For nearly a decade, Ryan Diviney existed in a vegetative state, a beating heart inside a paralyzed body, the result of being kicked in the head during a catastrophic beating that altered the course of his young life and the lives of those who loved him.
His father, Ken, who after the attack quit his job to devote himself to Ryan’s daily care at home, was beside his son when he died Saturday, at age 29, while they drove to a hospital in Winchester, Va.
The Divineys, who reside in Ashburn, Va., had been at their West Virginia cabin for the holiday weekend when Ryan’s pulse quickened at an alarming rate and he struggled to breathe, his father recalled in a telephone interview Monday.
Ken Diviney decided to take his son to the hospital, a trip that was all too common for Ryan, who underwent a couple of dozen surgical procedures and had appeared on the brink of death at various points after two men attacked him in Morgantown, W.Va., in 2009.
As they sped toward Winchester, Ryan appeared to lose consciousness. Ken Diviney said he pulled over on the side of a road, instructed his wife to call 911 and administered CPR to his son.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Ryan had “stiffened up and his head dropped. He went limp,” his father said, his voice choked with tears. “I’m shattered. I knew it would come eventually, but I didn’t think it would hurt like this. ”
Handsome and gregarious, Ryan Diviney loved baseball and football as a youngster. An entire bookshelf in the Divineys’ family room was devoted to trophies and game balls commemorating the boy’s triumphs — a grand slam one day, a homer, triple and two singles on another.
After graduating from Broad Run High School, Ryan Diviney enrolled at West Virginia University in Morgantown, where he had ideas about going into law. Maybe he would be a judge one day, he told his parents. Or a U.S. senator.
On Nov. 7, 2009, Ryan and a friend got into a verbal altercation with a group of young men outside a Dairy Mart convenience store in Morgantown. At one point, Jonathan May, a WVU student, sneaked up behind Ryan and punched him in the face.
Ryan fell to the ground, after which Austin Vantrease, 19, kicked him in the head, using a motion that a witness compared to “punting” a football, police said. Ryan’s jaw was broken, his skull was fractured in two places, and he was bleeding from his brain.
At the hospital, doctors told Ken and Sue Diviney that they could leave their son as he was and that he would probably die. Or they could remove part of his skull, allowing his brain to swell. In either scenario, doctors said their son might not live longer than 48 hours. His parents chose to have a portion of his skull plate removed.
May was later convicted of misdemeanor battery and sentenced to a year in prison. Vantrease, who was convicted of malicious assault, spent four years in prison before being paroled in 2014.
At Vantrease’s 2010 sentencing hearing, Ken Diviney told the judge that his “fantasy” was to spend “two minutes” with his son’s attacker “in a locked room with a baseball bat.” Vantrease, Diviney said, “won’t come out in any worse condition than my son.”
Nine years later, Diviney said he remains angry at the two men who beat his son. For the past 10 years, he said, “death has always been on our doorstep, peeking in the window all the time.”
But his thoughts are also focused on friends and strangers who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ryan’s medical care over the past decade. “My soul is in debt,” he said.
His wife, Sue, an executive at Fox 5 DC, kept working after their son’s attack, in part to maintain the family’s health insurance. Their daughter, Kari, now 28, became a special-education teacher, inspired by her brother’s plight, her father said.
Ken Diviney acknowledged that he will now have to find a new focus. In the meantime, he said, he has to adjust to his son no longer being his ever-present, if silent, companion.
“After leaving the hospital the other day, I see this person driving erratically, and I said, ‘Hey, Ryan, look at how bad this driver is,’ ” he recalled. “And then I realized he wasn’t there. I’m just so used to him being there. And now he isn’t.”