Justin McCarthy Conteras is a 20-year-old who can walk, talk, take classes at the University of Arizona, and drive his car. It isn’t that different from any other young adult his age, except a little less than a year ago he was fighting for his life.

On Dec. 12 of last year, Justin had been traveling with some friends in Nicaragua when the motorcycle he was riding on collided with another motorcycle, who was reportedly driving without his lights on.

Justin was thousands of miles from home in a foreign country and had suffered a severe brain injury. 

After a 10-day ordeal, he arrived at University Medical Center on Dec. 22 and then was taken, via ambulance, to Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix on Jan. 6. There he underwent intense rehab according to Dianne McCarthy, Justin’s mom, who was being told he would need assistance the rest of his life, if he recovers at all. Because of that, she wasn’t sure if he was going to be approved for transfer.

“They have to be able to endure four hours of rehab a day,” said McCarthy. “Really at that time, I wanted him to go to Barrow…. I thought it was at least worth a try.”

Meanwhile, insurance companies wanted to send Justin to a nursing home. But, he was admitted and began undergoing speech, motion, thought and many other forms of therapy during a continual stay through Feb. 17. Every day, Justin stayed determined and focused on his recovery.

He started moving around in a wheelchair, then to a walker. He continued his progress to where he could walk with the assistance of a cane. Now, Justin walks unaided.

However, Justin isn’t fully recovered yet. He still has aphasia, and trouble finding words to speak during quickly moving conversations. His balance is a little off and can’t smell or taste. 

Still, he and his mom are grateful for the improvement he has made in less than a year.

“For me, I just think about what happened and how far I have come,” Justin said. “Being back in college – that is pretty good for me. “

 In the early months of this year, Dianne was there helping him through his daily routine of simply getting ready. Though he doesn’t need the minute-by-minute assistance, Justin knows of people who were in his same shape last year, and who are still in need of the nearly round-the-clock care.

Justin had youth and luck on his side along with a lot of hard work and the support of friends, family and those in the community.

“There was a lot of support from the community,” Dianne said. “We did some fundraisers and those were very successful. 

“Still in the community, there is one woman that without fail writes to Justin every week a real positive note about ‘don’t give up, you are going to come through this.’”

Those words of encouragement and being told that people have continually prayed for his recovery have really helped them through the understandably difficult year.

Moving forward as Justin and his family approach the one-year mark of his accident, they are hopeful of his continued recovery as he gradually improves to get back fully to where and who he used to be.

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