To call Joe and Cecilia Detwiler of Oakville just doesn’t seem to do them justice. After what they have been through in the last 10 months, we might call Joe, who just graduated from , and Cecilia, going into her junior year at , Miracle Kids.
Every year, the Detwiler extended family gathers at a country home in St. James, MO for the Fourth of July holiday. On Independence Day 2010, Joe and Cecilia were going to drive to a nearby lake for a swim.
Cecilia said she left her swimsuit in St. James. When Joe drove her to pick it up, the Ford F250 went off the side of the road, careened down and struck a tree head-on.
Cecilia said for her it felt like forever as she and her brother were pinned in what was left of the crushed vehicle, suffering shattered bones and loss of blood. “This shouldn’t be happening,” she thought.
Emergency crews arrived on scene in hazmat suits with two helicopters ready to transport victims. Joe was pulled from the wreckage first, having suffered a traumatic brain injury, a fractured skull, collapsed lungs and a litany of other injuries. It would take two hours to extricate Cecilia from the wreck—everything below her waist had been crushed.
Their parents had to leave the scene before Cecilia was free to make the two-hour drive back to the hospital in St. Louis. Mike and Mary Detwiler’s two youngest children received their last rites.
“These injuries, you just don’t recover from the injuries they had,” Mary Detwiler said.
Liturgy of the Hours
For weeks, Cecilia’s condition was a day-to-day struggle as doctors devised a plan to save her feet from amputation. She had been in surgery four times in her first eight days in the hospital. For Joe, who was in a medically induced coma, it was months of waiting. Both of them would mark birthdays in the hospital.
It was September before Cecelia was able to stand up again. Joe needed to re-learn how to chew, how to speak.
Later that month doctors removed the tracheotomy tube that had been helping Joe breathe since the accident. “When they took the trach out, they said it was going to be many months before you would talk to your son,” Mike Detwiler said. Syllables, words, then sentences, they were told.
Hours later, a member of the De Smet faculty was saying the evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours at Joe’s bedside.
“O God, come to my aid. O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” Ronny O’Dwyer started.
“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen,” Joe said, finishing the prayer.
Getting Back On Track
Joe, the former wrestling team captain and prospective seminary student, had been within moments of losing it all. When he emerged from his coma, he was first concerned with getting back on track. To top it off, thanks to an eye injury and his redeveloping speech pattern, he sometimes looked and sounded like a pirate.
“One of my biggest worries in the hospital was, 'Dad, am I going to graduate on time?'” Joe said. His goals: run a school religious retreat, go to prom and graduate with his class.
He left the hospital in late October and resumed school part time at De Smet in January. “It was big to come back to school. I thought when I came back to school it would all be just like it was before, and I’d be thrown completely back into it, and I didn’t think I’d be ready for that.”
The family credits the De Smet and Cor Jesu communities, which have worked around therapy appointments, and continued surgery even as late as April to repair three of Joe’s brain aneurisms from strokes, to accommodate the Detwiler kids. Cecilia was in and out of school during the current academic year, and is finishing up independent study with plans to be ready to start her full junior year in the fall.
On May 15, Joe made good on his promise to graduate on time, . He attended multiple proms and had led the school retreat. He’ll attend St. Louis Community College at Meramec in the fall and work toward seminary.
On May 16, Cecilia walked unassisted for the first time.
All of their hard work in physical therapy, which continues today, has helped put broken bones back together, but there is still emotional healing taking place.
"When I see other kids playing soccer, it hurts me inside,” Cecilia said.
It also hurts when people who should know better don’t have the maturity to handle what she’s been through.
“Joe’s injuries you can’t see, but her injuries are very visible," Mary said, praising her daughter for having the chutzpah to wear shorts and go to Ted Drewes, only to hear someone say, "My God those scars are gruesome."
“That’s the hardest thing to overcome, believe it or not...not the therapy , not walking, not the pain,” Mary said.
On Sunday the Detwilers brought family, friends and hospital staff together to belatedly celebrate Joe’s 18th birthday and graduation. It was a pirate-themed party, and everyone was dressed to the nines.
Cecilia will take guitar and singing lessons this summer. The Taylor Swift fan plans to see her idol in concert, with her left leg healed and some work to be done on the right.
Doctors tell the family Joe may still have some memory issues and that it will be another year before they know where things will end with Cecilia. But their dad said he already learned what he needed to know about his kids, and the people who have come to the family’s aid over the last 10 months.
“Great things came out about great people.”