AHS grad facing long recovery

The 2001 Ashland High School yearbook is one of Michael Williams' most prized possessions. The cover is peeling and the corners bent, but it contains nearly all that is left of Williams' high school days.

Six years after being struck by a drunk driver and spending months in a coma, Michael Williams, 23, returned to Ashland last week with his yearbook to visit old friends and teachers for the first time since he moved to Texas in 2002 with his father and step-mother.

They attended the AHS Back to the Theater Night, where the students pulled Williams on stage to sing "Lean on Me," the song he was known for during his high school days.

"He had a very sensitive soul, always stopping to help people out," said theater teacher Betsy Bishop. "When he was initiated as a thespian, he did the most hilarious rendition of "I Will Survive," and the fun thing about "I Will Survive" is of course, he sure did."

Williams was deeply involved with the drama department, singing, dancing, acting and playing the piano. He played "Moonlight Sonata" at church so often it prompted churchgoers to ask if he knew any other songs.

Williams' music-making is now limited to pushing buttons for prerecorded songs on his electronic keyboard or listening to Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian tenor.

"I'd love to have him dance again. I'd love to have him play the piano, but we just don't know," said his father Peter.

Weeks after graduating from high school, the car Williams was riding in was struck on a Tuesday afternoon in Medford. It killed another passenger, Traci E. Tedaldi, and Williams spent the next year in and out of hospitals and nursing homes.

Unlike a lot of brain injury patients, Williams isn't angry, his step-mother Pat said. From the very beginning, he has had a sense of humor. The first words he said after he emerged from the coma were in French, a language he loved enough to attend an extra week of high school classes even after he graduated. Now, he keeps his parents informed of all extraneous information he can find on television, such as the weather report in Chicago.

"We have fun, but this isn't what I wanted for him," his father said. "He's never going to be the young man he was, and that saddens me terribly. But if he can get around town, get a job, meet a nice young woman and get married, that's fine. We're both 66 now, in another 10 years, we're going to be finding this real hard to do."

Despite his present limitations""Williams is confined to a wheelchair most of the time, speaks slowly, suffers occasional seizures and has poor short-term memory""he has made significant progress. He has been able to stand briefly since last fall and can walk up a flight of stairs with the help of both parents. His visit to Ashland marked his first flight since the accident, and his voice is slowly losing its monotone, allowing him to sing once again.

"I would say keep working hard at getting better," he said as his advice to people facing similar situations. And when his mother suggested "keep a sense of humor," he quickly agreed.

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