It is, perhaps, part of a military wife’s existence to hope she never receives that phone call. For Laura Browning Grant, however, that dreaded call came on March 17, 2017. But it wasn’t from an overseas deployment. In fact, her Navy SEAL husband, Jonathan Neal Grant, had been in a serious car crash in North Carolina. And he was in a coma fighting for his life.
Laura, a 32-year-old Pilates instructor, married Jonathan in April 2012. But just weeks before their fifth wedding anniversary, Laura received a devastating phone call from a nurse working in the ER. It seemed that her husband had been involved in a car crash and, as a result, suffered life-threatening injuries.
Jonny, as he is also known, was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, serving as a combat medic instructor. On March 17, 2017, the then 35-year-old was en route to downtown Raleigh to offer medical assistance at a fire. And he was seated in the passenger seat when the driver lost control of the vehicle.
Though on the surface Jonny suffered only superficial injuries to his arms, legs and face, the internal trauma was horrific. As it transpired, he had diffuse axonal injury (DAI) and was bleeding in the brain. And by the time Laura received the nurse’s phone call, Jonny was unresponsive and had slipped into a coma.
To put it simply, DAI is severe whiplash of the brain inside the skull. According to Laura, it can lead to internal bleeding and other related complications. And so horrendous was the damage to Jonny’s brain that doctors gave him only a 10 percent chance of survival.
With no idea as to whether her husband would survive, Laura had difficulty processing the situation. As she explained to Cosmopolitan in July 2017, “I went into shock mode, thinking, ‘Tomorrow he is going to wake up and be fine and walk again.’” Sadly, though, that didn’t happen.
But two and a half weeks later, the situation started to change. Laura, who was sitting by Jonny’s side, suddenly felt her husband squeeze her hand. And though he was still in a coma, as Laura told Cosmopolitan, “I knew that he was hearing me.”
However, doctors remained cautious. Jonny’s injury was still very serious, and until he woke up it wasn’t certain whether he would ever walk or talk again. In early April, though still unconscious, Jonny was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Richmond, Virginia, to start a 90-day program in order to aid his recovery.
So Laura gave up her Pilates studio and moved into a hotel closer to her husband. And yet she began putting her knowledge as a Pilates teacher into action. Indeed, her hope was to facilitate Jonny’s recovery by using some of her own physiotherapy techniques.
In an August 2017 interview with People, Laura explained, “As soon as we got into the ICU I knew that movement was going to heal. So just lying there, his body is not going to be able to circulate correctly. So I would massage his feet every night because in Pilates we always start from the feet and go up.”
And the move, it seems, may have been an inspired one. For two weeks, Jonny showed signs that he was aware of his surroundings. And then, on May 16, two months after the accident, doctors declared Jonny “fully emerged.” That was just 30 days into his 90-day program.
It was, however, just the beginning of a much longer recovery. But according to Laura, his progress thus far alone put Jonny among the lucky 10 percent of severe DAI patients; the majority never regain consciousness. Surely, then, as a Navy SEAL, Jonny had enough fight in him to make more headway?
Over the weeks that followed, Laura regularly posted pictures and videos of Jonny’s slow recovery. Then on July 12, she shared a video filmed that day in a physio session. That video has received more than three-and-a-half million views to date. And in it, Laura can be seen engaged in a hands-on role.
In the video, Laura helps the wheelchair-using Jonny to stand. When on his feet, the Navy SEAL grabs the handrails on either side. And, standing with her husband for the first time in months, Laura gives him a kiss on the lips.
Jonny’s response to Laura’s display of affection is certainly unexpected. He immediately purses his lips and gives his wife a kiss back. And as Laura supports him to help him stand up straight, Jonny leans in and plants a series of delicate kisses on his wife’s neck.
“We hadn’t been able to stand and hold each other since before the accident, but as soon as we got him up, he started kissing my neck,” Laura told Cosmopolitan. “It gave me the chills – him kissing me back; you don’t realize how much that means until it’s almost taken away from you.”
But while it appeared that Jonny was talking to Laura in the video, speech was actually a skill that he had not reacquired. In fact, unable to stand, dress or bathe himself, he still needed full-time care. He had, however, progressed to consuming puréed food – an important step.
That’s because Jonny’s living will states that he wouldn’t want to live without the ability to breathe on his own or if a feeding tube was his only means of sustenance. Yet with Laura spending up to ten hours a day with her husband at the rehab facility, progress was made every day.
What Laura longed for, though, was to have a conversation with her husband again. She told Cosmopolitan, “We get a little bit of head nods and mouthing, but nothing consistent. I don’t have my husband to talk to. Sometimes, when I leave the hospital at the end of the day, I think, ‘I just miss my husband.’”
Though he’s still fully dependent, Jonny is currently making progress in his recovery at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. And while it’s not clear how full a recovery her husband will make, the milestone of standing with him for the first time since the accident gave Laura encouragement. As she told The Knot in July 2017, “It felt like home. It was like our first dance at our wedding.”