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Long Road to Recovery for Dylan Varner

September 3, 2008

Special guest post from Jody Jaffe

I don’t know this boy or his family, but I can only imagine the hell they have been through. I’ve written this for the Weekender, where it will appear. However, not everyone reads that paper, so please pass it along to as many people as you can. And please put Dylan in your prayers.


Jody Jaffe

Long Road to Recovery for Dylan Varner

On July 8, Maren Varner got the call every parent fears. It was her husband, Glen, sobbing, frantic and confused. Something about a terrible car accident at Lee Hi and their 11-year-old son Dylan being badly hurt.

“I’m telling him to calm down,” Maren recalls. “I’m trying to get it out of him, what happened. He couldn’t remember where he was. He was just crying and saying ‘Dylan’s been hurt really bad and they’re putting him in a chopper.’ I get in my pickup truck and how I made it to Lee Hi, I don’t know.”

She says she drove from Whites Truck Stop, where she’s worked for the past 20 years, to Lee Hi, “like a crazy person.  If a cop had tried to stop me, I wouldn’t have stopped.”

The whole way there, she was thinking one thing: “How am I going to live without my baby?”

By the time she got to Lee Hi, her husband and Dylan, who would have been a sixth-grader at Rockbridge Middle School this year, were gone. A firefighter told her they’d been taken to Stonewall Jackson Hospital. “That ride from Lee Hi to Stonewall was the longest ride of my life,” Maren says.

At the hospital she was brought into the emergency room where her husband was being treated. He told her what happened. His truck, he said, had been T-boned on Route 11, coming out of Lee Hi. He’d been banged up, but not badly hurt. Their son hadn’t fared as well. Though wearing a seat belt, Dylan had hit his head on something. Perhaps a cup holder, Maren says. He was being helicoptered to the Roanoke hospital where they could better attend to head injuries.

“All I know is that they’re taking him to Roanoke, all I know is that he had a severe head injury,” Maren says.

She was driven to Roanoke in time to see Dylan being wheeled him into the prep room for surgery. “He looked just looked like my little boy sleeping.” Except for the fist-sized indentation on the left side of his head.

Maren waited for three horrible hours as the neurosurgeon operated on her son, not knowing how bad it would be. At first she recalls one of the doctors mentioning that it might just be cosmetic. No such luck. Dylan, it turned out, had suffered profound brain injury. The surgeon had to remove part of the left side of his skull, to allow for swelling. It would be put back at a later date. As for Dylan’s prognosis, Maren learned the hard, unsettling fact about brain injuries — all are different and there’s no way to accurately predict a long-term prognosis.

Maren remembers the surgeon’s words to her right after Dylan’s surgery: “The only thing I can tell you is your son is healthy and the brain normally takes over where other parts of the brain have been damaged. He has youth on his side.”

And a few other things.

This is a boy, who by all accounts, brings a smile or laugh to anyone he meets. At school, where he’s usually on the A/B honor roll, his mother says he would do or say anything to get a laugh. “His teacher would have to move him around the classroom because he was always making the other kids laugh. He’s just the clown,” his mother recalls. And a couple weeks before the accident, he’d told his mother that he’d seen their friend, Muffin Pantaze, a Lexington horse trainer, at the music store where he takes guitar lessons. His mother asked if he’d been nice and polite to her. “Of course,’ he’d said. How could you not be nice to someone named after a pastry?’

Maren laughs at the story. “It just wasn’t something you’d expect to come out of an 11-year-old’s mouth.”

In addition to Dylan’s precocious wit, he’s shown talent as a runner — he’s a member of the marathon club at Fairfield elementary school — and a budding musician. He became enthralled with the guitar after watching local musicians Dave Eakin and Steve Hoke perform at the Patisserie Cafe.  “He really fell in love with Dave and Steve after watching them play,” Maren says. “He just sat there on that chair and did not move. He was so mesmerized by what they were doing. Dave said it was a little unnerving to watch this little boy just stare at him like that.”

These are the kinds of memories that have helped Maren and her husband, Glen, who runs a 24-hour road service business, get through Dylan’s arduous and unchartered recovery. He recently returned to his Maury River road home from the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville where he and his mother have been since August 25.

Dylan spent the first two weeks after the accident in a coma, connected to a ventilator and feeding tube as his parents watched for any sign of movement. They didn’t even know if he would ever walk or talk again.

“It was really hard to see,” Maren says. “You just don’t know what it’s like, it was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through. I can’t imagine going through anything worse than this, other than losing him.”

But the time for tears is over. “I had my grief time,” Maren says. “I finally had to put that aside and do what is best for Dylan. I’ve put every ounce of energy towards getting him to where he is now. My husband has been there by his side and it’s done them a world of good, doing these therapies together. It’s healed them both.”

Dylan is now walking and talking again; he can even run on a treadmill for a half-mile. He has a ukulele in his room that he picks up to strum, but hasn’t yet started back on the guitar.

“The Kluge Center has given me my son back,” Maren says, “and they have given him his life back to him. We still have a long road ahead of us. We don’t know as far as education how that’s going to go… but he can bathe and dress himself and he can talk…. If I’m not mistaken, his first words were ‘Mountain Dew.’ ”

There have been small blessings along the way. “There haven’t been any setbacks,” Maren says, “and it has really renewed my faith in mankind and the generosity of people. We’ve gotten cards and letters and donations from people we don’t even know. Everyone has gone way beyond what I would have expected.”

There will be a benefit concert to help with Dylan’s ongoing therapy at Glen Maury Park on September 12 from 5 to 10 p.m. Featured musicians will be Breakin’ nu Ground; Dave Eakin and Steve Hoke; Mellyorah Groah and Southpaw. There will be a silent auction, face painting, games for the kids and raffles. Admission is $10 for adults, kids 13 and under are free.

Donations can be sent to:

The Dylan Varner Fund

3227 Maury River Road

Lexington, VA 24450

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 25, 2015 4:37 pm

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