VINALHAVEN — In September 2011, Joey Reidy was like many other 18-year-olds around the country—he had just left home for the first time and was starting college, ready to take on the world. However, within his first week at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., Reidy was struck by a car and suffered a severe brain injury.
During those first few days after the accident, doctors didn’t know if he would survive. But he did survive, amazing doctors at every turn in his recovery. Now, three years later, Reidy has published a book about his experience called My Nightmare and How I Woke from It.
Reidy spent almost two weeks after his accident in a minimally conscious state in Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington. As he began to show signs of recovery he was moved from the surgical ICU, and was eventually taken to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston to participate in its Disorders of Consciousness Program.
“It was just what he needed,” said Reidy’s mother, Heather Reidy. Her son achieved new milestones in therapy every week, she remembered. On Halloween, therapists discovered that he could read. On Dec. 15, he said his first post-accident word, and four days later he was speaking in complete sentences.
Reidy was able to return home to Vinalhaven on Feb. 15, 2012. He spent the remainder of that year continuing therapy at home and making frequent visits to the mainland for additional therapy. In January 2013 he returned to Champlain College and stayed there for the winter and fall semesters of that year.
“It went pretty good,” Reidy said recently. “I don’t remember my grades for the winter semester. For the fall I got A’s and B’s.” However, “What happened was I was just stuck in a [wheelchair] all the time. I realized that I could never get out of the chair in college.”
At the end of the semester in December, Reidy made the difficult decision to leave school and return home to work on his physical health.
It seems to have been the right decision. Last winter, he began travelling to Lyman once a week for hippotherapy, or horse therapy. In addition, he attends rehab at Spaulding in Boston every week. By June, he was able to walk on his own, and his speech continues to improve.
However, he still has very little use of his left arm. He continues these therapies, in addition to exercises and walking at home. Reidy also attends an adaptive sports program at Spaulding that allows people with disabilities to participate in all kinds of sports. He celebrated the third anniversary of his accident by windsurfing on the Charles River and going for a bike ride.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “I like it because before this, it was just like, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. It requires two arms.’ But now it doesn’t matter.”
Reidy got the idea to write a book about his experiences while he was at Spaulding. “I just woke up in the hospital thinking ‘OK, this needs to be told in a book or something,” he said. “Once I could talk I got my parents to bring my laptop so I could type.”
His mother remembers the speech therapists encouraging the book idea.
“All the staff thought it would be a good idea,” she said.
Reidy worked on the book throughout his time in the hospital and after he went home. He continued to work on it when he returned to college and finally finished writing in the spring of 2013.
“I thought I was done a bunch of different times,” he said. “I thought I was done when I went to school, but then I wrote some more.” Finally, he sent the book to Maine Authors Publishing, which agreed to publish it. After editing the transcript, the publisher recommended a ghostwriter to help with the beginning, based on his mother’s journal, to cover the period before Joey was awake or able to communicate.
My Nightmare and How I Woke from It is available at Our Daily Bread bakery on Vinalhaven, the bookstore on Islesboro and at the giftshop at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. It can also be purchased on Amazon.
Reidy is proud of his accomplishment.
“It feels like I’ve done something good, something real,” he said. “Now though, I think I need to get famous. You sell more books that way!”