Jack Welch update - 11/24/04

Jack Welch (Redwood Christian) is in critical condition after a car accident with his family - our prayers are with them all.

Article Last Updated: Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - 10:03:39 AM PST Family thankful to survive crash Religious faith steels resolve in coping with traumatic aftermath By Karen Holzmeister, STAFF WRITER CASTRO VALLEY -- FOR JOANIE WELCH, the word "Thanksgiving" has taken on a whole new meaning this holiday season. Last June 20, Welch and her four teenage children survived a horrific car accident on a Nevada highway. With the exception of Joanna, the eldest daughter, "all of us almost died," Welch explained, almost matter-of-factly, during a conversation last week in her Castro Valley living room. Now Welch feels her family has turned a corner. Future healing of brain and body injuries, the deeply religious Welch added, is strictly on "God's timetable." Most notably, her son Jack -- who turned 20 Friday -- has gradually emerged from a coma following the accident on June 20. Best of all, though, he may be home by Christmas. "No one but God knows how far Jack can go, and we can't presume to know what God may do," Welch explained. "There is no paralysis and his brain is intact, so the chances are good." While still under round-the-clock care at a San Jose rehabilitation facility, Jack -- who was a champion cross-country runner in high school before suffering a brain-stem injury in the accident --is beginning to move his arms and feet. His eyes are open, although he can't speak. His back is weak and he can't hold his head up yet, but he's relearning how to swallow. By blinking or by tapping buttons on a console, he responds to questions on everything from vocabulary to math to pain levels or what DVD to watch. He's regained weight lost while he was comatose, through the use of a feeding tube in his stomach. Welch, just a week out of a body brace, is praying for strength to care for her son. She has the support of her three other children, all of whom have returned to school. When able, her children participate in the sports that have defined their lives, and they are back to attending school and church. "All my children are disciplined and have so much drive," Welch said of Joanna, 19; Andrew, 17; and Christina, 16; as well as Jack. Also there for the Welches are friends that they have made since moving to Castro Valley about two years ago. The family also is receiving the support of two community churches, Redwood Christian Schools -- attended now or in the past by all four children -- and prayer groups. Meals, with enough food for two days, are still delivered to the Welch home an average of three times a week. Volunteers are installing a large window in Jack's room on the lower level of the Welches' rented home. An outdoor wheelchair ramp also will be built so Jack can leave his room through a sliding glass door and go upstairs or out to the street. The huge response of the community over the months, including the creation of a fund for medical expenses, reflects the magnitude of the close-knit family's traumatic experiences, including brain and body injuries. SUV rolls over The Welches were en route to a family funeral in June when their Toyota Land Cruiser sideswiped a semitrailer, rolled and slid, Welch remembered. Joanie Welch, 49, had a fractured neck, collapsed lung and broken ribs. She experienced two respiratory arrests and was on a breathing machine. She also had head injuries. Joanna, the driver, suffered a broken right arm and wrist. She now attends California Baptist University in Riverside, works in the administration and athletics departments, and runs cross country. Andrew also had a punctured lung and broken ribs. Ironically, he's sidelined from running cross country on the Redwood Christian cross-country team because of an unrelated stress fracture in one of his feet. Christina faces a 10- to-15-hour surgery at Stanford Medical Center to repair her pelvis, which was broken in three places and has not healed correctly. She's missing the Redwood Christian soccer program but hopes to be ready to play in the Castro Valley Soccer League next spring. Joanie Welch is juggling medical appointments for her children and herself with daily visits to Jack and the everyday duties of running a household. The children's father lives out of state. She's also in training to provide her son with the care he needs, dealing with insurance and income issues, and setting up therapy appointments locally. Power of prayer Welch said prayer gives her comfort as she and her children face an admittedly uncertain future. "When I got out of the car, (following the accident) I had the presence of mind to call people (on her cell phone) to pray for us," she recalled. "No one knew where we were, but I felt better because I believe in the power of prayer. "I want to thank the community for its help and response, and I want to keep in the forefront the need for people to continue to pray for us." Karen Holzmeister covers Castro Valley, the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, and county government for unincorporated areas. Call her at (510) 293-2478 or e-mail kholzmeister@angnewspapers.com