■ By Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Most teenagers spend their 17th birthday with a big party, perhaps at a local pizza joint, hanging out with their friends and family, or hitting the beach, especially now that summer break is here. Nick Tusant celebrated his 17th birthday a little differently than most kids – he spent it in the acute care wing of a Loma Linda juvenile rehabilitative hospital. And for his parents, it’s an achievement worthy of a huge party.
You see, Nick was on his way to West Valley High School on March 24 when he was hit by a truck. Witness and police accounts state Nick was in the crosswalk near the intersection of Mustang Way and Morgan Hill Road when the accident occurred. The early-morning collision left him in a coma for weeks and with multiple serious injuries, including a broken pelvis, broken facial bones, partial paralysis and traumatic brain injuries. He was unresponsive at the scene and was transported by air ambulance to Riverside County Regional Medical Center Trauma Center.
The driver, Giles Gervais, 71, of Hemet, told police that he had looked down to his passenger seat to make sure he had some items with him that he was going to need for an out-of-town trip. He claimed he never saw Nick in the crosswalk. There was one eyewitness, a fellow student, who confirmed that Nick was in the crosswalk at the time of the impact. According to the police report, Gervais was found to be at fault in the collision.
Nick was in a coma for weeks, and had multiple surgeries, including a craniotomy, a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. He has made gains here and there: regaining consciousness, being able to recognize family and friends, having the ventilator removed so he could breathe on his own and occasionally taking a bite or two of soft foods such as pudding and ice cream. And on June 15, the day before his birthday, he recently hit a huge milestone in his new life – he had his trach removed. And on Monday, doctors cleared him to eat such mechanical soft foods as macaroni and cheese…and he now gets to eat three meals a day!
“All of the doctors that gave us a time table in the early stages of Nick’s condition have been wrong,” said Richard on his Facebook page. “God has his own timetable and he is speeding it up for us. He’s given Nick the strength and courage to fight this. I can’t wait until our son comes home.”
But Nick also has moments of sadness and confusion, especially when it’s time for his parents to go back home, which breaks his parents’ hearts. His mother, Jessica, confides that those times are especially difficult for her to remain strong – but that’s what mothers do – remain strong in front of and for their children.
Community steps up to support family
Well-wishers have sent Nick more than 100 cards, letters and drawings. Most are themed with his favorite heavy metal band – Metallica is a favorite – or emblazoned with characters from his favorite graphic novels.
Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Hemet donated the catering for Nick’s party on Saturday, and have also helped out in keeping Richard and Jessica fed during their daily trips to visit their son, says Richard Tusant.
“They are a great example of giving back to the community,” said Richard. And other local companies have stepped up as well.
Lillian Greenland Salon in San Jacinto recently donated 100 percent of the proceeds generated through haircuts from the month of May. Salon owner Bonnie Martinez said $260 was generated for Nick.
“Considering we are a relatively new salon, we are really happy with the amount we raised,” said Martinez. “We will also be doing a little hair makeover for Jessica at no charge to give her a little pampering.”
Jessica said that Gosch Chevrolet is helping them out in their quest for more reliable transportation, as well.
To date, Nick’s medical bills have reached a staggering $1.3 million. GoFundMe and YouCaring accounts have been set up in Nick’s name to assist with medical and rehabilitative expenses. To date, more than $8,400 has been raised, but the account has been stagnant for some time. GoFundMe takes 7.9 percent of donations as administrative fees. No donations have yet been made to the YouCaring account.
Make Nick’s day. Send funny cards and thoughts of encouragement to Nick Tusant, 3507 W. Stetson Ave., #238, Hemet, California, 92545.