Every night, Tina Portwood crawls into bed next to her 37-year-old son Mark and holds him.
Mark Portwood sustained a traumatic brain injury in a truck accident in 2003. He cannot speak or walk. A feeding tube provides nutrition.
“He just stares,” his mother said of the man she calls “Big Mark.”
On Monday, Tina Portwood found herself at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, reliving her nightmare.
Mark Portwood’s only child, 15-year-old “Little Mark,” suffered a head injury after being hit by a car while walking to Lafayette High School on Monday morning.
It was Big Mark’s 37th birthday.
“I prayed all the way to the hospital, ‘Please, don’t let it be a brain injury,’” Tina Portwood said. “When I seen him, I knew that he had a brain injury.”
Little Mark has a severe concussion, she said doctors have told them, as well as a broken collarbone.
“It’s going to be a long recovery for him. It could be up to a year,” she said, and the family does not know whether his learning abilities will be affected.
She described her grandson, who lives with his mother, as “very intelligent,” a chatterbox who loves playing guitar. At school, friends call him Edd, since his middle name is Edward.
For years, the family called him “Baby Mark,” until a few years back, when he announced that he was no longer a baby and became his grandmother’s “Little Mark.”
His grandmother said he looks and acts “just like his daddy.”
Little Mark was a baby riding in a car seat that was knocked into the floorboard on the day Big Mark’s truck crashed in 2003.
Tina Portwood said the child suffered black eyes and a broken wrist in the crash that left his father forever changed.
“He’s been through so much,” she said, “and needed a daddy.”
Tina Portwood and her husband, Eugene, who is disabled, care for Big Mark in their home and have advocated for his medical needs ever since the crash.
“We’ve been doing this for 13 years,” Tina Portwood said.
For at least one wonderful day in 2005, Tina Portwood got her son back. Big Mark was hospitalized because of a medication error and unexpectedly “woke up.” He was able to converse as he had before the crash, tell his mother he loved her, crack jokes. But then he lapsed back into his former state.
About a year later, Tina Portwood said, they took Big Mark to New Jersey for evaluation with the help of The Timbo Fund, which helps families affected by traumatic brain injury.
Tina Portwood said Big Mark made amazing progress in the years that followed until he suffered a fall, was taken to a hospital to be checked out and experienced problems getting the medicine he needed while there.
Big Mark came home from the hospital on a ventilator, no longer able to respond at all.
The family later reached a settlement with the hospital, Portwood said, and the proceeds were put in trust for his care.
Tina Portwood said the loss of her spirited, joke-cracking son has never gone away.
“I’m heartbroken,” she said.
And now, there is this new heartache.
During her time at the hospital Tuesday, Portwood said Little Mark was “agitated” and “out of it,” awake but very confused and upset. The behavior was like something she had seen before.
And so, Tina Portwood did the thing that came naturally to her, after so many years of practice.
“I did him just like I do Big Mark,” she said. “I crawled up there beside him.”