How I Was Inspired By…My Son’s Fight for Life

Lindy Michaelis of Coto de Caza tells us about her family’s nonprofit, Ryan’s Reach

My oldest son, Ryan Corbin, was 24 in 2001. He went up to the roof of his apartment building with his roommate, to get some sun. Ryan stepped over this skylight, his foot came down on it, and he fell three stories. It was an awful freak accident. When the paramedics arrived, he was laboring to breathe. His lungs had collapsed. His spleen had burst. His ribs were cracked, and he had a skull fracture.

When I got the call, I was on vacation in Spain with my husband and my other son, and it took us 24 hours to get home. By that time, the doctors had told my parents, “People in his condition don’t usually make it.” They didn’t tell us we should unplug the life support. They just said, “We would feel all right about that because we think he will probably be in a persistent vegetative state.” We decided to give him every chance to recover. We’d heard of miracles before, and we’re a family of very strong faith. We wanted the doctors to do everything they could.

He was in a coma for the better part of four months, but he didn’t just wake up like you see in movies. His body was too weak. The doctors could see him track movement across the room with his eyes. One day, his dad, Doug, was in the hospital room and kissed Ryan on the cheek. Doug came out to the waiting room and said, “I think Ryan just kissed me.” We all went into the room and we watched: Doug kissed him, Ryan turned his head and then kissed Doug on the cheek. There was no expression on his face, no talking involved. But we all got kissed. It was a landmark moment: He was in there.

Ryan was our focal point for a very long time. But eventually you come up for air, and you have to start taking care of each member of the family. That was when we decided to start Ryan’s Reach. And it just seemed like the right thing to do. It started small. My father is Pat Boone, so we began the Pat Boone and Friends Golf Classic.

We also got involved with fundraising races. For 10 years, we’ve taken the money we’ve raised from events like that and turned it into scholarships for people with brain injuries to be able to attend High Hopes Head Injury Program in Tustin. Ryan has gotten a lot of the benefits of their wonderful therapy.

I felt like “OK, we’re helping a few people, and I feel really good about it. But I just believe there’s more we’re supposed to do.” We saw caregivers who were exhausted, at the breaking point. They didn’t want to put their loved ones in a group home, but they desperately needed a break. This just weighed on me. I thought, “There’s got to be a way to open a home where there’s residence and respite care for people with brain injuries.” We found a home in Tustin, we modified it, and we’ve been licensed. We’re going to be able to provide a safe and comfortable environment for brain-injured adults so that their caregivers can have a week, or weekend, or just a few hours to come up for air.

Today Ryan lives at home. Although he still requires around-the-clock care, he is alert and happy. He can talk, sing, and answer simple questions. He has come a long way, but he still has a long way to go.
In the meantime, I pray a lot. I ask for ideas so we can do something more. And when I focus on helping others, I don’t focus on my losses. It’s a conscious choice to think of what’s been restored rather than dwelling on what’s been lost.

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