SPEAKING AGAIN - Ricky Lee Hayes, center, who had been unable to talk as a result of serious injuries in a 2006 collision, is now able to talk following surgery by Dr. Barry Ellis at Wilkes Regional Medical Center. With him are his parents, John and Helen Hayes.
When you first meet Ricky Lee Hayes, you'll almost certainly get a broad smile, and he'll probably ask, "How you doing?" Chances are, he'll want to talk about the Carolina Tar Heel basketball team. It won't take long to realize that he loves to talk.
But what you won't realize is that he was very nearly killed in a head-on collision on Aug. 10, 2006, and that his family was told he probably would not make it through the night. He suffered multiple body fractures, broke the bones in the left side of his face, and sustained brain trauma.
Hayes survived, but his family was then told that his vocal cords had been virtually destroyed, and that he would more than likely never speak again. But now, following surgery at Wilkes Regional Medical Center (WRMC) performed by Dr. Barry Ellis of Boone, he can indeed talk, and enjoys speaking to anyone who passes.
Near fatal wreck
Hayes was a passenger in a pickup truck that was involved in a collision on Bethany Ford Road. He had been collecting scrap metal on a day when he wasn't helping his father with his logging business. The driver of the truck was killed.
His parents, Helen and John Hayes, were given the sobering news after their son's initial examination at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. He survived the night and began slow recovery, spending several weeks on a ventilator.
Mr. Hayes remembers that the doctors said his son "would be a vegetable if he survived. But he proved them wrong," The younger Hayes, with a smile, said, "thank God I made it."
Hayes not only doesn't remember the wreck, but he lost almost all memory of his life prior to the wreck. He said, "I can remember helping my dad work but I don't really remember anything else." His mother added, "you have to prompt him for memories."
Hayes was eventually transferred to a long-term center in Winston and, after seven months, transferred to another facility in Hickory. After he had spent several months there, his parents got a call - on Sept. 28, 2007 - saying that their son had pulled out his tracheotomy tube and was being taken to the emergency room.
"At that point, we knew he couldn't have even reached his throat," said Mrs. Hayes. "The emergency room staff told us that the tube had been put in backward." "We decided right then and there that Ricky was coming back to Wilkes County with us," said Mrs. Hayes. "The emergency room doctors told us that they could not transfer him, and that we would be taking full responsibility for anything that happened if we took him with us. But we brought him back with us."
Usually, Mr. Hayes said, he and his wife traveled to Hickory in a pickup. With that, they certainly could not have brought their son home. "By chance that night, we had taken our van, and our two daughters went with us," said Mr. Hayes.
After a few moments, he said, "Do you really want to know what happened? It wasn’t by chance. The voice of God told me to take the van. When we called our daughters, they told us to stop and pick them up."
Hayes was in good hands. One sister, Marcela Williams, is an emergency room secretary/tech at Wilkes Regional Medical Center, so she stayed in contract with her co-workers here, advising them of her brother's vital signs while they were en route. The Wilkes EMS was on standby to meet Hayes with an ambulance should complications arise during the trip.
His other sister, Temeka Hayes, is a social worker with the Department of Social Services, and she was able to help her brother get a room at Avantè in Wilkesboro. Recovery continues at Avantè, the recovery process that had slowed at one point took a turn for the better. Mrs. Hayes said, "There was a big improvement. His demeanor changed, and he was happy."
Hayes was still having trouble communicating with his family. "I tried to write notes," he said, "but it was hard to tell them what I wanted."But his mother said, "We couldn't read the notes. It was scribbling."
Care for his trach tube was assumed by Dr. Ellis. After examination and an operation to clear scar tissue, the doctor determined that there might be a chance for Hayes to once again speak. "Dr Ellis said he would try," said Mrs. Hayes. "He always left us with hope, so we gave him permission to see if there was anything he could do." "I never gave up hope, " added his father. "I had faith."
Ellis, who has an office in North Wilkesboro and performs surgical procedures at WRMC, said that the wreck, along with the treatment (with the ventilator) and procedures that followed resulted in a buildup of scar tissue that closed the airway, preventing Hayes from speaking or breathing through his mouth.
"Ricky was totally dependent on his trach tube at that point," said Ellis. "I told his mother we wouldn't give up, so we started a series of procedures." It took three operations but, as Evans said, "through some luck, some experience and some skill, we were able to get the airway open so Ricky could breathe and talk through his mouth" by November. Hayes was able to speak immediately after the operation.
Mrs. Hayes remembers, "We had a very happy Thanksgiving."
One additional procedure is needed to make a few final adjustments in the trach tube though it is not currently being used. "Ricky is breathing totally through his mouth and nose," said Ellis. "The trach tube is plugged, and it's there as a safety valve in case he needs it."
While the Hayes family views the progress as a form of divine intervention, Ellis said, "I can't discount that but I do know it was a statistical miracle considering the chances he was originally given of speaking and breathing normally again."
Now" Hayes can talk to everyone." It feels great," he said. "I've had a lot to say since the operation. I had divine help, and help from Dr. Ellis." Hayes had begun walking again, with aid from a walker, but is now confined to a wheelchair after falling out of bed and injuring his left foot recently.
Though he hopes to be able to walk again soon, Hayes will probably remain in Avantè as his parents cannot care for him at home. His father was seriously injured in a logging accident on Dec. 30, 2008, and his mother is battling breast cancer. "We could take him to church and on other short trips before we had our problems, " said Mr. Hayes.
Hayes isn't afraid to talk with anyone and everyone who passes. After all, he has nearly 3-1/2 years to make up for. He even jokes and harmlessly flirts with women who pass by. As his mother said, "Once he was able to talk, it was hard to keep him quiet. He's a charmer."