Paralyzed teens from New Year’s wreck improving

Published 12:05 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

NATCHEZ — For the two teenagers most seriously injured in a New Year’s Day truck accident, the last four months have been about fighting for every muscle movement they can muster.

The wreck left driver Dylan Pressgrove and backseat passenger Matthew Rymer paralyzed, though both have made improvements through rehabilitation.

Pressgrove, 17, is currently in a rehab program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a not-for-profit hospital for brain and spinal cord injuries.

He participates in a day-treatment program from 9 to 5 each day and lives with his mother Cathy Roberts in an attached apartment.

Pressgrove can’t walk or use his arms, sister-in-law Janay Perkins said, but he can flex muscles in his legs, move his thumbs and feel the front of his hands.

The break in his spine, originally believed complete, is now labeled as incomplete, said Perkins, who is married to Dylan’s brother Brandon Perkins. Incomplete spinal injuries may make significant recoveries.

Improvements may come in a three-year window, and doctors label the first six months as spinal shock, Perkins said.

The rehab team focuses not only on physical development but also on teaching patients how to be independent despite their injuries, Perkins said.

“In Atlanta, they make you do everything,” she said. “They are real aggressive. Dylan has learned to do things, and it has helped his spirits.”

Last weekend Pressgrove went on a camping trip with his therapists and other patients — and without his mom.

“The mission of Shepherd is teaching you that even though you are in a chair, you can still have a life,” Perkins said. “You can still do all the things you love to do.”

Pressgrove’s tentative discharge date from the Shepherd Center is May 15, though he may stay longer if he’s making progress.

“He is really driven now,” Perkins said. “At first we were doing everything for him, but (Shepherd) doesn’t allow that.”

Therapists have also used electrical stimulation on Pressgrove’s arms, shoulders and legs in an attempt to trigger his muscles.

“They put him on a bike and work his muscles,” Perkins said. “They stand him up a good bit, working areas that they’ve never worked.”

Rymer, 18, now home from a Jackson rehabilitation center, continues physical and occupational therapy in Natchez.

He has feeling down to his nipple line and can move his arms. He has been back to school and recently attended his senior prom.

Like Pressgrove, Rymer’s spinal break is incomplete and the next two and a half to three years will determine how much movement and feeling he’ll have.

Both teens attend Trinity Episcopal Day School and have continued their schoolwork; Rymer plans to graduate in May. Pressgrove is a junior.

Neither teen has detailed memories of the accident, though Perkins said Pressgrove remembers not being able to stop the truck and has struggled with the guilt of hurting his friends.

Trinity seniors Jennifer Scudiero and Deacon Newman and junior Cody Strickland were also injured in the wreck, but have all recovered fully.

The GMC pickup truck Pressgrove was driving smashed into a tree at the end of North Canal Street in the early morning hours of Jan. 1.

Police said after the accident that Pressgrove apparently lost control of the vehicle after topping the former railroad bed hump on Canal Street. The hump has since been lowered significantly.

Blood alcohol test results were done on Pressgrove, but the results have not been released.

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said recently that there is probable cause to charge Pressgrove with a crime, and that such an arrest would be handled at an appropriate time, according to Pressgrove’s recovery.