Therapy could help pill overdose victim

By DeeAnna Haney | Jun 07, 2013
Tyler Treadway fishes at the dam at Lake Junaluska with the help of his mother, Angie, and brother, Joseph.

All it took was a handful of pills to change one local Pisgah High School graduate’s life forever.

Once a happy, outgoing teen with plans to go to college and become a horse ferrier, Tyler Treadway can no longer perform any daily task on his own.

Although he can sometimes groan syllables, he is unable to communicate.

Just weeks after graduation in June 2010, the then 18-year-old Tyler took what could have been a lethal dose of Percocet and Methadone — narcotic pain killers — during a night of partying with friends.

In the early morning hours, he was found in his truck parked in a friend’s driveway, struggling to breathe. Barely clinging to life, he was rushed to the hospital, where he remained in a coma for 10 days.

He stayed there until Nov. 1, suffering from severe brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. Doctors told his mother Angie they never expected Tyler to talk, walk, eat or even breathe on his own again.

Now 21, Tyler has not been able to experience the things every young adult should have the opportunity to do — go to college, live on his own, start a career or celebrate the milestone 21st birthday.

This past February was tough for Angie as the family celebrated Tyler’s birthday. But as a constant cheerleader for her son, she holds onto the belief that he will one day have a better life — one that isn’t spent simply moving from a wheelchair to a shower chair.

After about a year and a half, Tyler began to make great strides.

From the outside looking in, his improvements may seem small, but to his mother they are milestones.

By October 2010, he was able to finally breathe without the help of an oxygen tank. After more than a year taking 20 prescriptions each day, he was down to only having to take two.

Today, Tyler can slightly move his legs, arms and head when lying in the bed. He still cannot sit up alone, but the small movement is a good sign, Angie says.

She is able to feed him some food by mouth and in the past couple of weeks, she said he is making better eye contact when people speak to him.

She continues physical therapy daily. Sometimes Angie helps him finger paint and draw and he loves listening to music, especially the banjo.

When she has the opportunity, she takes him to look at horses or tractors because she knows that makes him happy.

It’s the slight, crooked smile on his face that gives Angie the most hope, even on the worst of days.

“There’s just more in his face. He smiles at the things that he should smile at,” she said.

More than anything, she misses the son and best friend that she used to know.

“I miss talking to him,” she said. “He’s such a happy person. I want to get him where he can ride a tractor again.”

June 23 will mark the three-year anniversary of his overdose — the day that changed an entire family’s lives forever. On the anniversary last year, Angie said the family wrote prayers for Tyler on balloons and released them into the summer sky.

Her prayer this year is to raise enough money to offer Tyler a new form of therapy called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Typically used to heal flesh wounds, the treatment involves placing the patient in a chamber with 100 percent pressurized oxygen.

It’s pricey — costing somewhere between $5,000 and $9,000 depending on the location, and Medicaid will no longer pay for Tyler’s therapy.

It would also require travel either to New Orleans or Hilton Head and Tyler would undergo 40 sessions of treatment over an eight-week period.

But if she could raise the money, Angie says she will try anything that might help Tyler improve. Studies show that the treatment delivers high levels of oxygen to the brain, sometimes successfully “waking up” some of the “sleeping cells.”

She also hopes to purchase a new wheelchair for him soon — one that not only reclines like the one he has now, but also pushes him forward to a standing position.

That wheelchair would likely cost around $14,000, money that she doesn't have. But she said, "If it's going to help Tyler in any way, I'm going to find a way to do it."

After a long, cold winter Angie is happy to get Tyler outside to enjoy the sunshine. He especially likes sitting in his wheelchair next to the dam at Lake Junaluska, watching the waterfall and even fishing a little, with the help of his brother, Joseph.

“We bring him out here and he just smiles the whole time. This is the priceless kind of therapy,” she said, gesturing to the landscape at the lake.