Jonah Tuttle wants to be on the field playing his favorite sport, but coaching will have to do for now.
Tuttle, a sophomore psychology major from St. George, is now coaching the Dixie State University’s Rugby Club after recovering from a longboarding accident in April 2016. Jonah Tuttle was in a coma for 28 days and received multiple brain surgeries to reduce swelling. But now he’s smiling, walking, talking, working through his 12-credit course load this semester, and even driving. Jonah Tuttle said he hopes to one day play rugby again.
“It’s nice to be around [the guys], but it’s frustrating to watch it,” Jonah Tuttle said. “It’s like when you play a sport and you see them, I want to be out there telling them what to do.”
Tyler Gulbransen, a close friend of Jonah Tuttle’s from Grants Pass, Oregon, said he is like a cat with nine lives.
“He does dumb stuff like that often,” Gulbransen said. “So, I think after this last [accident], he’s definitely on his last life.”
Jonah Tuttle’s mom Heather Tuttle said he’s constantly proving her and his doctors wrong. Doctors told her there was a slim chance of him waking up from his coma, and if he did wake up, he would only be able to open his eyes. He has recently been able to run and jump on a trampoline without getting dizzy or hurting his head.
After his accident and surgeries, his doctors prepared his mom and family by saying he might not have a filter; he would laugh at inappropriate times or he would be impulsive.
“His personality hasn’t changed,” Heather Tuttle said. “He was more giggly, but he’s always been giggly. Jonah has never had anger like they told me he was going to have.”
Statistically, others with injuries like Jonah Tuttle wouldn’t have survived. According to brainline.org, 1.7 million people suffer from a traumatic brain injury every year, and out of that number, 52,000 die. For Jonah Tuttle, his faith in his religion — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has helped him through his recovery.
“I don’t know how to describe it; he just says things as though he was just sitting next to God,” Heather Tuttle said.
Even though it’s hard to remember everything for Jonah Tuttle, he recalls having a conversation with God and Jesus Christ while in his coma. Jonah said the conversation was mostly about the importance of women because he has a lot of women in his family.
“I was told that women are very important for anyone’s salvation because a man will be absolutely nothing without a wife,” he said. “The wife will protect him and the powers that he’ll hold. I was like ‘dang’ because that’s pretty important.”
Heather Tuttle said even though he might not be able to accomplish goals he had before his accident, she knows he’ll be married, have children, and have a career in the future.
He is now working on his education so he can one day become a high school counselor. His inspiration for his career choice stems from a high school friend who struggled to maintain good grades and was held back after his mom died.
“For a kid, that’s hard enough to lose a parent, but for them to be held back is probably even harder,” Jonah Tuttle said. “Counselors are there to fight for students against faculty or whoever (and) make sure that everyone is OK.”
Ever since his accident, he said sometimes people will treat him like a child. Jonah Tuttle doesn’t want to be babied.
“It’s just annoying when people treat you like you’re nothing,” he said. “I’m still alive. I can still communicate just fine.”
Heather Tuttle wants her son to remember it’s his responsibility to move forward, and it’s OK to be mad, sad and frustrated. She said he reminds her of the saying from the movie “The Help” – “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
“That’s Jonah,” Heather Tuttle said. “It will be fun to see where he’s going.”