Lives can be changed in an instant. One second everything can be going wonderfully with a new baby, new house, a raise at work, or winning the lotto; the next, and the whole thing can come tumbling down. That very thing happened to recent high school graduate and new dad Terry Wallis of Arkansas.
When Terry Wallis went out into the hills to go fishing with his best friend, he had no idea that it would be the very last time he’d ever drive down those mountain roads. Terry’s life would be forever changed by one wrong turn…
Terry Wallis was a country man. Living in the rugged, Ozark Mountains of rural Arkansas. Terry drove a pickup truck, worked with his hands, and fished with his friends. By the time he was 19, Wallis was already forming a family of his own. His younger 17-year-old wife, Sandi, had recently given birth to a little girl named Amber.
In July of 1984, Terry Wallis and his friend were on their way into the mountains for some much-needed time in the country. They were driving in Wallis’ pickup truck when suddenly the vehicle lost control and veered off the road. Before either man could steady the truck, it plunged into a creek, taking both men down with it…
Emergency workers got to work to pull the truck out of the creekbed as soon as possible. Sadly, Terry’s friend was killed in the crash. Terry meanwhile, was pulled from the water still breathing. Unfortunately, that much time underwater had caused irreparable brain damage. Doctors declared that Terry Wallis was in a persistent vegetative state and would never recover.
A Mother’s Love
Terry’s parents were completely distraught, their perfect, strong young son, a man who was about to start his family, had his life stolen out from under him. His mother, Angilee, was the first to be by his side. She was a pillar of strength and hope. But hope alone cannot undo what had been done…
Asleep and Alive
After receiving the diagnosis, Wallis’ parents put him in the Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre so that he could be properly cared for at all times. Despite the fact that the doctors repeatedly told her there was no hope of recovery, Angilee visited her son at least twice a week. They even brought him home for weekends sometimes and for holidays.
For nearly two decades, Angilee and her husband cared for their comatose son. They knew deep down that he’d never wake up, that he would never be the same as he was before he’d careened into that lake, but he was still their little boy. Angilee would sit by his side and speak to him, until one day, he finally spoke back…
On June 11, 2003, the comatose Terry moved his eyes over to his mother, who was sitting on his bed and reading to him and uttered the word “mom.” It was a miracle. The doctors had been sure that Terry’s brain damage was so extensive as to rob him of all higher brain functions. Before long though, he was asking for things like milk, hamburgers, and even a glass of Pepsi.
Mind’s All There
It eventually got to the point where he was speaking in full sentences as well. Soon he was recollecting childhood memories of life on their small farm, his chores like feeding the pigs, even his marriage to Sandi and his six-month-old daughter, Amber. Then they told him how much time at passed…
Terry had a hard time grasping that it was 2003. So much had changed in the past 19 years. He’d gone through three presidents, missed the September 11 attacks and both wars in Iraq. He didn’t even know who N’Sync was! All of the new information was just the tip of the iceberg; the worst news was yet to come.
When he asked for his wife, the truth finally came out. Terry’s parents had been in a bitter feud with Sandi and his daughter ever since the accident. As soon as his comatose form was taken out of that river bed, his parents went to court to claim exclusive “guardianship” of their son, essentially cutting Sandi and Amber out of his life…
“I have not been allowed to see him once in all these years, and I’m still not allowed to now,” said Sandi, who was now 36. Despite their many years apart, Sandi has never remarried. She is still legally his wife, and Amber their daughter. Regardless of his parents’ selfish desires, she had held on to her love for him.
Move On, Sandi
Terry’s parents claim that they sent Sandi a letter following the incident indicating that her husband had been paralyzed from the neck down, but made no indication of his brain damage. They told her that she had to “move on.” They didn’t want anything to do with her or their grandaughter. When Terry woke and found out, he was devastated…
There was more bad news to come. In the years that Sandi was barred from seeing her husband, she sought companionship with another man: a married man named Mike. She wouldn’t marry Mike because she was married to Terry, but that didn’t stop her from having three of his children.
The Plot Thickens
Sandi and Mike’s three children, who are now aged 16, 15 and 14, live with Mike and his wife, Eleanor and they are all aware of the situation and happy with it. The kids call both Sandi and Eleanor “Mom” but understand the differences between them. As for Terry Wallis’ daughter, Amber…well that was more unwelcome news…
When 19-year-old Amber finally found a way to see her father in the hospital and circumnavigate her terrible grandparents, she was to find her dad a much-changed man. The two knew each other immediately, but their tearful reunion was marred slightly when Amber explained to her father that the beautiful young girl worked as a striptease dancer for a living.
It didn’t matter in the end though. Terry was so amazed by how beautiful his little girl had turned out to be that he couldn’t help but tell her multiple times how pretty she was. “You’re beautiful,” he said, and she responded, tearfully, “I love you, Dad.” It was a reunion worth waiting for. The question remained, how had he woken up and how had he broken through in the first place?
Terry Wallis was still paralyzed from the neck down, but his mind was now in perfect working order. For the most part, doctors are unsure why he woke up. Nevertheless, experts have studied his case extensively. Doctors were able to employ the latest medical imaging techniques and glean new insight into how Terry’s brain healed.
Using cutting-edge imaging techniques, scientists were able to examine how Wallis’ brain had repaired itself. Over the 19 years that Terry convalesced, his brain effectively “grew” new connections and essentially rewired itself in the same way it had been before he sustained the damage. Once there were enough connections, his brain simply, rebooted…
Though there had been some gradual improvement of brain function in the months and years following the accident, Terry’s condition was never supposed to improve to the amount that it did. His miraculous healing made him a worldwide celebrity, and he also became a scientific legend.
Today, Sandi has vowed that she will see her husband. She wants to explain everything that happened and knows that he’ll understand. She refused to be cut out any longer. “I am married to Terry, and I plan on staying that way…I am going to get a guardianship deal and live with my husband once and for all…”