Hastings teen returns home two months after crashOn Monday night, Oct. 8, Brian Gapp sent a text message to a former teacher of his, Bill Ruder. Gapp was excited, he told his teacher, to visit the St. Paul Art Crawl over the coming weekend. That’s the last thing the 16-year-old Hastings boy remembers. By 10 a.m. the next day, he was nearly dead.
By: Chad Richardson, The Hastings Star-Gazette
On Monday night, Oct. 8, Brian Gapp sent a text message to a former teacher of his, Bill Ruder. Gapp was excited, he told his teacher, to visit the St. Paul Art Crawl over the coming weekend.
That’s the last thing the 16-year-old Hastings boy remembers.
By 10 a.m. the next day, he was nearly dead.
While on his way to Inver Hills Community College for post-secondary classes, Brian had apparently decided to take an alternate route. On a new road, covered in gravel, he lost control of his car, went into the ditch and hit a tree.
He sat there for one hour and 45 minutes until someone came along the scene and called an ambulance. It took another hour for Brian to be extricated from his vehicle.
The first sign that something was wrong came late that morning at the Gapp household. Brian’s mother Tina had come around the corner and saw, through her picture window, three uniformed officers approaching her door with Brian’s backpack.
They told her Brian had been in an accident, and that he was being airlifted to the hospital.
Within minutes, Tina Gapp was sitting next to Hastings officer Kyle Linscheid as he drove her to the hospital in his squad car. She called relatives and friends during the trip, not knowing what to expect when she arrived at the hospital.
When they arrived, the news was awful. Her son had severe brain trauma, multiple skull fractures, multiple facial fractures, orbital fractures, sinus fractures, glass in his lips and chin, a lacerated arm and a lacerated spleen. He was put into a coma to give his brain time to heal. It was so bad that before his parents could even see him, they had to speak to a social worker.
“He was a car wreck when we saw him,” Tina Gapp said.
So, considering all that and the unknowns that faced him during those 14 days in a coma, the Gapp family was astonished that, on Thursday, they were able to bring Brian home from the hospital. For the first time in two months, he crawled into his own bed and woke up in his own house.
“I’m pretty happy, being able to sleep in my own bed,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot better than the ones they had at the hospital.”
Challenges await Brian, this much is sure. He has trouble staying balanced, he cannot hear with his right ear and only has about 25 percent of his hearing in his left ear. His eyes are giving him fits, too. They are a bit tilted and he has double vision. The worst eye is the right eye, and he alternates which eye he wears a patch on throughout the day.
He could get surgery in a year to improve his vision and his hearing, but that will depend on a number of factors.
But based on where he was just two months ago, both he and his family are counting their blessings.
“I can still do really great things,” Brian said. “I’m definitely thrilled with my life today.”
While the entire ordeal has been overwhelming in many ways, the family has been positively impacted by the outpouring of support from the Hastings community.
“People in this community are embracing the people who are in need,” Tina Gapp said. “We feel like we are the recipients of all that goodness out there that people want to share. It has been really endearing. There are a lot of little angels out there.”
The Gapp family attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, and sincerely appreciates the prayers from that church community, and from the other church communities in Hastings.
“I’m very thankful for all the prayers,” Brian Gapp said. “It helped with all the stuff that was wrong with me.”
Brian is missing about six weeks’ worth of memories, starting from the day of the crash and continuing to about Thanksgiving.
“He can remember ‘waking up’ at some point during in-patient rehab, but as he did, it was not instant memory skills,” Tina Gapp said. “Rather, (it was) a learning process of relearning how to retrieve memory again. Therapy spent weeks of training with Brian, and he gradually came to recall things. He will always have trouble word-finding and organizing multiple thoughts, especially when fatigued.”
Brian planned to visit his classmates at Hastings High School this week. He wanted to get back to the school at least once before returning for class on Jan. 2.
He will attend school here and will apply to be a student this fall at the University of Minnesota.
He has heard that his hearing issues may actually help him get admitted to the university.
“You’re looking at the positives, huh?” Tina Gapp asked her son when he brought that up.
Brian is a music lover, and he desperately wants to get back to listening to music. The problem with his hearing, though, is that any noise that comes out of a speaker sounds terrible. His audiologist is working to get him a hearing-aid MP3 player that will essentially send music through his hearing aid. The doctor is seeking a grant for the $700 piece of equipment.
Brian had just begun playing the cello, and had to return that because the sounds it made were offensive to his hearing.
The guitar, though, was a different story.
While in the hospital, he picked up an acoustic guitar and played a beautiful song for his family.
“Play it again!” his family said.
“Play what again,” he replied.
“He didn’t remember playing it,” Tina Gapp said.
He hadn’t heard any of it, either.
His brain, though, continues to recover, and the family can now laugh about those stories in the hospital.
Tina Gapp has driven on 150th Street on several occasions to travel the area where Brian’s crash was. The crash occurred just west of Jacob Avenue, about a mile west of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
“I do it over and over,” Tina Gapp said.
Since the crash, a sign has put up on the road to mark the curve, and the speed limit in the area was reduced as well.
“They put a little sign out there for me,” Tina Gapp said. “I’m so excited.”
That her son sat in such a precarious position for so long before someone else drove by is a fact that haunts his mother to this day.
“I’m glad you don’t remember that part,” she said to Brian. “But here you are.”