Strong keeps ambitious pace for recovering after the crash

Drew Veskauf TimesNewspapers
Washington high school senior Austin Strong, middle, poses with his parents Saturday before the prom. A benefit is set for May 23 at Countryside Banquet facility to help the Strongs pay for medical bills related to the crash.

Ambition and a positive attitude is getting Washington Community High School senior Austin Strong through the recovery after a severe car crash on Jan. 22.

Austin was following his mother, Toni Strong, in a separate vehicle after a college visit to Eureka College when his vehicle and an on-coming vehicle crashed head-on just out side of Washington on Illinois Route 24.

Since the crash, Austin has undergone six separate surgeries over the past three months.

Forty two days were spent in the hospital and now, at home, Austin is taking his rehabilitation one step at a time. But those steps are being taken quicker as Austin’s recovery continues.

Toni said he no longer needs to go to his eye doctor, plastic surgeon and orthopedic doctor but will return to his neuroscience doctor in two months to focus on memory 

and brain functioning.

In one of Austin’s surgeries, doctors removed part of his skull. Once Austin’s head injuries healed enough, doctors replaced the piece of his skull.

“It’s been the same since they put the skull piece back in. It felt bad for not even a week, but then I had sweeping pain, but other than that it’s been fine,” Austin said.

A lasting effect from his injuries is the numbness of his nose but the sense of smell is slowly making its way back. Even the stinkiest of smells are small celebrations. 

“Just a couple days a go I could finally smell what my garage smells like and the boy’s bathroom at the high school,” Austin said. “For me, I’m happy, but it’s like, ‘Ugh.’”

Toni said for the nose to fully be restored will take nine-12 months.

Austin has worked to complete therapy one section at a time, but school has been a main focus for him.

A tutor will teach Austin at his home twice a week for about two hours but the work will not apply to high school credits.

The doctors, at first, recommended just 15 minutes for the tutoring sessions.

His not-for-credit classes which are tutored are physical education, modern topics and creative writing. 

But Austin is quickly making progress and is doing more than what doctors recommend. 

“They suggested 15 minutes to a half hour and it’s definitely showing that it’s not like that,” Austin said. 

Because he is eager to continue his studies, WCHS is working with Austin so he can take two classes; Spanish and world literature.

Austin will graduate with the rest of the 2014 WCHS senior class May 18.

The opportunity to re-obtain his driver’s license could come June 20 after an evaluation by a specialist and testing. 

Aside from what seems like endless doctor visits, rehab sessions, testing and classwork, Austin is getting out more to attend WCHS sports.

“His social life is going around and supporting his friends. He’s always at the baseball games,” Toni said.

The WCHS prom was held Saturday with Austin being able to attend. He will also be going to the Metamora Township High School prom May 10.

Although he is getting out more and doing more things, Toni said he still has to take care of what he does and not to do anything strenuous.

“That’s the biggest thing with a brain injury, is that you look normal, but you can still see his scars. You look normal so you want to be a normal kid,and that’s the hard part to have to remember, and I have to put the reigns on him sometimes and say, ‘You have to slow down a little bit’,” Toni said.

Illinois Central College will be Austin’s first target in his college career. With the injuries, he will not be attending one of his colleges of choice from before.

Austin will go to school for nursing and hopes to become a nurse practitioner.

“... If something happens to somebody, I can do something about it. I want that power, that knowledge and to help others in a hospital,” Austin said. “And eventually, if you continue, you make a good salary.”

Through the difficult times since the accident, Austin’s faith has grown as well.

“It’s honestly a miracle that I’m not dead,” Austin said. “I feel like now, especially, that I’m supposed to do something. Now, I’m waiting for a sign a fromGod, which is good and bad because you can’t expect a sign. 

“(My) faith has definitely strengthened a lot,” he added.

Austin said he will be looking forward to the summer time with fishing and a possible family trip to Gulf Shores, Ala., in August.

With the medical bills from Strong’s accident in January, the community of Washington will pull together once more to help the family with medical bills.

So far, there have been two events to help the Strong family.

Hot Heads in Washington held a cut-a-thon April 27 and St. Patrick Catholic Parish held a fundraiser at the Knights of Columbus Friday.

A benefit spaghetti dinner will be May 23 Countryside Banquet Facility, 659 School St., and will have a silent auction. Tickets can be purchased at Brunk’s Sports Center, Hot Heads, Kep’s, Lindy’s, Russell’s, TeamWorks, Washington Chamber of Commerce, Washington Community Bank and Washington Park District.

A frisbee golf tournament will be May 24 at Washington Park.

All proceeds will go to the Strong for a Reason benefit.

For more information about the benefits visit or call Jill McCaughey at 645-2144.

Strong For A Reason benefits planned