Hemet High student in coma ‘a fighter,’ loved ones say

Hemet High student in coma ‘a fighter,’ loved ones say

The only student still hospitalized after a truck slammed into them May 30, she’s shown a little progress, the family reveals


STAFF WRITER kpearson@pe.com  

The day Helen Richardson was born, 16 years ago this month, the newborn fell asleep as soon as her mother first held her.

For the past week, Trisha Telezinski has been holding her daughter, hoping she will wake up.

Helen, who recently completed her freshman year at Hemet High School, suffered a severe brain injury May 30 when a pickup hit her in a crosswalk in front of the campus.

The most critically injured of eight students hurt, Helen has spent most of the past eight days in a coma at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley.

But her friends and family say she’s a fighter, and her mother says Helen has shown signs of improvement.

Her breathing tube was removed Wednesday, which doc- tors described as progress. She also has opened her eyes several times.

During an hourlong interview Wednesday, Telezinski smiled and laughed as she talked about her daughter, who has a deep love of horseback riding and has spent summers helping special-needs youths learn to ride. Stubborn, fearless and athletic, she would often go rock climbing with her stepfather, and loves her longboard skateboarding, too.

Now, her mother simply hopes Helen will walk again one day.

“I’m not saying she will do cartwheels when she walks out of here,” Telezinski said. “This will be a long process. But she will get better. I know she will.”

Helen was crossing Stetson Avenue to participate in the school’s powder-puff football game when she was struck by the truck, driven by another student. California Highway Patrol officials said Daniel Carrillo, 18, plowed through the busy crosswalk at more than 50 mph.

The seven other students injured have been released from the hospital.

Carrillo told officers that his brakes failed, but the CHP said investigators have ruled that out. Criminal charges are expected to be filed against him soon, CHP officials said.

Carrillo, 18, had had his license for just 15 days.

Telezinski said she harbors no ill will toward Carrillo. She said he and Helen will both have long, difficult roads ahead of them.

“I just want him to man up and take responsibility,” she said. “He is not going to be the same person after all of this, either. His world has been rocked. He will go through a journey, too, and I hope he’ll have some humility at the end of all of this.”

She said Helen would forgive him, too.


The impact from the crash caused a diffuse axonal injury, a brain injury that often puts patients in a coma, doctors said.

Helen has had tubes in her nose and mouth and a longterm IV has been placed in her arm. She also suffered two broken ribs, a spinal injury and road rash.

Dr. Dan Miulli, a neurosurgeon and director of educational medicine at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, has not treated Helen but has treated many patients with diffuse axonal injuries. He said they are often caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration, such as with car crashes, that cause the connectors between white and gray matter in the brain to be torn apart. It often results in permanent injury.

“These are tiny little breaks but they cause big problems,” Miulli said. “You can’t operate on it, you can’t repair it. If it is in the wrong place, even a small one can be devastating and you don’t recover.”

In the best case, the injury can leave patients with a slight change in personality. A large majority of patients with a severe diffuse axonal injury never regain consciousness and remain in a vegetative state, according to a number of medical articles.

“When I see her, it’s like, ‘OK, there is Helen,’ but it’s still unreal to me,” said her sister, Sara Johnson, 22. “I think she will wake up any day. I want her to, but I want her to do it in her own time. We’re having patience and making sure her body has time to rest and heal.”


Helen’s family has experienced some small glimmers of hope.

Several times, she has briefly opened her eyes. Her limbs are strapped to the bed and she has, at least once, moved her body enough to free a leg from the restraints. She has softly squeezed hands of loved ones.

Doctors told the family that the removal of the breathing tube was a good sign.

But a majority of the time she has been unresponsive.

Her mother and close family stay by her side, and her mother has slept at the hospital for a week straight. She often says a prayer at Helen’s bedside.

“Her brain is resting,” her tearful mother said, recalling the times her little girl slept in her arms. “She peeks out of her world, takes a look around, as if to say, ‘Leave me alone, I want to sleep,’ and closes her eyes again.”

Over the past week, a quiet stream of visitors has visited Helen in the hospital. Most have been asked not to enter the room, but have offered their thoughts to Helen’s family.

Friends spoke this week of Helen’s love for being a junior lifeguard, and the time she grabbed a hose to put out a fire in a dry creek bed. They spoke of her love for animals and the stubborn will she often used to get whatever she wanted.

“She is a fighter,” said longtime friend Bethany Prizant. “She has such a strong will. She’s someone who takes life to the fullest, is always happy and always smiling.”

Follow Kevin Pearson on Twitter @pe_kevinpearson or online at blog. pe.com/Hemet  

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