- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

MOUNTAIN VIEW (AP) — The words began tumbling out of Terry Wallis — at first just a few nouns and eventually a torrent of phrases.

Mr. Wallis, who slipped into a coma after a 1984 car accident, spoke last month for the first time in 19 years to the surprise of doctors and the delight of his family.

“He started out with ‘Mom’ and surprised her and then it was ‘Pepsi’ and then it was ‘milk.’ And now it’s anything he wants to say,” Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center social director Alesha Badgley said Tuesday.

Angilee Wallis called her son’s full return to consciousness a miracle: “I couldn’t tell you my first thought, I just fell over on the floor,” she said.

Mr. Wallis, now 39, was riding with a friend in July 1984 when their car left the road and plunged into a creek. Mr. Wallis and his friend were found the next day underneath a bridge. The friend was dead and Mr. Wallis was comatose.

Mr. Wallis’ daughter, Amber, was born shortly before the accident, but he was unable to communicate directly with her for almost two decades. She is now 19 and her dad has said he wants to walk again, for her. He is a quadriplegic as a result of the crash.

“It’s been hard dealing with it, it’s been hard realizing the man I married can’t be there,” said Mr. Wallis’ wife, Sandi. “We all, the whole family, missed out on his company.”

The silence ended June 12 when Mr. Wallis uttered his first word. He was able to talk a little more a day later and has improved ever since.

His father, Jerry Wallis, said his son talks almost nonstop now, but it seems as though time stopped for him after the wreck. Mr. Wallis still believes Ronald Reagan is the president.

Mr. Wallis has asked to speak to his grandmother, who died several years ago, and even recited her phone number — something everyone else in the family had forgotten.

“You see, he’s still back in 1984,” Jerry Wallis said.

Mr. Wallis was in a deep sleep for three months after the accident, but at times he communicated by blinking or making guttural sounds — especially if he saw something he didn’t like.

“He wouldn’t drive a Chevrolet and when the commercials would come on the TV he’d have a fit. He’d shake his head from one side to the other and give some kind of hollering,” Jerry Wallis said.

Eighteen years ago, Mr. Wallis began shaking his head violently when a doctor told the family that medical bills were running about $125,000 — as if to say the price wasn’t acceptable, Jerry Wallis said.

Because his improvement was so gradual, doctors did not place a firm date on when he emerged from the coma, except to say he had fully emerged when he began speaking, Jerry Wallis said.

Perry Wallis, Mr. Wallis’ brother, said the recovery has been a relief. “Just to put it bluntly, it was pure hell to see your brother laying there, not knowing if you’ll ever talk to him again,” he said.

The timing raised eyebrows.

“It’s kind of peculiar. He wrecked on Friday the 13th and 19 years later he started talking on Friday the 13th,” Jerry Wallis said.

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