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Resolved to Recover
Teen fights to survive, then thrive after brain injury
Byline info is not available
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:00 AM
Michael Perry takes notes during a lecture about the poem, “Beowulf,” in an English class at Southwestern High School on Monday. Perry, 17, suffered a brain injury in a car wreck in July and has just begun to reintegrate into his senior-year classes. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
Perry and classmate Brynen Chitwood talk before their math class begins on Tuesday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchieemail@example.com)
The last day of Michael Perry's summer vacation did not end the way he expected.
The soon-to-be senior at Southwestern High School was driving home from his girlfriend's house when his car spun out, left the road and struck a tree.
"I don't remember anything about it," Michael said this week.
As a result of the accident, there were several spots on his brain that were bleeding, he had a severe laceration on the right side of his cranium and his brain was strained.
"They think my head hit the sunroof," he said.
When his mother, Kendra Perry, was notified, she was told they didn't know if he would survive his transport to the University of Louisville hospital.
Michael did survive, and on Monday, 81 days after his near-fatal accident, he walked through the doors of Southwestern High School to begin his senior year.
His recovery has been much quicker than anyone anticipated.
"I was told I would be in the ICU for a couple weeks," he said. In reality, he spent only five days in intensive care.
Soon after, he began rehabilitation at the Frazier Rehab Facility in Louisville. Again, he progressed faster than expected.
"We thought he would still be in Frazier," Kendra Perry said Monday morning. She went on to say that her son went from "hardly being able to walk, to running" in a matter of days.
While he has made huge strides, Michael said he still isn't 100 percent.
During the crash, one of his eyes tilted and rotated inside the socket, meaning his eyes are no longer in sync, or working together like they normally would.
While his brain is still learning to adjust, his vision is slightly blurred, which has given him some issues with balance and depth perception.
"It will take around six to 12 months for my eyes to adjust," he said. "But my balance will come back with the vision."
Before the crash, Michael played tennis, basketball and golf. He isn't going to play basketball again, he said, because of the physical contact involved. A hard hit could set back the progress he has made, his mother said.
While basketball is out, he did manage to get back on the tennis court, and even play a match at the sectionals.
With his brain and eyes still recovering, he had to adjust his timing just to hit the ball.
"I knew if I saw the ball here, I'd have to swing my racket here," he said while holding one hand higher than the other.
With tennis over for the season, Michael said he's most anxious to play golf again.
The 17-year-old athlete said golf is his favorite sport. Before his accident, golf played an important role in his plans, but now he's not sure he'll be able to play like he used to.
"I was going to go to college and play golf," he said. "I'm not sure if that's going to happen now."
Michael said the uncertainty of his plans can be frustrating at times, but some positive changes have resulted from the crash. He said he's more appreciative of his friends and family now.
"The little things aren't so bad anymore," he said about his change in perspective.
During his time in the hospital and rehab, his mother was with him every day, taking a leave of absence from her job so she could be with her son. His father, Jason, continued to work to keep his family insured. His girlfriend, Allison Bushong, also visited nearly every day. There was also community support from churches, neighbors and friends.
"You forget about how many people care until something like this happens," Kendra Perry said.
Michael has returned to some of his school work to catch up with the rest of his class. On Monday, he returned to an almost full classload. The senior is taking English 12, U.S. government, AP calculus, digital electronics, physics and Spanish 4.
"He was dead-set on taking calc," Kendra Perry said.
Michael described himself as a math lover and hopes to go to school for engineering.
He knows getting all the way back into the swing of classes could be difficult - especially for a class like Spanish 4. Michael said he doesn't fully remember everything from the last three years of Spanish, but he said he's going to approach it just like the rest of his rehab.
"I'm just ready to be back," he said.
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