Dylan Williams, who turned 23 this week, sustained a devastating head injury after being hit by a car less than two years ago. The initial prognosis was grim: Scans showed extensive damage at a cellular level and injury to the areas that control arousal and alertness.
Dylan’s mother, my friend Rebecca Hubert Williams, wrote an account of his accident – and extraordinary recovery -- earlier this week for The Washington Post. Dylan finished his senior year at Tufts University Phi Beta Kappa and received an excellence award in history.
I caught up with Dylan to find out about the response to the piece and how he is doing.
Q: What has the reaction been to the piece?
It had something like 500 Likes soon after I put it on Facebook. It feels as if everybody is reading it. And I hope if anyone takes anything from my story, it’s that you shouldn’t give up.
Q: It’s been almost two years since the accident; what are you up to now?
I am back in Boston; I was short a single credit for my degree, which is frustrating, so I am taking one class in something kind of esoteric. I needed a history class, and my adviser is really great Byzantine scholar, so I am taking a Byzantine women’s history course! I’m also working 50-55 hours a week at a firm called Susquehanna Financial Group doing stock research. I spent the summer in New York doing similar research for Jim Cramer at thestreet.com.
So many people were so good to me throughout [my recovery from] the accident. Of course the accident was terrible, but the bright side is that lots of people were really kind to me and helpful. Besides just being nice, I saw how everyone works together in a time of tragedy.
Q: In the article, your mother describes you waking up, and writing messages before you could talk. What do you remember?
I don’t remember when I first woke up. I remember dreaming, I assume when I was in my coma. I do remember that I had dreams, like I was on another planet, or on the Texas/Mexico border. I had a bunch of dreams that there were things beeping around my head. I assume I was hearing the monitors.
And I remember bits and pieces from being at Mass General [where he spent almost three weeks]. I remember right before I was going to leave being interviewed by Dr. [Brian] Edlow who enrolled me in his research study.
I have one clear memory of waking up before sunrise one day and thinking about which way the Schuylkill River runs in Philadelphia. It might be West. I was thinking about that for what seemed like a long time. I don’t know why. My only connection is that it was a big river, and I grew up around there. And I was obsessively thinking about which way it ran.
Q: When were you aware how badly you had been hurt?
I think I was really aware when I got transferred [from Mass General] to Spaulding [Rehabilitation Hospital]. That was the first time I remember going outside, and I was being wheeled in a gurney. I was talking to the people and being pushed and thinking, "Wow, like I’m getting pushed; it must be serious.” That was 20 days after I got hit.
Q: Is there anything now that seems different? Any things you can’t do, or hesitate to do?
I definitely have residual effects. I lose my train of thought more often than I used to. I’ll be like, “Oh what was I saying?” I have what’s called a rubral tremor in my hands. It makes my handwriting really messy. It’s really chicken scratch. But in the grand scheme of things, I could have come out much worse!
Q: You had a huge amount of support from your friends and family.
The support system was unreal. I can remember one time when all of my friends had a dance performance on a Friday night, so they said they wouldn’t be coming to the hospital, so I hung out with the nurses. The fact I can remember that one specific night when I didn’t have friends…I had friends and family who were there all the time. I definitely attribute a lot of my recovery to them.
Q: You’re enrolled in a study. What does that involve?
What Dr. Edlow and his team are trying to do is figure out is whether there’s a tool that will predict outcomes better. So much of it seems to be educated guesses.
Q: What does it make you feel about other victims of TBI [traumatic brain injury]?
Just since I was hit, I’ve had three different people who were not my immediate friends get TBIs, and two of them died. One of them got hit by a pickup truck, and a girl who went to my high school was biking across the country and got hit by a car. And she died. I went to her funeral in the summer of 2013, and it was very haunting, to see what could have been.
I think for people who have TBI, honestly, for much of the worst part, the person who is injured isn’t aware or isn’t cogent enough to realize. It’s family and close friends who bear the brunt.
And give money to TBI research; that’s what I would always want.