It’s the call every parent fears where you are told your child has been injured in an accident.
On Dec. 12, Dianne McCarthy received the call at 2 a.m., only it wasn’t from a local police station or hospital, it was the U.S. Embassy calling to inform her that her 19-year-old son, Justin McCarthy Contreras, had been severely injured in a motorcycle accident in Nicaragua.
Sitting in her Oro Valley home, McCarthy said the U.S. officials were telling her Justin had suffered a severe brain injury, and had lost a lot of blood. She was being asked what she wanted to do.
“They are telling me all of this, but all I was trying to do at that point was catch a flight to see my son,” said McCarthy. “I was doing all this, and trying to make all these decisions for my son.”
Justin had been traveling with some friends from Guatamala, where he had just completed a semester abroad to Costa Rica, and was set in meet with his mom in a few days to return to Arizona for the holidays.
In the Dec. 12 accident, Justin, a 2010 Ironwood High School graduate, was riding a motorcycle when he collided with another motorcycle, who was reportedly driving without his lights on.
Justin sustained a severe head injury, and a fractured femur (thigh bone).
McCarthy’s primary goal was to get her son home, and on Dec. 20 he was flown by air ambulance to University Medical Center in Tucson.
Last week, McCarthy said her son is showing signs of improvement, as he moves around in his bed trying to get comfortable.
For the first two weeks, Justin wasn’t able to breathe or eat on his own, let alone move.
However, while in the hospital last week a ball made from medical tape helped show significant signs of improvement.
On Dec. 29, Justin showed improvement when he followed some doctor’s commands with his mom and twin sister, Shannon McCarthy-Contreras watching.
Justin was asked to grab hold of the makeshift ball, which he was able to do. He was then asked to pass the ball from his left hand to his right hand, which he was also able to do. He also passed the ball to his mother when asked.
All of these actions are substantial improvements, considering his past few weeks of immobility.
When he wasn’t working on his hand-eye coordination, Justin was adjusting himself in his bed, attempting to lie on his stomach.
“He always sleeps on his stomach,” his sister noted as Justin continued to roll over, but was constrained by a feeding tube, a brace on his left leg and a slight bend in the bed, making it nearly impossible for him to be able to turn over.
Shannon said it’s hard to watch her brother, who she is so close to, go through this.
“Justin is my best friend. We have the kind of connection you just don’t have with another human being,” she said. “There are really no words to describe how hard this entire event has been on me, but I have more faith in Justin and his recovery than anyone I know.”
As McCarthy and Shannon focus on getting Justin better, the medical bills and air costs have increased. Just to fly Justin home to Tucson cost the family $48,000.
McCarthy said it’s like she cannot wake up from a nightmare. She spends day and night with her son at the hospital, while others have started fundraising efforts to assist the family in a tough time.
The website justinrecovers.bbnow.org has been set up where everyone can get updates and Justin’s status, and submit donations to the family.
(Editor’s Note: Randy Metcalf contributed to this story.)