With a little help from his friends, Michael Boyd is going to get through the most serious hurdle in his young life, a car accident that has robbed him of his mobility and speech.
Since the Father's Day tragedy left Boyd in a coma and killed a friend in the car with him, the 16-year-old's family and friends have kept frequent vigils.
Initially not expected to survive an injury to his brain stem, Boyd spent 19 days in a coma. His eyes are now open and he can respond to simple questions by squeezing once to indicate no and twice to signal yes. He also responds by giving thumbs up.
His friend, Susan Hixson, brushes his hair and talks to him in soothing tones about the latest news among his Potomac High School friends. His buddy, John Gruberman, gives him "The Eyeball," an inside joke the boys fashioned from rubbing each others' eyes and cackling with laughter. Classmate Kelly Sonnenberg writes him notes.
His mother, Bea, teases him about the time he talked her into dressing up like a man -- he donned a woman's costume complete with a Mae West-esque balloon bustline -- for a costume contest on a cruise ship in which they won third place. She wears headphones, pipes up a boom box and sings along with his favorite rap musicians.
"It's really important to me that he smile. I think that will help him get better," said Bea Boyd, stroking her son's forehead and holding his hand. "He's really loved, by us and by his friends. They have really been here for him. With all this love, he's going to pull through this, I know it."
"He is in the initial stages of recovering from a coma," said Stephanie Giorlando, the physician treating Boyd, adding that controlled stimulation of his brain, mostly through therapy, with ample rest periods in between, is needed "for the healing of the brain."
Giorlando said the prognosis for a functional recovery is good. The goal at this point in his treatment is to help him regain some of his mobility and ability to communicate. Giorlando said it is unclear how much of Boyd's brain stem was injured.
Ryan Morton, a 16-year-old sophomore at Potomac, was combing Boyd's hair when Boyd grabbed the comb and took over the task shortly after he came out of the coma. "It's like when we are there we have this power to help Mike get better," he said.
Hixson, a 17-year-old senior, was with him when he first smiled three weeks after his accident. "He responds to us by doing things, then his doctors come in and his mother says they don't get anything from him," she said.
Bea Boyd, a hairstylist, and her husband, Karl, a mechanic, were celebrating a quiet Father's Day dinner at their Dumfries home when their world was shattered by a telephone call telling them about the accident. They had planned to go out for dinner, but Bea Boyd said she had a premonition that she should stay home.
Her son lay close to death in a car that had crashed on a curvy section of Blackburn Road near Rippon Landing. His friend and the owner of the car, J.D. McGinniss, 18, was dead.
The accident scene was near the spot where the body of Michael Boyd's friend, Alexander Sztanko, 15, was found hours earlier, the victim of a homicide. The deaths of McGinniss, a June graduate, and freshman Sztanko, along with Boyd's serious injury, led Potomac High School officials to offer counseling to help students deal with the tragedies, authorities said.
The elder Boyds reached the accident scene shortly after rescuers. There were reports that one of the boys had died. The car had been struck on the passenger side, where Michael Boyd had been riding when he left home earlier in the day with McGinniss.
"We just walked away to try to calm down because we thought it was Michael who had died," Bea said. "As we were walking, my husband said 'We really don't know anything yet, so let's have hope.' "
A few minutes later the Boyds found out their son had survived. Acquaintances said Michael Boyd, who had received his driver's license three weeks earlier, had been driving because the older youth had been drinking. "J.D. was real good about not driving after he had been drinking," Morton said.
According to police records, the accident occurred after the car driven by Boyd traveled onto the right shoulder, then crossed into the oncoming lane, where it was struck by another car, Prince William County police spokeswoman Kim Chinn said.
Hixson, who was traveling in a car in front of the one driven by Boyd, said she has done a lot of growing up since she lost her best friend, J.D., in the crash and has watched Boyd, her ex-boyfriend, struggle to recover.
"I still have nightmares about the crash," she said. "But at least now I am starting to have happy dreams too about Mike coming home."
His treatment includes physical and occupational therapy designed to help him recover his communication and mobility skills. But the road to recovery is expected to be long, Karl Boyd said.
"Reality is that my son walked out of the house on Father's Day afternoon and my son, as he was, will probably never come back," Boyd said. "He'll never probably be 100 percent again. He can have a good life, but there will be deficiencies. It's going to be a struggle."
Karl Boyd says his son is aware of what is going on around him. "The other day, someone put something in front of him and he read it and did what it instructed," he said. "But he's only like that a few minutes at a time." Bea Boyd said she has been in touch with McGinniss's family to express her condolences about their loss.
At the insistence of medical personnel, visits to Boyd have been limited to allow him to rest.
His parents and older sister, Corinna, mark Boyd's improvements by the day, referring to "Day 16," when he first moved his finger, and "Day 19," when he awoke from the coma.
But the biggest improvement came on "Day 32," when he reached up and brushed his girlfriend Tracy Jarvis's long dark hair away from her face before kissing her lips. Then he gave his mom a peck.. But he sees Boyd now and has been encouraged by his progress.
Reeves said that after the loss of McGinniss and Stzanko, Boyd's recovery has given hope to the teenagers. He is also impressed with how Boyd's friends have banded together to support each other while they try to help him. "We are all pretty upset, but we have to be strong for Boyd. He's always positive and happy, so we have to be too."END NOTES