By Jean Cole
— HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Samantha Hudson hopes she will get to see her husband eat three packs of Pop-Tarts a day again.
Justin Hudson, 26, has been in a coma at Huntsville Hospital since he was injured in an automobile accident Jan. 9.
Doctors, who gave Samantha little hope her husband would be alive to see the birth of their second child, performed surgery Wednesday. And Samantha says they're now using the word "when," rather than "if," when speaking of his recovery.
Justin was driving on a foggy morning from his Somerville home to work at Hiley Volkswagen in Huntsville, where he is a mechanic. The wreck report said Hudson pulled out from Fields Road, apparently attempting to reach the northbound lanes of U.S. 231.
Hudson pulled in front of Jeremy Mills, 26, of Decatur. Mills was traveling south on U.S. 231 in a Dodge Dakota pickup and collided squarely with the side of Hudson's vehicle, according to the report. Mills was driving 10 miles per hour under the speed limit and was not injured.
Hudson was rushed to the hospital with no time to identify him, aside from his first name printed on his uniform. Hospital personnel called the Volkswagen dealership. Samantha was awakened with calls from his co-workers and friends. They told her Justin was in a coma.
"I panicked," Samantha said. "I got up, got dressed immediately and drove to the hospital, and I did not come home for one week."
Samantha, a homemaker, has barely left the hospital since the accident. She went home once to make sure the house was in order and to procure caretakers for her and Justin's 1-year-old daughter Tilli. She also left the hospital once to eat at a barbecue restaurant across the street. She has slept in a recliner in her husband's room. Justin's parents, Roy and Lydia Hudson, are also at the hospital every day.
Justin is breathing with the aid of a ventilator but has been taken off blood pressure medication. He underwent surgery Wednesday to realign his neck with his spinal column.
"Unfortunately, that's kind of where we're stuck," Samantha said. "His body is regulating, but there's been no more improvement."
The wreck report said Justin was not expected to make it to the hospital alive, and certainly not live beyond 48 hours. Doctors offered little hope because of the nature of his injury — a brain bruise caused by a shifting piece of broken skull.
"Whenever I would ask the doctor a question, I would always say 'when' and the doctor would correct me with 'if,' " Samantha said. "One day the doctor said 'when,' and I had hope."
Samantha created a Facebook page, "Prayers for Justin Hudson," to keep friends and family informed of his progress. More than 2,500 people are following the page. She has used humor to help alleviate fears about Justin. One of her Facebook updates announced that an MRI revealed Justin was not pregnant.
"I am the biggest prankster," she said. "I am tickling him, telling him corny jokes and telling him I won't stop until he wakes up."
Justin and Samantha met online six years ago. Samantha has taken to calling their unborn child "Baby Joe," although she doesn't know its gender. The Hudsons learned Samantha was pregnant 12 weeks ago.
"Instead of saying till death do us part' in our vows, we said 'to infinity and beyond,'" she said with a sad laugh. "I never thought this would be my infinity and beyond."
Samantha has placed one of her husband's much-loved Pop-Tarts into his hand almost every day since the accident. She started with his favorite flavor, cinnamon and brown sugar, and has since changed to strawberry.
Justin's family sent Kellogg's a picture of Justin with a Pop-Tart and an email explaining his situation to the company. Kellogg's responded with well-wishes and the promise of a care package with Pop-Tart-themed gifts and coupons.
Stan Fields, the service director at Hiley, said he was at work the day of Justin's accident. He said the hospital called Sandra Smith in the customer service department, who then called Samantha. Fields rushed to his car and drove to the hospital. He called Justin's brother, Jared Hudson, on the way. He arrived before anyone else.
"I was the only one there for a few minutes," Fields said. "Then Sam showed up, and we just had to stand around talking and waiting for news about Justin."
Justin Hudson worked for Fields part time during his senior year at Brewer High School. He was hired full time after graduating and worked for about two years, then left for a few years to work for Eddie Preuitt Ford in Hartselle. He eventually returned and has worked at Hiley since.
Jeff Kenney was Hudson's mentor while he was training to become a licensed mechanic. He said Hudson has a love for Volkswagens: He has a "VW" tattoo on his arm and about eight Volkswagen vehicles in front of his house. He was driving a 1998 Jetta on the day of the accident.
He also describes Justin as the office joker.
"He likes to take his shirt off for no reason," he said. "He's kind of a country boy. Last year, he took a machete and cut a bunch of little trees down to make a clubhouse in the woods behind the dealership."
Many Hiley employees are opting to donate money from their paychecks into an account for the Hudsons. Kenney also takes up collections every week and delivers a wad of cash to Samantha every Friday when he visits the hospital.
One of Hudson's best friends, Eric Champion, was in Atlanta when he heard about the wreck.
"I knew I wanted to get back to be with him and Samantha," he said. "And I was worried, in the back of my mind, that a lot of stress on Sam could cause complications with the baby."
Champion said Hudson wasn't identified immediately at the scene or in the hospital because doctors and paramedics needed to cut his clothing off quickly and run tests on him as soon as possible. Huntsville Hospital assign names to unknown patients by going down the alphabet and giving nicknames that are variations of "John Doe."
Hudson was dubbed "Whiskey Joe."
"The Whiskey Joe thing was hilarious," Champion said. "He's not a heavy drinker or anything, but if there is a party, he's an instigator ... If he could pick his name, he would have picked that one."
Champion met Hudson at Brewer while running track. Hudson once spent a night — 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. — changing the transmission in Champion's truck.
"Then he went home, took a shower and went to work," he said.
"That's the kind of friend he was — is, hopefully."