LIVE

Joseph Flavill fell into a coma just weeks before the United Kingdom went into lockdown

By Claudia Harmata
February 04, 2021 12:33 PM
Advertisement
Joseph Flavill
Credit: Gofundme

A British family is grappling with how to explain the coronavirus pandemic to their teenage son after he recently emerged from a 10-month coma, unaware of the horrors that have gripped the world over the last year.

Joseph Flavill — who was to receive the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award in May — was struck by a car in Staffordshire, located in central England, on March 1, 2020, according to a website dedicated to his recovery. The accident left him with a severe traumatic brain injury that put him in a coma.

At the time, the coronavirus was still primarily spreading in China, with small pockets beginning to appear in other parts of the world. When the 19-year-old slipped into a coma, it was just weeks before the U.K. went into lockdown to combat the growing spread of the virus.

While unconscious, Flavill even caught and fought off the virus himself, according to CNN.

Flavill's aunt, Kate Yarbo, told the outlet that while the teen was in his coma, he was "in such pain," and that it has been "a horrible traumatic journey for him."

However, his family was given some good news late last month when Flavill smiled as he was played audio recorded in a plane cockpit. Then, when Yarbo called her nephew over Zoom, she noticed him blink while she was reminiscing on their vacations to Cornwall.

"Something just turned in my tummy. I said, 'Did you blink on purpose?' and he blinked twice. Then we knew he was communicating," she told CNN.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Joseph Flavill
Credit: Joseph's Journey

Since then, Flavill has shown signs of rapid recovery. "The last week has been incredible," Yarbo said. "He can't speak yet but clearly he's starting to gain control of his limbs, and his sense of humor's there, he's starting to laugh at jokes."

"We're all really stunned, it's amazing what the brain can do," his aunt said.

An update shared to the family's website said that Flavill has been following commands, such as touching his left and right ear when asked to do so, and is able to move both of his legs. He has also been able to answer yes and no by blinking.

As Flavill finally begins his return to reality, Yarbo opened up to CNN about having to explain the last year to him.

"I think it's going to be a shock. We're all still processing it — I'm not sure you can ever actually describe how this pandemic feels," she told the outlet.

"He's only ever going to understand it through our ability to describe it, and through news stories. The horror," she added. "So many people have said it's like sitting watching a sci-fi film, isn't it? You couldn't write the pandemic as a film."

Yarbo also spoke about how hard it has been for the family, as they have been unable to be physically with Flavill due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"That's a big thing for his [mom] to emotionally manage, watching him through a screen," she said. "You want to hold his hand, you want to be there all the time."

The family set up a website called Joseph's Journey to share updates about his recovery, as well as collect donations to help cover the cost of his care.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.