Dery Wang — described by his father as a “sunshine boy” and by his teachers as a “superstar” — had just graduated from Hunting Hills High School in June. The popular 17-year-old’s future could hardly have been more promising.
He had thought about becoming an actuary — one of those very smart people who uses theory and math and statistics to determine risk factors. Instead, he decided to study engineering, and last month he was supposed to be entering his first year at the University of Alberta.
But before that could happen, a darkness came crashing straight down onto his life path like boulders in an avalanche. It was something Dery and his devoted family and friends could never have imagined.
Very early on July 4, the young scholar, athlete and community volunteer got on his bicycle and headed to the Greyhound bus station in downtown Red Deer. He was going to spend the day with friends at the Calgary Stampede.
His parents, Lily Jin and Tommy Wang, wanted to take him to the bus, but being the physically active person he is, Dery really wanted to ride his bicycle. Later in the day he intended to bike home when he returned to Red Deer.
Dery put on his helmet and jumped on his bike to catch the 3:30 a.m. bus that would have got him to Calgary by 6 a.m. He did not get very far.
At about 3 a.m., a passersby found Dery lying on the ground at the intersection of 32nd Street and Mitchell Avenue. He had been run down from behind by a vehicle, and was so severely injured that it would later be determined he had lost almost four litres of blood. Humans have about five litres in their bodies.
The Good Samaritans who found him gave him first aid until EMS and RCMP arrived. They wouldn’t have known they were administering to a young man who was on his high school’s First Aid Team, and who had himself recently won the Best Standard First Aid Captain award in a provincial competition.
Dery suffered numerous broken bones and other injuries, but more devastating in the long-term, it would be determined that the carotid artery in his neck that supplies blood to his brain had been torn, cutting off the blood supply. As a result, he suffered major brain trauma.
A 25-year-old Red Deer man is now facing serious charges — refusing to supply a breath sample, dangerous operation of motor vehicle causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The case has begun to wind through the court system.
After Dery was found, he was rushed to Red Deer Regional Hospital, stabilized, and then flown by STARS to an Edmonton hospital.
“His parents were basically going to Edmonton while he was being flown in STARS and weren’t sure he was going to make it,” said Brian Johnson, one of Dery’s former teachers and coaches.
“He’s just an awesome young man. He’s one of my superstars academically and in my triathalon class. He was on my cross-country running team for three years.”
Dery had the second highest academic average in Grade 11, said Johnson, but his biggest attribute is he is “super positive, super outgoing and just the nicest guy you would ever meet. … An awesome kid.”
Johnson, his wife, Diana Gelden, and their daughter Megan Johnson, a former classmate of Dery’s, have been helping him and his parents ever since the incident. The Wangs immigrated to Canada from China in 2001 when Dery was three.
They also have an eight-year-old daughter, Alena.
Dery spent about a month in Edmonton, in a coma, which he was still in when he was transferred to Red Deer in August.
“All his teachers are devastated, absolutely,” said Johnson. “His parents are amazing. Every step of the way they are by his side.”
Tommy and Lily Jin Wang have been with their son every hour, every day at the Red Deer hospital, one sleeping overnight in Dery’s room, while the other helps during the day. Among his various activities, Dery happened to have been a volunteer at the hospital.
His parents have not been able to work as they tend to him. Tommy works in maintenance at the water treatment plant, and Lily Jin works for an accounting firm.
Tommy’s English isn’t perfect, and he admits he is a bit shy, but he speaks well about his son who came out of the coma about two weeks ago.
No one was sure Dery would ever wake up. Medical staff had been trying to awaken him for a month. “We just keep going. I just keep hope, thinking positive,” Tommy said.
They were so happy when Dery did awaken. Within three days he was speaking again in the two languages he knows, Chinese and English.
When Tommy is asked about how he feels right now: “I’m scared to think about that because you know before he’s very sunshine boy and he’s very outgoing. … He woke up, right now it’s 14 days, and he(’s) still like a young boy, maybe nine, 10 years old.”
“You know sometimes the nurse asks me, ‘How you are feeling?’ I don’t want (to talk) about that, because I’m scared, afraid to (think) about it, Dery’s future.”
“Yes, he’s a very good boy both in school and home … Yes, both his mom and me, (are) proud of him. Always.”
The parents, as well as others including Megan Johnson, are helping with his rehabilitation, such as showing him pictures to help him remember words. Now that he’s awake, medical staff have begun to work on Dery’s rehabilitation in earnest.
The plan now is to try and get Dery admitted to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka. He’s being assessed and on a waiting list.
It’s very hard and very stressful, Tommy admits but he wants people to know: “My wife and me, all my family, really appreciate all the persons (that have) helped Dery.”
There has been a good showing of that community support we see so often when bad things happen to good people.
Megan Johnson has been visiting Dery every other day, and she started an online fundraising campaign that raised $10,000 in the first day to help her friend and his family. The goal is to raise $30,000. As of Friday over $17,000 had been raised.
“I know he would have done this for anybody else. It’s just a way that I can help out his family because they are all very sweet and kind people.
“In the end their costs will be so much more than $30,000, it would be nice to help them out.
“He is just super kind. Very gentle. He’s extremely hard working. He’s smart to start with but then he just works incredibly hard on top of that. This past year, second semester, he took four (Advanced Placement) courses and then he also did a triathlon class before school,” said Megan.
“AP courses are incredibly hard. Like I was in his AP math class. Just for me doing one AP course was plenty hard enough. He somehow managed to do four AP courses, which is incredible. … He is now one of Canada’s AP scholars, a prestigious achievement.”
Megan was on the Hunting Hills triathlon and cross-country running teams with him, and in some of his classes. They are good friends.
“It’s a miracle that he woke up from his coma, let alone that he’s talking.”
Dery is himself — smiling, laughing, cracking jokes and paying complete attention to his rehabilitation — although he is child like, said Megan. Right now he’s enjoying Kung Fu Panda.
Some of his doctors didn’t expect him to get where he is now, said Brian Johnson.
“Yesterday (Wednesday) we played X and Os. He knew how to play, which shocked me. … You could tell he was remembering how to do it. He had the logic down.”
“All of a sudden he wakes up and he’s talking, and you know as wonderful as that sounds he still has an incredibly long road ahead of him, but at least he’s started the journey.”
Johnson and two other teachers, Sandy Cai and Sue Merry, sent out a letter in September at the school appealing for donations for the family.
Catalina Swim Club coach Mandi Smith said Dery swam with the team two years ago, and members of the club held a community fundraiser for the Wangs recently that raised more than $2,000.
“All the kids loved being around him. He’s a great kid. A really great attitude … we really liked having him around. Always the life of the party. He likes to joke around, a really great sense of humour. He always tried really hard.”
With the support of his family and the community, there seems little doubt Dery will continue to try really hard.
The online funding page for Dery can be found at gofundme.com/na3rdjkk