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Injured Prep Football Player Rejoins Classmates at Graduation

May 31, 1996

LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) _ Last July, Mary and Mike Theurer faced the grim task of planning a funeral for their son, who was not expected to live through the night because of brain injuries suffered in a car crash.

Ten months later, the Theurers watched with misty eyes as 17-year-old Brant, helped to his feet by a couple of his football teammates, received a special award at the Paraclete High graduation ceremony.

When Theurer, wearing a scarlet graduate’s gown and cradling a Teddy bear in his lap, was wheeled into the packed gymnasium Thursday night, the students, their friends and families greeted him with a rousing cheer. When he got the special principal’s award, he was given a standing ovation.

After teammates John Dagata and Ryan Johnson took Theurer back to the floor with the other seniors, the two hovered around his wheelchair for a few minutes, talking softly to their friend.

Johnson, Theurer’s best friend, leaned over to speak to him, then kissed his hand. Theurer smiled.

``He’s getting really, really good,″ Johnson said. ``It just shows how much prayer and hard work can do. He works harder than any of us. He’s done it himself. He’s up early every morning and working out.″

Last summer, the Paraclete fullback was returning with teammates from football camp when their car, driven by one of the players, slammed into a hill.

Theurer was thrown from the auto but none of the others in the car were seriously injured.

Dagata, who was in the rear seat with Theurer, dedicated his senior year to his injured teammate and won Paraclete athlete of the year.

``This is powerful. He’s awesome,″ Dagata said at the graduation. ``Of all the people here, he’s done the most.″

Mike Theurer said Brant, who flashed a thumbs-up after he got his award, seemed to really enjoy the evening.

``It was really neat,″ Brant’s father said Friday. ``The kids made him know that they were thinking of him and that he was still a part of everything.″

Mary Theurer considered the fact that her son had recovered enough to attend graduation a kind of miracle.

``The night of the accident, the doctor who operated on him came out and told my husband that he might not make it through the night,″ she said. ``I was in Utah and they were going to keep him on life support until I could get there.

``We were trying to decide whether Brant would want to donate his organs or not.″

Although Brant survived, he was semicomatose and there was no way to know whether he would ever be responsive, since he had severe neurological damage at the base of his brain.

But in February, he began to recognize and react to friends and family and, his mother said, even began to smile at jokes.

Brant has made slow but impressive strides toward recovery, even being able to take a few steps with assistance. He still isn’t able to talk or communicate normally, though.

When his classmates sang the alma mater Thursday night, he tried to mouth the words.

The prognosis for Theurer is uncertain, but Bob Buckley, chief of Meridian Medical Care and director of its clinical programs, said there is no way to know how far the young man might come back, adding that he already has made dramatic progress.

``He’s going to be more unpredictable regarding his recovery because he’s already in areas where we didn’t think he would be venturing,″ said Buckley, who has taken a personal hand in Theurer’s rehabilitation program at the clinic in Santa Ana, Calif.

``He seems to have a fairly coherent appreciation of his environment. He’s able to distinguish people, seems to have a good memory.″

Buckley said recovery will continue over a period of two or three years.

Asked if Theurer might return to normal, Buckley said: ``That may be a very ambitious goal.″

His mother, for one, isn’t ruling anything out.

``From 10 months ago, when he had one foot in the grave, to tonight when he’s on the stage. The boy’s a fighter,″ she said.

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