The family dog, Cinder, sits by the garage door sometimes waiting for the Ihde’s son, Hunter Himes, to come home.
Hunter, 14, hasn’t returned since an SUV struck him Feb. 26 in Darien while he was riding his bike home from a friend’s house.
Nearly four months later, Hunter remains at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, undergoing exhaustive therapy for injuries that doctors say will leave him permanently disabled.
“We miss him tremendously,” Hunter’s mom, Terra Ihde, said. “This is just a horrific accident that we’re still dealing with.”
Ihde misses the boy who liked to buy his clothes at Goodwill and unselfishly devoted himself to his two younger sisters, Chase, 3, and Calyn, 2. At a fair last year, Hunter won a bunch of tokens that he used to get his sister a ball rather than a prize for himself. He cared for the girls, Ihde said, like no one else.
Published June 2012
A talented athlete, Hunter started playing football at age 9 with the Downers Grove Panthers. As an eighth-grader this year he played on Lakeview Junior High's team and had aspirations to compete at the college level.
Hunter loved playing guitar and proudly owned the same electric model as Angus Young of his favorite band, AC/DC. He gave up his study hall so he could take in-school guitar lessons.
Lakeview classmates wrote letters this winter wishing Hunter well in his recovery. Almost all of them, Ihde said, focused on Hunter’s ability to make people laugh.
“No way was he an angel. He did plenty wrong,” Ihde said with a smile. “But nothing drastic.”
Ihde hasn’t spoken much publicly about the extent of Hunter’s injuries until now because of the uncertainty surrounding his recovery.
But with his discharge date from Marianjoy nearing, Ihde said she felt it was time to share his story.
“My heart dropped”
The day of the accident, Hunter spent the morning helping his mom sort clothes to give away to Goodwill. They stopped at a used bookstore to sell some things before heading home for cheeseburgers.
Hunter was anxious to get to a friend’s house and asked to leave before the family ate. Ihde said OK.
“He never came home,” she said.
Darien police called Ihde a little after 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26. They said paramedics were taking Hunter to in Downers Grove.
Ihde asked them to transport Hunter to Edwards Hospital in Naperville where she used to work as a radiation therapist.
The officer said the boy needed to go to Good Sam’s Level I Trauma Center.
“My heart dropped,” she said. After years working in a hospital, she knew that meant Hunter’s injuries were devastating.
When the SUV struck him, Hunter’s head slammed into the ground, resulting in injuries akin to shaken baby syndrome. A helmet couldn’t have prevented the damage, Ihde said.
Doctors didn’t think Hunter would survive the night. But he did.
“He’s already beaten the odds,” she said.
Traumatic brain injuries are confounding. Recovery is a series of ups and downs that often last a lifetime.
The accident destroyed all function in Hunter’s left frontal lobe, which is involved with speech, movement and personality. Parts of his brain that control autonomic functions such as breathing have recovered from serious damage.
Ihde is still absorbing the fact that Hunter will probably never walk or talk again.
“I have a disabled son,” said Ihde, letting the words settle. “I have a disabled son. It is the hardest thing to accept when you go from someone playing football and running around like crazy.”
A different daily life
Hunter spends his days at Marianjoy in therapy, practicing tasks that most of us take for granted. A therapist folds his fingers around a toothbrush each morning and moves it back and forth to help him simulate brushing his teeth. Another staff member brings in a therapy dog, which sits by Hunter's side.
Much of the rehabilitation focuses on communication and trying to get Hunter to respond to different cues. A therapist created red and green yes and no signs. For a while Hunter could move his eyes and answer simple questions with his gaze, but he recently experienced some setbacks.
The fluctuations are to be expected, Ihde said, but the hope is that Hunter’s overall recovery will continue to trend upward.
Ihde said she still calls his cell phone sometimes just to listen to his voicemail message.
“I can handle the physical disabilities,” she said. “What devastates me is if that was the last time I got to hear his voice.”
Hunter’s youngest sister, Calyn, is too little to quite understand what has happened. Chase, however, is undergoing therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The hardest part of this is not being able to clone myself,” Ihde said. “People ask if they can watch the girls, but that’s not what they need. They need their mom and Hunter needs his mom.”
Mark Ihde, Hunter’s father, is not ready to speak publicly about Hunter’s condition and is focusing his energy on a golf outing to raise money for Hunter’s recovery.
“This is his way to pay tribute to Hunter,” Terra Ihde said. “It’s not even about the money. It’s about getting everyone there and for Dad to be able to do something for Hunter.”
Hunter is scheduled to be discharged from Marianjoy around June 30, but like everything else in the Ihde familly’s life these days, that date is subject to change.
The Ihdes are in the permitting phase of building Hunter a first-floor bedroom and renovating a bathroom so it’s wheelchair accessible at their home in unincorporated Downers Grove. They’re also looking for vans that can accommodate Hunter’s wheelchair, along with two car seats.
As the discharge date nears, Ihde said she looks around Hunter’s hospital room, at the oxygen tank he needs sometimes and the feeding tube he needs always.
“I think, ‘What do I use here?’” she said. “Because I’m going to have to use all these things there.”
Community members have stepped up with dozens of fundraisers—everything from Easter egg hunts to haircut-a-thons to limo races. Orange ribbons raising awareness of Hunter's fight adorn trees and stop signs throughout Darien, Downers Grove and Woodridge. Ihde said the community's generosity and support has allowed her to take a leave of absence from work and stay by Hunter’s side.
As it’s been now for so many months, Ihde gets through the days moment by moment.
“If this had never happened to me,” she said, “never in a million years would I think I have the strength to do what I’m doing.”
The Ihdes have adopted Winston Churchill’s famous rallying cry as their own: “Never, never, never give up.”
With each milestone—when Hunter took his first breath off the ventilator, when his eyes flickered with recognition at a photo of one of his baby sisters—Ihde’s resolve continues.
“We’re still here,” she said. “We’re still fighting.”