Left Paralyzed in Drive-By Shooting, Riley Patient Takes His First Steps
The shooter never stopped, didn’t care and left Ty-Juan Preer for dead. But 10-year-old Ty-Juan had another plan, to not only live, but to walk again.
He was playing outside the used appliance store where his dad worked. It was spring break. Ty-Juan Preer was 8 years old, free from a week of school, free to play outside.
The bullet came out of nowhere. It hit Ty-Juan in his left arm and exited out the right side of his back. Ty-Juan fell to the ground unconscious.
The driver kept on going, never stopped, didn’t care. The driver left Ty-Juan for dead.
It was a drive-by shooting of the absolute worst kind, one that left an innocent boy, with a lifetime of dreams ahead -- shattered.
Ty-Juan would live. But he wouldn’t walk again. He wouldn’t play running back for his youth football team again. He would go to school in a wheelchair.
“He wouldn’t walk, that’s what the doctors said,” says Ty-Juan’s mom, Shenetta Preer. “But…”
But -- just one tiny glitch in what was supposed to be the master plan. Ty-Juan is feisty. He’s a fighter. He’s determined.
And this week, as he stood with his walker during physical therapy at Riley Hospital for Children, Ty-Juan put one foot after the other foot after the other foot.
Yes. Ty-Juan would walk again.
It’s been nearly two years since the shooting on March 31, 2015, that left Ty-Juan paralyzed from the waist down, without use of his trunk or his legs.
The shooter was never caught. Shenetta scoffs that such an evil monster is still on the loose. But she scoffs just for a minute, a fleeting minute, because she has something way more important to do.
Shenetta turns back to videotaping her son on her cell phone. She does it every therapy session at Riley, so Ty-Juan and his dad and Ty-Juan’s three siblings and all of their friends and family can see the incredible progress.
“Lean, step, lean, step, lean, step, two more,” Sarah Johnson says to Ty-Juan. “Big steps. Big steps. Let’s go. You’re almost there.”
Johnson is stern with Ty-Juan, but gentle. She is sweet with Ty-Juan but tough. She is Ty-Juan’s physical therapist once a week, every Thursday. She has worked at Riley for seven years. She has seen a lot of kids.
She is in awe of Ty-Juan.
“It’s easy to work hard when you’re seeing progress, when it’s easy to do stuff,” Johnson said. “Ty worked hard even when it was hard to do stuff.”
The easiest thing for Ty-Juan to do would have been to settle for what doctors said -- to stay in that wheelchair and adapt to a new life, Johnson says.
But Ty-Juan’s dream is to be a quarterback in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers. Staying in a wheelchair wasn’t part of his plan.
When Johnson is asked if that’s possible, for Ty-Juan to one day play in the NFL, Ty-Juan answers quickly with a loud “Yes.”
“We’ve done more things than we were supposed to ever do,” Johnson says. “So, I think we just keep doing stuff until we can’t anymore.”
Ty-Juan smiles at that answer. That means there is hope. There is light, maybe, down the road.
Because as big as his smile and his dimples are, don’t let them fool you.
The road has not been easy for Ty-Juan. Not one bit.
There are days, plenty of them, when Ty-Juan gets frustrated. Even this week, as he worked so hard to walk, he had to lean over fatigued. Sweat beads formed all over his face.
His body is having to learn everything over again. His body is used to spending most of the time in a wheelchair. Walking for a minute straight for Ty-Juan is like running a marathon for the rest of the world.
Johnson has seen Ty-Juan’s frustrations. There have been therapy sessions where he has gotten annoyed and angry and chosen not to talk to her. He has stared her down as she’s given him instructions.
“He might be mad, but he always does his rehab,” Johnson said. “Always.”
And it’s paid off.
In the past month, Ty-Juan took those first steps that no one thought he ever would. He said he remembers exactly how it felt.
“Good,” Ty-Juan says with a smile.
Britney Cruse, Ty-Juan’s rehab technician, remembers when he felt his abs for the first time. The strength coming back, the muscle.
“I remember he said, ‘My abs are really there,’” Cruse said. “And then, he said, ‘I’m going to really have the girls now.’”
A week ago at therapy, for the first time, Ty-Juan was able to throw and catch a football with two hands, standing up -- using that core strength and balance.
But as he tried to do it, Johnson saw a tear trickle down his face. The tear came when Ty-Juan was asked to throw it like he used to do it on the football field. That made Ty-Juan sad.
“It wasn’t the same as it used to be,” Shenetta said.
And that’s OK. Because as quickly as that tear had fallen, Ty-Juan was back smiling, with those two big dimples. He was back to joking and teasing and being feisty – and competitive.
His reward at the end of each therapy session is a game of wheelchair basketball against Johnson and Cruse.
Ty-Juan beams. He dribbles and shoots. And laughs. It’s so great to see him laugh.
As his mom watches him play basketball, she says the optimism has been there from the start with Ty-Juan.
“The second day he was in the hospital, he prayed for everybody else,” she said.
That’s how Ty-Juan is. Wanting to make everybody else happy, which his mom thinks may just be one reason he has worked so hard to walk again.
“He has the best spirit, I’ll tell you that,” Shenetta says. “The best spirit in the world.”