There may be no family in Red Deer as focused as this particular one on the promise and possibilities that a new year can bring.
Dery Wang, a young man who nearly died last July just as his life was about to soar to new heights, and his parents Tommy and Lily Jin Wang and younger sister Alena, will go into 2016 trying not to look back.
“We can only focus on the future,” Tommy said Wednesday. And after some very dark days, that future is beginning to brighten.
The past that Tommy does not his family to dwell on relates to the early morning of July 4, when then-17-year-old Dery was run over as he rode his bicycle on the way to catch a 3:30 a.m. bus to Calgary to spend the day with friends at the Stampede.
The young and popular scholar, triathlete, leader and community volunteer was just minutes from leaving his Lancaster home when a man driving a pick-up truck hit Dery from behind at 32nd Street and Mitchell Avenue.
Dery, who was going to start his first year in engineering at the University of Alberta in September, had many serious injuries, lost four of the five litres of blood in his body, and suffered major brain trauma when the carotid artery in his neck was torn.
The end result was life-changing for Dery and his family, and the young driver too involved in the hit-and-run collision.
Eric William Petty, 26, pleaded guilty earlier in December to a charge of refusing to provide a breath sample knowing that the operation of a motor vehicle caused an accident resulting in bodily harm. He is to be sentenced on Tuesday.
After two months in a coma, Dery was eventually admitted to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka on Oct. 23. With his rehabilitation already started at Red Deer Regional Hospital, Dery will spend a year in a special program in Ponoka, trying to regain what he lost.
He home in Red Deer now through the Christmas holidays, and every day it seems he does “amazing” things, his father said.
“He’s doing good so far. Right now he can walk by himself.” They just need to watch him because sometimes his balance is off.
While Dery’s body is recovering very fast, his memory is “slowly, slowly coming back,” Tommy said.
“He keeps working hard, he knows he needs to work hard to get it back.”
Dery speaks English and Chinese. He is regaining his language skills. “He can correct my (English) spelling, my pronouncing,” Tommy said, chuckling.
He also said that Dery understands what happened to him.
“We had a talk about this.” His father told him that what happened is in the past and not to worry. “You have to focus on the future.”
“Sometimes it’s amazing,” Tommy said regarding Dery’s recovery, and tells an anecdote.
About two weeks ago when Dery was home on a weekend, the family went to Bower Mall to eat. At one point Dery, who uses a walker, had to use the washroom so they took him to the one for people with disabilities.
Then on Tuesday, Tommy and Alena went to the mall again with Dery and again he had to use the washroom. While both Tommy and Alena were momentarily distracted, Dery disappeared.
Tommy chuckles about it now, but he was extremely worried and immediately began looking for him. They found him, at the other end of the mall, in the same washroom he had only used once before. “I was so surprised. … How can he go by himself from this end to that end (of the mall).”
This week they went to the Dawe Centre swimming pool. Dery has already learned again to do the backstroke but Tommy wanted to teach him to do front stroke and freestyle. Automatically Dery knew how to breathe for freestyle.
“It’s really amazing,” Tommy said, clearly delighted with the continuing positive signs of his son’s recovery.
Dery’s 18th birthday was Dec. 23. They had a party for him, and there have been many other holiday gatherings. School friends all came over to visit, talking and playing games late into the evening, Tommy said.
There has been strong community support for the family. Online funding and other donations have raised about $35,000. Tommy said the money will be used to “fill in the gap” between Dery being discharged from the Centennial Centre in Ponoka and returning to school.
“We want him to go to university.”
His family is very thankful for all the support, mentioning especially the City of Red Deer employees he works with and the Red Deer Chinese Christian Church.
The crash “damaged two young guys’ lives. I was so sad. … There’s nothing right for this case either for (Petty) or for Dery. It’s a terrible thing.”
Tommy will not be in court when Petty is sentenced. It’s too emotional for him and he wants his family moving forward with continued optimism and devotion to Dery’s full recovery.