A video recently posted by North Carolina Pilates teacher Laura Browning Grant, 32, received more than 3 million views in a week — but it had nothing to do with her fitness account. The video featured her husband, then-35-year-old Jonathan Grant, standing to kiss her for the first time in months.
Too special not to share… #staystrongjonnygrant
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“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,” she says of the incident she caught on film. “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.”
Less than a month before the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary in March, Laura received a nightmarish phone call. It was an emergency room nurse calling on behalf of Jon, a Navy SEAL serving as a combat medic instructor after three overseas deployments. He had been in a car accident and was unresponsive.
He’d suffered bleeding in the brain and diffuse axonal injury (DAI), a brain injury that left him in a coma. There were minor cuts and bruises to his face, arms, and legs, as well as internal injuries related to the brain injury.
In layman’s terms, his brain suffered extreme whiplash within the skull, causing the internal bleeding and related damage, according to Laura. The incident left him in a coma with a slim chance of survival, let alone a clear path to recovery. “I went into shock mode, thinking, ‘Tomorrow he is going to wake up and be fine and walk again,’ ” Laura says.
Jon didn’t wake up the next day but his body didn’t give out. Seventeen days later, he was still in a coma but squeezed Laura’s hand. “I knew that he was hearing me,” says Laura. Still, doctors said his brain damage was severe, and she didn’t know whether he’d walk or talk ever again.
By early April, Jon was in stable condition, although still technically in a coma. He was released from the hospital to a 90-day program designed to help patients regain consciousness.
Happy Easter Weekend! Thank you everyone for the prayers, love, and support. It is definitely paying off. We have now been at the rehab facility for a week and a half and the improvements are small, but daily. The program is called emerging consciousness in hopes for Jon to fully emerge and trust me he is on the right track. So thankful for the staff and doctors here and thank you to each and everyone for your continual support. #staystrongjonnygrant #hereiamtoworship @thughes77
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Laura left the couple’s home and her Pilates studio in North Carolina and moved to a hotel to be near Jon at the rehabilitation center in Richmond, Virginia.
“You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.” Oscar Wilde #staystrongjonnygrant
It wasn’t until May 16, two months after Jon’s accident, that his doctors declared him “fully emerged,” that is, conscious.
Although Jon makes progress every day, Laura still doesn’t know the extent to which he’ll recover. He now breathes on his own without a breathing tube and eats his meals puréed (but without a feeding tube) — big steps, since Jon’s living will specifies that he wouldn’t want to live without these capabilities, according to Laura.
But he remains fully dependent on others for survival, relearning basic tasks like how to dress and brush his teeth. Laura spends nine to 10 hours a day at the rehab facility, even though brain injuries can invoke anger and frustration, and Jon sometimes lashes out at his wife inadvertently. “Emotionally, it’s very hard to wonder whether he loves me,” she says.
What weighs on Laura most, though, is that Jon’s speech has yet to return. “We get a little bit of head nods and mouthing, but nothing consistent,” she says. “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.’ “
DAY 114 First off, I truly can’t thank everyone enough for all the love & support during this time. Reality is starting to sink in, but through the support of each and everyone of you I stay grounded in my faith that God has a plan ❤️ Jon is physically getting stronger. Our biggest struggle is the cognitive piece of the puzzle. Jon fights hard daily to communicate. It breaks my heart he isn’t able to express his wants, needs, etc. His whisper is getting stronger, but unfortunately it is jargon. I know if there is a way, Jon will fight through. God has a plan. #staystrongjonnygrant @kiahtheweimaraner #HeisWithUs @loveandtheoutcome
On the evening their viral video was filmed, Laura got a glimpse of the old Jon. She was shadowing a physical therapy session when his therapists invited her to join them in helping lift Jon from his wheelchair.
Laura was astonished by the post’s virality. “A lot of people [in similar situations] have reached out on how much hope it’s given them,” she says.
Due to his condition, Laura expects Jon will not be able to hold a job again. She’s still sorting out details, although she says Jon’s separation process from the military has already begun.
In the meantime, Laura has stepped away from her regular Pilates students to care for Jon. Her sister-in-law set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to cover future costs that surpass veteran benefits once Jon’s paychecks stop coming. (Laura doesn’t know when that will happen.) So far, they’ve raised nearly $65,000 of their $100,000 goal.
Beyond finances, there are still many unknowns, like whether the couple will one day be able to have kids, as they had hoped. “It depends on how much Jon recovers and whether he needs full-time care from me,” Laura says. “I don’t know if I would be able to do that and have kids, so it might not happen.”
The couple’s next step will be to move to a long-term acute rehab facility closer to their home once Jon’s application is approved by his insurance company. Until then, Laura is taking things one day at a time and is grateful for the support and encouragement from her family, Jon’s friends, and the Pilates community.
“The hardest part is reality hitting me,” Laura says. “I’m grieving the guy I married and our life, realizing the new life ahead will be just as beautiful.”
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