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Teen emerges from coma to delight of parents
Sebastopol youth badly hurt in July car accident
By MIRIAM SILVER Staff Writer
Click to enlarge photoSEBASTOPOL - Pinpointing just how long some things take can be elusive, especially for the parents of 16-year-old Mark Petchey, in a coma since a July car accident that killed his best friend, who was driving. In October, Mark's father, Grahame Petchey, who vowed to care and work with his son day and night until he came out of that coma, said: "It probably will take a long time." But so much sooner than anyone dared to hope - certainly not the medical people involved, who made no promises - Mark is out of that coma. He responds to direct, easy commands, looks into the eyes of his parents and visitors, smiles often and laughs at his mother in the teasing, affectionate way he has done his whole life. "The accident did not even change him. There is no change to his personality," said Mark's mother, Hideko Petchey.
Two weeks ago, Mark's doctor confirmed to his parents that their son was out of the coma that had been his life for the five months since the late night accident on a rural Sebastopol road. Mark smiles and kicks his feet at a mobile hanging at the end of his bed to get attention.
When his cat climbed on his bed, Mark's mother told him to pet Kiki, and Mark moved his bent wrist toward the cat's back. Kiki settled in the crook of Mark's hip. In contrast, two months ago, as he was leaving North Coast Rehabilitation Hospital to the 24-hour care of his parents, Mark could open his eyes, clench and unclench his fists and breathe on his own
Mark had suffered few external injuries in the accident, but the impact was so severe he suffered a closed-brain injury. Recovery was uncertain. "We hadn't expected too much. We had been prepared for a long, slow progress," said Grahame Petchey
His parents never asked if Mark would ever emerge from the coma. "It's not a question we needed to ask. They were quite clear and explicit that they did not know," the father said But Mark's parents have always been believers. They have been helped by another care-giver who lives with them, Mark's two sisters, and neighbors in their condominium complex. "I always said if Mark could find the slightest crack in the walls of his prison, he'll find a way to crawl out," Grahame Petchey said.
Around Thanksgiving, Mark found that crack. "We noticed a change in his perception, his ability to communicate. We asked him to raise his thumb to say 'yes,'" said his father. "We asked him things like 'Do you know you are at home and he says 'Yes' with his thumb," said his mother. They asked him to hold out his hand to shake, and he did. They played music and audio tapes for him. They put on the television when favorite programs like the movie "Star Wars" were airing. A friend brought over a George Carlin CD, and they heard Mark laughing.
A neighbor, who had once been paralyzed, came by to visit and decided after seeing Mark that the teen needed one more thing to help him communicate. The neighbor bought a $10 Radio Shack alarm box that had a button to push to sound the buzzer. Mark was told to push it for "Yes." "Once it was placed in his hand and he was shown how to do this, a grin spread from ear to ear. He was so so happy that he could do this thing," said Grahame. He kept pushing it. Jokingly, his mother said to stop, and Mark grinned again. "His teasing personality came out," Hideko said.
Next, Grahame said, "came the really exciting event." To see if his son could read, he printed out some simple, common commands in big, one-inch type on a computer. One was "Shake my hand." "I held this in front of his eyes, about one foot away, and lo and behold, his hand came out. I could not believe it," Grahame said. "It was an incredible experience."
His father, a calm man - he is an ordained Buddhist priest who helped found the San Francisco Zen Center in the '60s - said he grabbed his son and hugged him. "I certainly yelled for joy," said Grahame. He called his wife, who works three 12-hour days a week at her Job at Toshiba in San Jose. She said she was not surprised. Both parents know there is still a long road ahead for their son.
But now Mark, who was very interested in computers, qualifies to be a special-education student. The Petcheys hope to transport him to some high school in the county where he can at least sit in a classroom and listen. They are working with him to get his facial muscles working so he can eat and make sounds. Grahame even thinks his son may be able to return to Analy High School in September. "I said from the very beginning we needed a miracle for Mark to recover. That miracle is happening, and it is happening every day," .said Grahame.
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