Tyler Simpson continuing recovery year after accident

CHESTER – Tyler Simpson is saying the Lord’s Prayer with his grandmother, but he’s saying it so fast, he confuses it with the Hail Mary.

“Our Father … full of grace,” he said.

Stopping, he starts the familiar prayer over again, this time saying it flawlessly. A big grin spreads across his face.

“Who saved you?” asked his grandmother, Anne Scarry.

“God,” Tyler said.

No one in Tyler Simpson’s family doubts that the boy is a walking miracle.

Ten months after he was hit by a trailer being pulled by a pickup truck on Carolina Avenue, Tyler, 14, is conscious and walking and talking and laughing.

“They said that I could die in surgery,” he said.

The near-fatal accident on Nov. 18, 2012, left Tyler with a traumatic brain injury and symptoms ranging from learning disabilities and impaired speech to difficulties with walking and eating.

Since his return home on June 18 – the seven-month anniversary of his accident – Tyler has been struggling to get acclimated to normal life, including school, with a small army of helpers.

He lives with his uncle and aunt, Leon and Rachael Taylor, and his cousins, Logan, 14, and Karraghan, 17, of Chester. Scarry, his maternal grandmother, is a daily, steady support. Three nurses do eight-hour rotations at the home, and friends and neighbors help out when they can.

“The community is amazing,” Rachael Taylor said. “There are a lot of wonderful people here in Chester who ask how he’s doing.”

Taylor said family friends Dave and Kim Willey, of Chester, stop by and take Tyler on car rides. Tyler, despite his disabilities, has a lot of restless energy and likes to keep moving. “All day long, he has to be walking or in the car,” she said.

The Rev. Eric Antwi, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, brings communion every other week. The family laughs when they recall how Tyler first thought Antwi, a native of Ghana, was President Obama.

Along with the emotional and spiritual support is the continuing medical care from Tyler’s pediatrician and psychiatrist, and from his speech, occupational and physical therapists. He attends therapy sessions at the Calcutta YMCA on Tuesday and Thursday.

The rest of the week, Tyler attends special education classes at Weir Middle School, where he is repeating the eighth grade. Taylor said Weir Middle School has a registered nurse and is better equipped than Oak Glen Middle School to deal with someone with a traumatic brain injury.

All the activity surrounding Tyler’s recovery has taken a toll on the family, Taylor said. Because Tyler spent a lot of time at his aunt and uncle’s house prior to the accident, the family thought it best that he return to the familiar surroundings upon his release from the hospital.

“It’s been hard on our family. The kids have taken it hard. We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Taylor said. “We’re just very blessed to have him with us.”

About that late Sunday afternoon in November, Scarry said, “Our lives changed in an instant forever.”

Scarry witnessed the accident that nearly took her grandson’s life, although she won’t discuss the details. She had driven Tyler over to the Hancock County Savings Bank after his birthday party so that he could meet some friends. He had turned 14 just two days before. His brother, sister and mother, Allison Scarry, were passengers in the car.

Tyler got out of the car and was waving to a friend named Mack, who was across the street by First Presbyterian Church. Anne Scarry insists that Tyler was not crossing the street when the accident happened.

“I wasn’t in the street at all,” Tyler said. “I was waving to Mack and then – bang! It shouldn’t have happened.”

Paramedics from Chester-Newell Ambulance found Tyler’s unresponsive body and took him to a staging area at Chester City Park, where Tyler used to love to play basketball with his friends. From there, he was flown by Air Evac Lifeteam to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he spent the next two months.

Tyler came out of a coma in early January and was transferred to the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, where he spent the next five months. Family members struggled with the lack of a hopeful prognosis, owing partly to all the unknowns that typify traumatic brain injury.

The Roman Catholic family clung, more than anything, to their faith. Scarry said she prayed the rosary daily. “It was so hard to be up there (in Pittsburgh). I never left his bedside for five months,” the grandmother said.

The family believes that Tyler’s recovery and return home was an answer to prayer. Now they’re looking for strength as they help him adjust to daily life outside the hospital.

Their Chester home must be locked down at night. Tyler can never be left alone. Friends and family take him for daily walks in his wheelchair – something that has become a familiar sight on Carolina Avenue. “Everybody knows him because they see him on the street,” Scarry said.

While Tyler can eat normal foods, he has to be reminded to chew and to swallow, Taylor said. He also gets nutrients through a gastric feeding tube, or G-tube, inserted through a small incision in his abdomen, said.

Although Tyler is getting better at communicating, he gets frustrated easily and that leads to what his family calls “meltdowns.” He can be impatient, demanding, even aggressive. “It’s just hard for him to tell you what he wants,” Taylor said. “He knows what he wants, but he can’t find the words to say it.”

In an interview, Tyler expressed sorrow at breaking an interior window above a door in the house.

Scarry said she appreciated the apology but that she doesn’t recognize her grandson anymore. “His future’s still unknown,” she said, her voice wavering with emotion. “He’s not the same kid. He’ll never be the same.”

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)