Joe Green may never again be exactly the same boy his parents reared for 14 years — but the resemblance is almost uncanny.
At 15, Joe’s teenage years are suddenly compromised with having to relearn much of what he learned during childhood, such as names of family members and how to play ice hockey.
“(The doctors) said he will never be the same boy and he’s not,” said his father, Larry Green, 48.
“We have a new Joe,” agreed his mother, Jennifer Green.
A little more than a year ago, on July 20, 2005, Joe was struck by a car while crossing 175th Street, near Interstate 5. He was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition and spent six months in the hospital.
Parts of Joe’s right temporal lobe and right frontal lobe were removed, which control social behavior. The hope is that new pathways in Joe’s brain will form.
Day to day
The youngest of six siblings, Joe resembles most teenagers, wearing green Billabong shorts and a T-shirt. It’s the long scar extending down the back of his head that stands out.
“We are dealing with everything day-to-day,” said his mother, 49. “Everything is like a miracle.”
Joe now attends school for half a day at Shorecrest High School. He leaves at noon each day to attend physical and occupational therapy, which costs about $4,000 a month. Insurance picks up half the tab.
“For now, therapy is more important than going to school for a full day,” Jennifer Green said. “He gets tired easily.”
Even at school, Joe sometimes has trouble remembering. On the first day of class, he forgot his first name in English class. When the teacher called his name, he didn’t respond.
“It’s so annoying; I forgot my name. What’s up with that?” Joe said. “A kid forgetting his name.”
The day life changed
Joe doesn’t remember much about the accident, other than what he’s been told.
“I couldn’t do anything, I just sat in bed, unconscious; not even awake,” he said.
On that fateful morning, Joe and a family friend were walking on 175th Street near Interstate 5, where they were waiting for a ride. They were going to help work on a house owned by Joe’s uncle.
When crossing 175th Street, traveling from south to north, the driver of an Oldsmobile struck Joe in a marked crosswalk. Joe’s friend said he never saw the car coming, but heard wheels screeching and saw the vehicle strike him at a speed of 35 mph, then leave the scene.
When she received a phone call with the news, Jennifer Green was working at Safeway in North City, where she works part-time as a clerk.
Larry Green was at Pike Place Market, backing his delivery truck into the market area. Both of Joe’s parents rushed to the hospital.
Joe was in a coma for about six weeks, but wasn’t responsive for about two and a half months. He was able to eat by himself three months after the accident.
“They wanted us to put him in a skilled nursing facility,” Larry Green said, “but we would not allow that.”
“I would have broken out by now,” Joe agreed.
Joe was at Harborview for a month, Children’s Hospital for a month, came home briefly, then was sent back to Children’s Hospital for a month-long rehabilitation clinic. He was in a wheelchair until he started walking again at the end of November.
Doctors tend to not give a very positive outlook when it comes to brain injury, Larry Green said, as everyone’s recovery is very different.
“He has definitely surpassed what the doctors thought he would be like,” Jennifer Green said.
Before the accident, Joe was always “the skinny kid” with longer brown hair and a very easy-going demeanor, said his mother. Now, his hair can’t be short enough.
Due to a brain malfunction that doesn’t allow him to feel satiated, Joe is constantly hungry and has gained about 80 pounds the past few months. The condition may last for many more months.
There’s also a tendency for Joe to repeat himself and get easily worked up. His parents gently remind him to think of “rainbows and butterflies.”
Although classmates and friends visited him frequently in the hospital, many teens don’t now know how to respond to Joe, his parents said.
Joe has always loved to play soccer and ice hockey, although he’s now not supposed to play contact sports for a year. Learning how to ice skate again was one of the biggest challenges for Joe, said his father.
The first time his parents took him ice skating after the accident, they supported him all the way around the rink at Highland Ice Arena, where Joe used to spend many weekend evenings.
“It’s like looking at something and saying, ‘I’ve done this before, but how do I do it?’” Jennifer Green said. “And not remembering the steps or what it involves.”
Strength in numbers
Once a month, Jennifer Green heads to dinner with a group of other women, all of whom have brain injured children. The group is growing. Most of the mothers’ children were injured by cars while crossing in crosswalks, Jennifer Green said.
“We’ve met a lot of really neat families,” she said.
Jennifer Green was first introduced to the just-forming group when two women heard about Joe’s accident and came to the hospital to introduce themselves and offer their help. At the dinners, the mothers exchange information and tips on how to care for their recovering children. The mothers are thinking about calling themselves “Trauma Mommas” or “Tough Minded,” she said.
People donated money to the Green family and organized car washes and garage sales to help them pay bills, such as their house payment. Joe’s parents stayed with him in the hospital for four months, during which time neither worked.
Jennifer Green’s coworkers at Safeway helped raise money for the family by operating a hot dog stand. Four men who work with Larry Green took over his distributorship business so he could remain at the hospital.
“They just took over my territory and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you will have a business when you come back. Take care of your kid,’” he said.
On the one year anniversary of Joe’s accident, his family organized a vigil at the site to thank the community. Recently, the site of the accident was marked with a large banner, with a photo of Joe before the accident and another of him in the hospital.
“Neighbors and friends came over and fed the chickens,” Larry Green said. “They were fighting over who was going to do what to help us.”
Joe’s childhood best friend, Tia Townsend, was killed in a Shoreline crosswalk in 2002, at the age of 11. She was walking to school in a marked school crosswalk.
Tia’s father, David Townsend, founded Traffic Intersection Awareness (TIA), to promote safe crosswalks and driving. When Joe heard about the organization, he instantly devoted himself to helping out and even appeared in commercials.
“He was the first one in the TIA Foundation,” Larry Green said. “When he heard about it, boom.”
Hit and run
The driver of the Oldsmobile that struck Joe was Eric John King, who was 20 at the time. He pleaded guilty to hit and run and was sentenced to 29 months in jail, said Dan Donohoe, spokesperson for King County Prosecutor’s Office.
King had borrowed his friend’s car to travel to Shoreline from his home in Kenmore and was driving to Shoreline to appear in court. He had previous criminal convictions, including assault, residential burglary, theft and vehicle prowl.
“It was my turn to walk and a guy hits me … just to be late for court,” Joe said. “Just to be late for court, he makes a kid’s life hell.”
Joe may have one more surgery on his skull. Other than that, he’s on antibiotics for an infection and he takes daily supplements, such as St. John’s Wort, to calm him.
“Surgery is a bad word. It gives me goose bumps,” Joe said.
He’ll likely continue with therapy for at least two years, said his mother. And after high school, Joe speculates that he wants to either be a “marine or a cop.”
It’s uncertain how long it could take for Joe to recover.
“Nobody really knows at this point in time where it will end,” said Larry Green.