Physical fitness is important to Jay Richardson, and he was enjoying a run in the late August heat in 2019 when something traumatic occurred inside of his body.
Richardson, an assistant professor of history and director of the scholars program at William Carey University, suffered a spontaneous dissection of one of his carotid arteries, which are major blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain, neck and face.
The following day, he was at home resting on his couch when the extent of the injury became clear. He subsequently suffered a massive left-brain stroke.
His wife, Callison, had just returned home from work, which was “the first of many miracles we experienced in this journey,” she said.
“Had he still been working in his office or driving home from work when it happened, he may not be here with us today,” she added.
Jay was rushed to Forrest General Hospital by ambulance and was then sent to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.
After a procedure to remove a blood clot, Jay was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and later in rehabilitation services. His hospital stay lasted for nearly 40 days.
“Jay was totally paralyzed on the right side of his body and suffered from aphasia and apraxia, two language disorders that make it difficult to understand or produce any form of language,” said Callison, who works as the director of community development for the Area Development Partnership. “One significant blessing is that his personality, memories, knowledge and passions remained intact, something that’s not always guaranteed after a traumatic brain injury.”
The journey to recovery has been fraught with difficulties for both Jay and Callison.
“Jay has essentially had to relearn how to walk, move his right arm, use his right hand and get the use of his fingers back,” said Callison.
He has also had to learn how to talk, write and read again, she noted. Jay has been assisted in these efforts by outpatient rehabilitation services offered through Merit Health Wesley and the Speech-Language Pathology Clinic at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“He has made remarkable progress and is beating all the odds,” she said. “His physical recovery was so strong because he was in great shape when the stroke happened. You might spot him these days riding his bike around the Hattiesburg Avenues. However, the language recovery takes longer and is more complex.”
The COVID-19 pandemic closed down local therapy options, so the couple hired an expert speech-language pathologist from California to conduct teletherapy sessions.
“We are really pleased with Jay’s continued progress,” said Callison. “It takes time for the brain to heal after trauma, and we have every reason to expect a positive outcome. Right now, we are still very much on the recovery journey.”
Callison said that a lot of people in Jay’s situation might give up, but not her husband.
“Jay’s approach to recovery is truly an inspiration,” she said. “From the beginning, he has had a positive attitude, worked hard every day and approached this season of suffering with a godly perspective, knowing that the Lord is at work in all of this. He’s relentless.”
She said Jay’s biggest motivation is his desire to return to the classroom.
“He loves his work at Carey and wants to get back there,” she said. “Teaching history, working with Carey’s best and brightest students and being a part of campus life there ... it brings him so much fulfillment and joy. Lord willing, he will get to return to this work in the coming months. My motivation is to see that happen for him.”
Callison said it has been difficult to find happiness during this period of life, but the couple trusts in their Savior, and they have faith in a better outcome.
“We are just trying to survive, do our best to get through the day, work with all our might at whatever our hands find to do, and then wake up and do it again the next day,” she said. “It’s tough, but we know it’s just a season, and we are in this together.”
She added that the situation has strengthened the couple’s relationship.
“We work together on speech recovery every day, which I try to make a blend of a game, an intimate conversation and a history lesson, which is Jay’s specialty,” she said. “It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, this present trial and suffering makes us want to weep – and we do, and that’s okay – but we also know that this is our life right now, and our faith in Christ tells us that there is purpose in this season. So, we embrace it and seek to find joy even in the hardest parts of this journey.”
Callison said she and her husband find happiness in “the little things.”
“We look for the ways this trial makes us more beautiful, more resilient, more Christ-like, more knitted together as husband and wife ... and better equipped to help others who are suffering,” she said. “And, to keep things light, we do find joy in the little things these days. We cook special meals, and I do yoga at home, and I read when I can. Jay enjoys riding his bike, bird-watching, making me laugh and FaceTiming with friends. Oh, and our dog Hattie and cat Maggie also bring us a lot of joy.”
After Jay was offered his position at Carey in 2015, the couple moved to Hattiesburg from Columbia, South Carolina.
Callison grew up in the city, and Jay previously worked for the University of South Carolina, which is headquartered there.
They quickly assimilated to life in south Mississippi, and it didn’t take them long to become proud Hattiesburgers, said Callison.
“We really like living in the Avenues and the excellent places to eat in our city, like Jutamas, The Mahogany Bar and Triangle Seafood & Po-Boys, to name a few,” she added. “Above all, it’s the people who make the Hub City home for us. As transplants, we’ve found Hattiesburg to be full of warm, friendly and generous folks from all walks of life, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
Callison said relationships have been the key to Jay’s recovery process.
“Those relationships include our relationships with the Lord, with one another and with the community that surrounds us,” she said. “They are why we can ‘suffer strong.’ Of course, our relationship as husband and wife is the central support system, and we’re fully committed to each other and to our future together, whatever that looks like. And, then, there’s the people around us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the unfailing support of Carey and the Area Development Partnership, our church family at First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg and the body of Christ all across Hattiesburg.”
She added that “when the bottom fell out for us” after Jay’s stroke, the Hattiesburg community immediately responded.
“It was our pastor and church family and Dr. Scott Hummel, then the provost at William Carey, who were at our sides in the ER just seconds after we arrived,” she said. “The outpouring of support was just extraordinary. People donated money, took care of our pets and home and yard, brought meals, helped drive Jay to therapy, sent hundreds of cards and encouraging notes, and prayed for us constantly.”
Callison said she and Jay have never felt alone in this fight.
“The people of Hattiesburg wrapped their arms around us in ways we could never have expected, and it wasn’t just our closest friends,” she said. “Total strangers, like the ambulance driver, the school crossing guard by our house, the guys who work at Planet Fitness, Sunday school classes across the city ... became part of our cheering section. It’s made all the difference.”