants to go hunting this summer, something he's never done.

For about two years after the accident, Reams avoided the intersection at 12th and Beverly streets.

"I am very, very happy for all this stuff that happened to me, actually," he said.

He walked the rough road and is better for it, he said. Recovering from his injury changed his perspective, made him more open-minded.

And earning his high school equivalency certificate? It's a big deal, he said.

"I don't want do be a disabled kid who can't do anything and uses that as an excuse to not do anything," Reams said. "I'm a 110-percent kind of person."

Lisa told Reams to relish every step of the walk across the stage Saturday.

"We'll be screaming and yelling," she said.

"I'm going to fist-pump," Reams said, grinning. "I'm going to do it."

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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