Months of rehab prove effective for Nick Tusant – more hard work ahead
■ By Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Watching Nick Tusant work out is a grueling workout in and of itself. For four hours, every day, he and his team of therapists – and his parents – work and push and motivate to the point of exhaustion to rehabilitate his body and his mind in order to achieve a very important singular goal – to go home and sleep in his own bed.
It’s a goal the entire Tusant family has been working toward since March 24, the day Nick was hit by a distracted driver in the intersection of Mustang Way and Morgan Hill Road while he was walking to West Valley High School in Hemet. The driver of the truck, who lived in the neighborhood, allegedly looked down at his passenger seat prior to the collision and simply didn’t see Nick crossing the street, according to the police report.
After Nick was airlifted to Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley, his medical condition, which was initially critical, has improved over several months to the point that he was transferred to Totally Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Loma Linda. When Nick first arrived, he was awake, but not really aware, his dad Richard says. That’s changed quite a bit, because Nick now talks, jokes, laughs, complains about his exercises and even flips his dad the bird – a loving tradition in this family.
It hasn’t been an easy journey by any means. Nick was in a coma, had a tracheotomy, suffered a stroke, is paralyzed on his left side, and had a large portion of his skull on the right side of his head removed so that his brain could swell without causing permanent damage. He recently underwent an operation to put the skull flap back in, which was successful – the difference in his physical appearance is amazing, and his haircut is pretty cool, too.
“The next haircut will be a Mohawk, which we will dye red,” said mom Jessica.
Nick’s dad, Richard, is amazed at the progress his son has made, and he owes a debt of gratitude to the therapists and doctors who never gave up on him.
“His awareness really started to come back when he was on the subacute side at Totally Kids,” said Richard. “That’s when he started talking again. He started with whispers, and we taught him how to get deep into his voice, and now he talks non-stop, like every other teenager.”
His insurance recently approved Botox shots for his left arm, which should help release the muscles to allow for better therapy sessions and achieve better mobility. These therapies may cause him to stay a few weeks longer at Totally Kids, and while Nick is anxious to get home, he is willing to put in the time because it will mean a more successful recovery.
“There is a very short window to get these therapies going,” said Anthony Cadavid, director of marketing for Totally Kids. “We need to take advantage of it so Nick can make as complete a recovery as possible.”
Nick’s mom is very grateful to Totally Kids, and says the hospital and its staff are on par with CHOC Hospital as far as advanced therapies and quality of care are concerned.
“They have a biofeedback program that only CHOC has, and honestly, this facility just does not receive the credit it deserves,” said Jessica.
“Biofeedback allows him to retrain his brain to not focus on the pain of therapy, which should achieve greater [therapeutic] results,” said Cadavid. “By doing that, you are giving your body feedback that it reinterprets, and allows your body to relax. Kind of like mind over body.”
Virtual reality is another technique that allows Nick to focus elsewhere while physical or occupational therapy is occurring. He wears a headset while the therapists “torture” him, as he likes to joke, and while his least favorite activity is occupational therapy, he does love his therapists, Amber McIntire, occupational therapy assistant, and Edward Montano, physical therapy assistant.
“Getting my left hand to move is the hardest,” said Nick. “It hurts.”
While Aug. 28 is his projected release date, he may stay at Totally Kids for another few weeks after he receives his Botox shots, which are scheduled for Sept. 1.
All this hard work has a payoff coming for Nick: the whole family is planning on going to Universal Studios for an evening of horror during the Halloween season.
“We are a horror family,” says Jessica. “‘The Walking Dead’ is one of our favorite shows.”
What does Nick like best about Totally Kids?
“All the help I get,” said Nick. “And the food isn’t bad, either. But I like it when my mom and dad bring me food.”
One of Nick’s favorite treats is Popeye’s chicken and Chili’s baby back ribs, and he broke into song at the mention of ribs, singing the “I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…” jingle the chain is famous for.
What does Nick like the least? Simply put, not being home. He misses his house, his friends, his girlfriend and his cats, Stripes and Sushi.
Nick loves to read the cards and drawings people send to him. So far, he’s received more than 200 cards and letters. Now that Halloween is around the corner, and we know he likes the scary stuff, send him some Halloween cards and your scariest drawings to Nick at 3507 W. Stetson Ave., #238, Hemet, California, 92545.