Since beating that left student in coma, his father has kept a constant vigil

Ken Diviney spent 10 years as a stay-at-home dad when his children were younger. Now, he's given up his job to care for his son.
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 12:00 AM

As midnight approaches, the father is where he was when the day began, sitting on the edge of his son's bed, peering into his unfocused eyes and misshapen mouth, rubbing his bare chest and scarred scalp. Checking his diaper. Making sure his boy is okay.

He is not okay. Ryan Diviney is 21 years old. For the past year, he has existed in what his doctors call a vegetative state, or "eyes-open coma," resulting from a horrific beating. He is awake but seemingly unaware. His father describes his son's existence as little more than that of a heart beating inside a body.

"Great day," Ken Diviney says, pressing his unshaven cheek to his son's. "You're safe. You took a nasty bump on your head. You're going to come out of that coma. I've got everything together on the outside. You need to focus on waking up."

Ken quit his job running a health club in Loudoun County to care for his only son. Every day, he brushes Ryan's teeth and bathes him, administers 50 medications, feeds him through a tube attached to his stomach, changes his catheter, stretches his limbs and talks to him with the hope that his son can hear and may one day respond. His commitment is unwavering, yet not without moments of doubt.

Would it have been better for Ryan if he had died that night? Ken has asked himself.

His wife, Sue; his daughter, Kari, a college freshman; his parents and sisters; their friends, the "prayer warriors" who bring meals and run errands for the family - everyone worries about Ken, 46, the exhausting hours he puts in, the despair that clouds his otherwise playful, mischievous eyes. They wonder: Will the son's tragedy bring down the father?

On many nights, Ken dozes on a mattress next to Ryan's hospital bed in what once was an office on the first floor of their Ashburn house. Tonight, Ken leaves the monitoring to his wife and Ryan's night nurse.

Ken needs sleep. In a few hours, he will drive 200 miles to a West Virginia courthouse, where he will replay the cataclysm that destroyed his family. He will address the young man who kicked his son in the head and left him near death on the cold concrete of a parking lot in Morgantown.

"I will do the best I can," Ken whispers to his son. "I won't let you down."

The glories of Ryan Diviney's childhood are crowded onto a family-room bookshelf, a thicket of trophies and plastic-cased baseballs, each bearing a memory recorded in his father's hand: "April 27, 1996, Game Ball, Home run, Triple, Two Singles." "Sept. 13, 2000, Home Run, Left Field." "June 24, 2004, Grand slam, Threw Complete Game."

Ryan played baseball and football at Broad Run High but understood that sports would not be his livelihood. As he enrolled at West Virginia University, he imagined himself becoming a lawyer, judge or senator. Something that would let him dress in a bow tie. Men who wear bow ties, he told his father, are independent thinkers.

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