Editor’s note — This is part one of a two-part series. The second part will run in Thursday’s edition of the Daily Times.
Life can stop on a dime. A single moment in time can change everything — black becomes white, light becomes dark, happiness is filled with anguishing fear and a normal life vanishes in the blink of an eye.
One year ago, a 17-year-old high-school student wanted to wash his 4-wheeler; a routine trip that changed his life forever.
On Sept. 1, 2015, Vaughn Salisbury, a West Portsmouth native, asked his mother, Kay Perry, for some money to visit the car wash as Perry was packing to visit her dad in her hometown of Evansport, Ohio. Perry’s father was battling cancer and had only a matter of days left.
Approximately 30 minutes later, the fire sirens began whistling throughout West Portsmouth. Perry, who was on the phone with her husband, Sean Perry, while she was still finishing her preparations for the trip, immediately knew something was wrong.
“I told my husband I had to go, something was wrong,” Perry said. “And then my neighbor came over and said, ‘Kay, your son has been in an accident, you need to come with me.’”
Perry, who was in shock from the sudden and tragic news, put up a brief fight before reality turned into a nightmare. — “No, he’ll be coming home.”
‘No Kay, you need to come with me right now,’ Perry’s neighbor who wasn’t particular close to the family and whose name eluded Perry was persistent, so Perry followed his lead.
Perry and her neighbor proceeded to the accident. However, as they got close, first responders refused to let the duo drive to the scene. After a brief moment of pleading, Perry jumped out of the car and proceeded on foot.
“I went running toward the ambulance and I saw his legs kicking up and down,” an emotional Perry said. “And I lost it. A friend of the family came over and pretty much carried me to his truck. He told me the cops needed to talk to me, so he needed to take me to the cops.”
Perry went over to the officers, only standing with assistance as her knees buckled after she was told Salisbury was being air lifted to Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia. Perry was told Salisbury had suffered a severe head injury but medical personnel expected him to be OK.
When Shane Perry first heard of that accident, the tragic news didn’t register with him until he found out a helicopter had been dispatched to his son’s location. Once he realized that magnitude of the situation, thoughts began to flood his mind. Was it something simple as a broken collarbone or something as severe as a spinal injury?
As he was entering a more frantic state, Shane Perry, the father of four sons, wasn’t even sure which son had been in an accident and was trying desperately to reach his wife.
“I finally got a hold of my wife and she told me, I thought, ‘Oh my God, how bad is it,” Shane Perry said.
Once Shane Perry returned to his West Portsmouth home to connect with Kay Perry, he knew the prognosis wasn’t good. He drove threw intersections, cut through the median and ran red lights; all in an attempt to get to the hospital to check on Salisbury’s condition.
Once Kay and Shane Perry arrived at Cabbell Huntington Hospital, they impatiently waited while doctors worked on Salisbury. During the wait, hospital personnel brought the family Salisbury’s clothes and personal items, which included a Red Bull and pack of cigarettes.
“After the car wash, he went over to Super-Quick. He got a Red Bull, which I still have but it’s all dented to heck,” Perry said.
Once the family was allowed to see Salisbury in the Emergency Room, he was laying on the medical bed with nothing but a sheet as the room was covered in blood. Moments later, Salisbury was taken to surgery.
“They went to take him to surgery and I said, ‘Bubby, mom’s here. I love you. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere,’” Perry said.
Once in surgery, doctors removed the left part of his skull because of swelling and bleeding issues. Salisbury also had a hole near his right eye socket. His skull was fractured in several places.
“After the Neurologist came out, he told us that if he was 40 years old, he wouldn’t have even done the surgery,” Shane Perry said.
Salisbury spent the next couple of days on a ventilator, unable to breathe on his own. That’s when the family got the news — Salisbury was going to be bed ridden the rest of his life. He was never going to be able to do any normal activities, and if he hadn’t of been coughing and gagging at the scene of the accident, he would have already been declared brain dead.
After receiving the news, the doctors gave the family the option of pulling the plug on Salisbury. The majority of the family, except Kay Perry, believed the best thing for Salisbury was to pull the plug — and let him go.
After family and friends had voiced their opinion, and expressed their concerns, Kay Perry sat down and talked to Salisbury, asking for a sign to help her keep fighting.
“I had my hand on his pillow, beside his hand, and he brought his hand up and smacked it on top of my hand,” Kay Perry said. “I said, ‘God, if that’s a sign that he’s going to be OK, let me know.’”
Kay Perry had a dilemma — either let her son die or risk him surviving, only to live in a comatose state the rest of his life.
“I knew in my heart he wouldn’t want to live this way; him being in the bed, me having to taken care of him or having to put him in a nursing home and him never being anything again,” Kay Perry said. “It was all what ifs. What if I let him go? What if I don’t let him go? Is this all he’s going to be, someone laying in a bed? If I let him go, he’d be an angel in Heaven watching over me everyday. Would he want to live the rest of his life this way, laying in a bed not knowing anything or anyone?”
After floods of emotions running through her mind, Kay Perry decided she wasn’t able to let her son go.
And the next morning, Perry woke up with doctors and nurses scattered throughout the room. As Perry began to have a panic attack, she was given the good news. Her son was breathing with the ventilator, which was Perry’s sign not to give up on her son.
“I was criticized for months because I kept him alive, I held onto him,” Perry said. “I thank God each and every day because when we came home in October, he was so comatose.”
After leaving the hospital, Salisbury has been in uncharted territory. After suffering a seizure in March, Salisbury went for a Cat Scan, which actually showed his brain was healing. To the extent of the healing or what that means for his recovery have been cloudy at best.
And while Kay Perry’s world was forever changed on that September day, she took solace in knowing she kept her son alive against all odds.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.