AUSTIN, Ky. — With age, many people tend to wish that they could be 17 again and revisit the joy and freedom of their youth. But for a central Kentucky man who survived a harrowing crash almost 20 years ago, he’ll seemingly be 17 forever.
“Because of my injury I will always feel 17,” he said. “My mind is stuck at 17 for the rest of my life.”
But he doesn’t consider that a bad thing.
“It's great,” he said. “That's sweeter than peanut butter.”
In 2000, Josh Gentry sustained a severe brain injury in a crash that nearly cost him his life.
Gentry, now 34, was a passenger in the backseat of a pickup that wrecked on Kentucky Route 249.
“None of us had our seat belts on. You don't think about things like that when you are young and dumb, and you think you are immortal,” he said.
Gentry hit his head on the roof of the truck's cab, taking the full impact of the crash.
He was flown to the University of Louisville Medical Center where doctors, at first, didn't expect him to live. In fact, his diagnosis was “fatal brain injury” and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates were even notified about the possibility of donating his organs.
But then his doctors decided to try surgery.
“I underwent two major brain surgeries. One on both sides of my head to remove blood clots with massive brain pressure,” Gentry said. “I spent two months in a coma in Louisville. I was hospitalized for 99 days.”
He sat across from his parents, Darrell and Patty Gentry, on their porch last week and talked about the crash and his recovery, pausing occasionally to wave at passing motorists.
The story is one he has told many times, and according to his mother, he tells it correctly even though he doesn't remember the wreck.
His story was even documented for the television medical show "Trauma: Life in the ER."
“You can Google my name and my story will come up with a few pictures of me,” he said.
Gentry attributes his recovery to his faith, as do his parents.
When he was in the hospital in Louisville, he said he turned to prayer.
“My prayer was, 'God, if you will help me and get me out of here, I will go back to Barren County and tell everybody how awesome you are,'” Gentry said. “I went past my promise and I ain't slowing down.”
Patty Gentry also believes her son's overall good health at the time of the wreck, coupled with his strong will played a role in his recovery.
When Josh was discharged from the hospital, he was sent home with a walker. A wheelchair and a set of leg braces had also been ordered, because at that point he had not yet walked on his own without the support of his physical therapists.
“We stopped at the parking lot at the high school and a lot of his friends were there, and his grandfather was standing beside him,” Patty Gentry said.
His grandfather helped him out of the truck, but then Gentry told him to let go because he thought he could walk on his own.
“He just walked to everyone of them,” Patty Gentry said. “He remembered their names. What kind of vehicle they drove. What size of motor their truck had (and) who were their girlfriends.”
His parents say he has the same personality he did before the crash, which they also believe had a lot to do with his recovery.
“He would always cut up and carry on,” Darrell Gentry said.
Gentry’s parents said there is no comparison between his condition now and the one he was in right after the wreck.
“There wasn't much hope then,” Darrell said.
Josh can stay at home by himself now. He can even prepare his own meals, but uses only the microwave due to an issue with his short-term memory that may cause him to forget to turn off the stove.
He also has no left peripheral vision, and because of that he doesn't drive.
Over the years, Gentry's condition has continued to improve.
“Josh has done a lot of the recovery himself. Things that he's done that we didn't even realize at the time were very helpful. At night before he goes to bed he always turns his radio on,” his mother said, adding they have been told music is excellent therapy for healing the brain.
Gentry is now a Baptist minister and motivational speaker, having shared his story with 160 congregations in Kentucky, one in Florida and two in Tennessee. He is also often asked to speak about the importance of wearing seat belts.
Kinslow writes for the Glasgow, Kentucky, Daily Times.