JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A local father and son have a cautionary tale for teens regarding the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Josh Brantner was an all-star athlete with a bright future, until one moment changed his life forever.
"He went all state in basketball, went all state in baseball," said Harold Lawrence, Josh's father. But Josh's favorite sport was soccer. "He loved life. He loved beautiful women. He always had a beautiful girl on his arm."
As a student at Florida State College at Jacksonville, Harold said Josh started experimenting with drugs. On September 9, 2001, Josh "decided to go to an all-night party... He climbed up in a tree and he was about 30 feet up and he slipped off of a branch and landed on a concrete driveway," Harold said.
Josh had taken ecstasy, smoked marijuana, and drank a significant amount of alcohol. Harold, a Youth Pastor at the time, was at church with the rest of their family when a group of people from the party went to the church to tell them what happened.
"This young man looked at me and he said 'Mr.Lawrence, you're probably not going to see your son alive.'"
But when they got to Shands Hospital, a security guard wouldn't let him through. "They said 'well this isn't your son.'"
Harold explained Josh was carrying a fake I.D. and the hospital was about to call that young man's parents to tell them their son was likely going to die. Eventually, Harold convinced the doctors to let him go into Josh's room.
"It didn't look like him and for a second I thought God maybe it isn't," Harold said. "But I can remember opening his eyelids and looking at his eyes and knowing it was him."
Laying lifeless on the table and supported by machines, Josh was in a coma for the next three months.
"Doctors still were at that point saying he was not going to live, that even if he did live, he was going to be in a vegetative state," Harold said.
When one day, he squeezed his mother's arm. "And I said 'Doc, that wasn't an involuntary movement.' I said 'he's coming back,'" Harold explained.
Over the next 11 months, Josh went through extensive rehab while Harold - who is technically Josh's step father - learned how to care for him.
"But he's been with me ever since he's been 18 months and so he's my son, I'll keep him I think," Harold said laughing. "I don't know what do you think kid? Yeah?" Josh holds out one finger, his sign for yes.
Today, Josh fully understands everything going on around him. He signs the alphabet to communicate. One finger means yes. Two fingers mean no.
Harold is not Josh's primary caregiver, along with Josh's mother. "A crisis in a family doesn't only effect that individual that has the crisis," Harold said. "It effects not only the family but friends and people that know you."
When asked if he loves his family, Josh holds his arms out wide signaling "a whole bunch." He can stand on his own and works out with his dad every day to gain strength and control. But it's not all work for Josh. He still loves sports and has gone water skiing and surfing thanks to some charitable organizations.
The father-son duo now tour the country, capturing hearts with Thru the Roof Ministries, sharing Josh's story and hoping to inspire teens to make different, wiser decisions.
"Take a look at my son. One decision, one night, changed his life forever," Harold said.
About 1.7 million people sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury each year. March is Brain Injury Awareness month. It's also when a lot of teens and college students go on spring break, which is why Harold says their message is crucial.
If you'd like Josh and Harold to come share their story at your school or event, you can find their contact information on their website.
First Coast News