When the final bell of the day rang, 18-year-old Anthony Velasquez walked out of his high school just as he had on every other day. It was October 2019, and he was one of a group of teens crossing the street adjacent to his school when a car unexpectedly drove around a school bus and hit Anthony.
“He was in a coma and intubated,” said his mother, Sonia Rocha. In addition, a part of Anthony’s cranium was removed at that time in an effort to allow room for his brain to swell.
After a month in acute care, Anthony stabilized and, in November 2019, he was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center.
“At that point, Anthony couldn’t walk, speak or eat,” said Sonia. “He was in a wheelchair – he was like a vegetable.”
“Hearing about Anthony’s injury on his pre-admission screening, it sounded horrific and I was hopeful we could do something to help him and his family during such a trying time,” said Katherine A. O’Brien, PhD, and clinical director for TIRR’s Disorders of Consciousness Program.
His healthcare team at TIRR immediately began therapy. However, there were some setbacks. Twice it was determined that he had blood clots in his brain and he was transferred to Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center for surgery to treat them. But after each surgery, he returned to TIRR Memorial Hermann to continue his rehabilitation.
“He was such a fighter and his mother never left his side,” said Dr. O’Brien. “Shortly after arriving, he had to go out for a neurosurgical procedure and he came back even stronger. He fought through vestibular problems (which cause you to throw up) and he still did everything the therapists asked of him.”
In January 2020, Anthony left TIRR Memorial Hermann again and went back to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital so that the physicians could replace the piece of bone that was removed from his cranium. Following that procedure, he went back to TIRR to complete his inpatient rehabilitation.
“Anthony was an incredibly hard worker and continued to persevere despite all the challenges,” said his occupational therapist Beverly Ryan, OTR, MOT. “He progressed significantly from the time he was admitted to discharge with improved arm movement, independence in self-care, and mobility.”
He completed his inpatient care at TIRR in January 2020, and was able to discharge home. According to Sonia, when he left inpatient care he was able to eat, and he was speaking a bit. He was still in a wheelchair at that point.
After a brief break, Anthony began outpatient rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann – Kirby Glen in March 2020. He continued his physical, occupational and speech therapy at that facility.
“He continues to go to outpatient therapy to this day,” said Sonia. “He is improving day by day - he walks, he talks, he is doing so well!”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Anthony was able to return to TIRR to receive a COVID vaccine. While there, he visited with his inpatient care team, who hadn’t seen him in several months.
“When he walked into the hospital he was a whole new man,” said Dr. O’Brien. “You would have never known what he had gone through. His mother was still right by his side.”
Anthony graduated from high school in June 2020, and he has a scholarship to welding school waiting for him if he and his medical team feel he is able to pursue that career.
“His story, and all of the stories like his, truly help us see that no one should be denied care based on the severity of their injury,” said Dr. O’Brien. “Most people would have read his records and said, there is no hope. He proved all those people wrong. Everyone deserves a chance to get better. They may not all get to where Anthony got, but they can’t get very far if they are not given the chance.”
For the 32nd consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 2 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More
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