Injured lawmaker making progress at rehab center

LOUISVILLE — Nearly two months after suffering a critical brain injury while trying to break up a high school fight, Kentucky teacher and state lawmaker Dewayne Bunch is able to communicate, and his recovery has amazed doctors, his wife said Monday.

Bunch is able to hug and kiss his family, said his wife, Gina. The math and science teacher is fighting to recover from hitting his head on a cafeteria floor after being knocked unconscious from a punch.

"I spoke with the doctor last week, and he was amazed at the progress that Dewayne had made in this short time," Gina Bunch said in a statement released by a spokesman at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where the legislator has been treated since April 28.

"I asked him (the doctor) if Dewayne would regain at least 80 percent of everything he had, and the doctor said that that's a realistic goal and maybe even more," she added. "He's able to communicate with us now, and he has a lot of arm movement where he didn't before."

Shepherd Center spokesman Larry Bowie said Bunch is able to speak a few words at a time.

Bunch could be released from the Atlanta center by late June, Bowie said, or his stay could be extended. The center specializes in treatment and rehabilitation of people with spinal cord and brain injuries.

Once leaving Shepherd Center, Bunch is expected to continue his recovery at a rehabilitation center in Lexington, according to his wife.

A page dedicated to Bunch's recovery has been set up on Facebook and has included updates on his condition. About 5,000 people are following the Facebook page, and many have offered supportive comments.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said word of Bunch's progress was great news.

"It means a lot to us in the Kentucky House that he's making this kind of progress, given what he has gone through," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. "We're all pulling for him."

Bunch, a first-term Republican, was elected last fall after unseating a longtime GOP legislator in the spring primary. Bunch represents Whitley County and part of Laurel County in southeastern Kentucky.

Gina Bunch said the intense therapy continues even as he shows progress.

"They're working on his legs now," she said. "He is able to give us hugs and kisses now. We appreciate all of the concern from everyone, and please continue to pray for him."

Bunch, 49, was critically injured in April while rushing to stop the fight between two students as breakfast was being served at Whitley County High School in Williamsburg, where he has taught math and science for 17 years.

Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell has said that Bunch "ran right into the punch." Bunch spent more than 20 years in the Kentucky National Guard, and his House biography said he served in Iraq as a first sergeant and earned numerous honors.

The two boys involved in the fight, ages 15 and 16 at the time, were charged with one count of first-degree assault and two counts of third-degree assault. They are being held at a juvenile detention center in Eastern Kentucky.

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