Neither Johan McHugh nor his mother remember the accident.
The family was returning home from their Thanksgiving celebration in 2012, when a car traveling in the opposite direction lost control, slammed into the highway median and flipped over, landing on top of the McHughs’ car.
The crash was catastrophic. Johan’s father, Brian, was killed. His younger brother, Lukas, suffered internal injuries. And both Johan and his mom, Inger Magnusson, suffered traumatic brain injuries.
The devastation – both emotional and physical – would be lifelong.
Johan’s injuries were the most severe: The 17-year-old was in a coma for the next three weeks and when he awoke, he couldn’t walk, eat, or drink; he wouldn’t speak for almost four months.
“He tried to use a picture board to point to what he needed. At first, we weren’t even sure he could do that,” Inger said.
It was a devastating blow for the high school senior, who was poised to graduate in the spring and begin college in the fall. He loved to socialize, was a gifted athlete, and had a knack for math and science.
Now it wasn’t clear when — or if — he would finish school. His goals suddenly focused on basic living: simple movements, such as re-learning how to swallow and eat.
In the months following the accident, Johan says, recovery often seemed like more than just a long road; it felt almost insurmountable.
“I wanted to just give up,” Johan, now 23, recalls. “But when I told my mom how I felt, she just said, ‘No, Johan, you can’t give up.’ So I kept going.”
By the spring of 2014, Johan was back home, walking with the help of a walker; but with more work to be done, he turned to Bancroft NeuroRehab in Plainsboro, New Jersey, where he began an intensive daily regimen of outpatient cognitive, speech, occupational and physical therapies.
Goal number one, recalls Yvonne Van Bochove, Johan’s physical therapist: Get Johan back to high school, and on to graduation. This required a team effort involving Johan’s therapists, his mom, and his high school’s therapists and administrators. That interdisciplinary approach made all the difference – and Johan returned to school in the fall of 2014. “Bancroft has helped me so much with everything,” Johan said. “After my injury, everything was so hard; there was so much I couldn’t do. They’ve helped me to do so much, and now I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.” The following June, to a standing ovation, Johan walked across the stage at graduation alongside his brother. With tears in their eyes, family and friends from near and far celebrated his miraculous achievement.
Today, Johan is a student at Mercer County Community College. He’s also preparing to take his next – and biggest – step toward independence: Moving out of his mom’s house into Bancroft’s residential rehabilitation program. In an environment supported by Bancroft NeuroRehab staff, Johan will work on daily living skills like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and maintaining his own schedule.
Johan’s team will be with him, all the way.
While recovery has been like climbing mountains each and every day, Inger credits Johan’s clinical team for giving both her son and their family the tools they need to continue moving forward.“The support we’ve had from them has been simply amazing,” Inger said. “My hope for him now is to have the best possible future. I hope he’ll become independent, maybe find someone to share his life with. Ultimately, it will be up to Johan to reach those goals, but we will help give him the tools to get there.”