One step at a time with a big smile

Josh Vadez practices walking with a cane with the help of Physical Therapy Assistant Connie McGuire Hester at the rehabilitation center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. Valdez was critically injured in a hit-and-run accident on June 16 an

Less than six months after a hit-and-run accident left Joshua Valdez, 23, in the hospital for several weeks with numerous injuries including a badly banged-up knee, the Morgan Hill resident is thankful he will get to spend Thanksgiving on his feet.

“I still have people around me, there’s a chance of me keeping my job, and I’m able to survive another day,” said Valdez, listing the things he is thankful for while sitting with his mother and their landlord in the dining room of their east-central Morgan Hill home Tuesday.

Valdez, who was struck by a motorist on Butterfield Boulevard while walking home in the early morning of June 16, continues to steadily recover from the injuries he suffered in the accident. Bound to a wheelchair when he was released from the hospital in August, he now only requires the assistance of a cane to walk.

He still attends physical therapy twice a week at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and continues regular exercises to improve his balance.

“I’m grateful that Josh is able to celebrate with us again this year, and I’m grateful for all three of my kids being healthy and happy,” added his mother, Stacie Valdez.

The two planned to spend Thanksgiving with Josh’s grandparents, great-grandmother, uncle and cousins in San Martin. Joshua Valdez, a Gilroy High School graduate who is known by his friends as Joshie, was looking forward to eating copious amounts of turkey for the holiday.

He has recovered well enough from a traumatic brain injury suffered in the accident that he no longer requires the occupational and speech therapy sessions he was attending the first few weeks after returning home. He has relearned how to complete tasks that were once routine, such as making his bed, shaving, cleaning his room and cooking.

Last week he cooked a chicken and mushroom dish, and some fried zucchini that his landlord Michele Adona enjoyed.

“It makes you thankful for what you have,” said Adona, who has watched Joshie steadily recover from his injuries since he returned home.

Among Joshie’s injuries resulting from the accident were a traumatic brain injury, numerous broken bones, bruised ribs and a bruised lung. He was comatose and in critical condition for several days following the accident.

Morgan Hill police found Joshie lying unconscious but breathing at about 1 a.m. on the side of Butterfield Boulevard, near the intersection of San Pedro Avenue in Morgan Hill on June 16. Paramedics arrived and determined he was suffering multiple injuries consistent with that of a pedestrian vs. car collision.

An investigation led police to Sandra Arias, 28 of Morgan Hill, who accidentally hit Joshie while driving her Volkswagen Beetle north on Butterfield Boulevard and failed to stop or call for assistance, police said. Joshie was walking home by himself at the time of the accident, and was crossing Butterfield Boulevard when he was hit.

Arias pleaded guilty to felony hit and run at the South County Courthouse earlier this month. She will be sentenced at a hearing Jan. 14, 2013. The maximum sentence for the charge of felony causing bodily injury is six years in jail.

Joshie was noticeably more talkative Tuesday than when the Times last spoke with him, although he struggled to articulate his feelings toward Arias’ guilty plea.

“I think Josh is relieved that somebody is finally taking responsibility,” his mother suggested.

Josh’s memory is improving, but the young man still draws a blank when he tries to recollect anything from about two years prior to the accident. He laughed as he explained that he thought he was going to be 21 on his 23rd birthday, which he celebrated Sept. 18 at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy.

Joshie’s therapist has said he might be able to walk normally without a cane or any other assistance by February – “I hope,” he said.

The 23-year-old gains motivation by keeping a “positive attitude” and by looking forward to all the things he’ll able to do again once he fully regains his ability to walk. Among those simple liberties includes going to concerts, dancing, attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada, riding his bicycle and regaining his independence so he doesn’t rely on others as much to visit his friends or go to work.

“Walking and dancing are the most important things,” Joshie laughed, but added he still eventually wants to go to school to become a massage therapist – something he has wanted to do since before he was in high school.

Josh also hopes to return to his job at Del Monaco Foods in Morgan Hill soon.

“I really liked working there,” he said.

Joshie and Stacie have lived since April with Adona, whom they have known for about a year. Adona said she didn’t know Joshie very well before the accident, but she has been impressed with his recovery so far.

“It’s been encouraging, watching him,” she said. “He’s stubborn, but that’s great.”

Stacie added that even though she knew Joshie would wake up and walk again when doctors were cautious in their prognosis while he was comatose, she thinks the progress in his recovery is “amazing.”

“I don’t think I could heal that quickly,” Stacie said.

And if others who don’t even know Joshie find his dramatic recovery uplifting or inspiring, that’s an added bonus.

“It feels good (to think) I could give hope to people who have gone through something like this, (who) just needed the confidence to say ‘you can do this,’” Joshie said.

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