On August 25, 2017, Cheyenne resident Joseph (JoJo) Frausto had just started a new construction job. He was in a garage attic seeing what needed to be done when the unthinkable happened. The ceiling gave way, and JoJo fell more than 10 feet to the concrete floor below.
JoJo’s co-worker and brother-in-law, Jeremy Martinez, got to JoJo within moments. “His eyes were open, but he wasn’t talking and was unresponsive,” Jeremy said. Jeremy had some healthcare training so knew not to move JoJo: “I cushioned his head and called 911.”
The ambulance rushed 26-year-old JoJo to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, where Emergency Department staff assessed, treated and diagnosed JoJo with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). JoJo was then quickly admitted to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
The prognosis was grim: “JoJo’s brain was swelling so they had to put him in a medically induced coma to keep him from moving or becoming agitated and to allow his brain a chance to rest and heal,” said JoJo’s mother, Michelle Frausto.
Despite JoJo’s critical condition, “we never gave up hope,” said JoJo’s dad, Michael Frausto.
That hope—along with specialized medical care, prayer and support from family and friends around the world—has resulted in JoJo’s recovery.
“The doctors, the nurses—everyone involved—say it’s a miracle for JoJo to be here,” Michelle said.
‘They’re my heroes.’
JoJo’s journey to healing began when he was admitted to the ICU, Michael and Michelle agreed.
JoJo was initially diagnosed with a TBI that included a small brain bleed and brain swelling. The bleeding stopped fairly quickly, but the swelling continued.
Several treatment options were considered, including one that would have involved opening JoJo’s skull to relieve pressure from the swelling.
Dr. Karen Fagin, the neurosurgeon who helped with JoJo’s care, decided the risks of this procedure were too high given JoJo’s grave condition. Instead, Dr. Fagin inserted a bolt monitor into JoJo’s skull to keep track of the pressure. JoJo’s care team also decided to put the young man into a medically induced coma, to give his brain a chance to rest and heal.
Dr. Fagin is absolutely amazing,” Michelle said. “I am just in awe of her and everything she did for JoJo.”
“She is incredibly humble,” added Steven Frausto, JoJo’s older brother. “She would bring the whole team together to discuss JoJo’s care and would really listen to everyone’s thoughts and recommendations.”
JoJo’s family quickly came to consider Dr. Fagin as one of their own, with deep appreciation for how hard she worked and for her expert medical knowledge and skill.
The ICU nurses who cared for JoJo are also “part of the family now,” Michael said. “They were there at his bedside day and night, doing everything they could to help him. We are in awe of them and all they do for their patients and the family.”
“Everyone caring for JoJo was very open with us,” added Jacqueline Frausto, JoJo’s younger sister. “They educated us about what they were doing and what the different medications and numbers on the machines meant.”
Michelle went on to share that she was concerned when JoJo was first admitted to the ICU. She wondered if the staff had the experience and level of expertise needed to care for JoJo and the kind of injury he’d suffered.
Michelle’s concern was soon replaced with love and respect for her youngest son’s doctors and nurses: “We saw firsthand how much they do and how much they care. They saved my son’s life. They’re my heroes.”
‘They all did an amazing job.’
Shortly after JoJo was admitted to the ICU, his family nicknamed him “Superman,” for his favorite superhero.
To show their support for JoJo, many of his immediate and extended family members started coming to the ICU wearing Superman attire.
“I have always called him my Superman,” Jacqueline said. “But with everything JoJo had gone through, many others came to see him as a superhero, too.”
“Seeing everyone here, it was something to behold,” said Barbara Smith, RN, manager of CRMC’s ICU. “The family stayed at JoJo’s bedside or were in the waiting room the entire time he was here. There was a lot of love and support for JoJo and his immediate family. They never gave up on him.”
The same goes for JoJo’s caregivers, Smith said: “JoJo was in very critical condition, but the doctors and the ICU staff worked around the clock to save him. Everyone involved with JoJo’s support and care, they all did an amazing job.”
JoJo’s brother, Steven, noted that faith was another major factor in JoJo’s healing.
“There were a few times when we asked, ‘Is this it?’ ” he said, giving voice to the family’s fears. “There are things that happened to JoJo that can’t be explained without faith and the presence of God.”
‘Superman’ is back
Three weeks after being admitted to the ICU, JoJo’s medical team decided it was time to “wean” him off the medication keeping him in a coma.
The family was told it could be several days to several weeks before JoJo regained consciousness.
“With a severe head injury like JoJo’s, you don’t really know what to expect once the person wakes up,” said Virginia Duffy, one of the ICU nurses who cared for JoJo. “You have to balance hope with the possibility that the patient might be very different from the way they were before.”
Once again JoJo defied the odds, this time by waking up just two hours after the medication was stopped.
“The next morning JoJo was sitting in a chair in his room, trying to say something,” Michelle recalled. JoJo was on a respirator so couldn’t talk.
“He couldn’t get us to understand so I asked him to try and write what he wanted to say on a napkin,” she said.
JoJo’s message? “Done.”
The family understood this to mean that JoJo was “done” with being hurt and immobile.
While JoJo had a long and grueling rehabilitation ahead of him, the note was a sign that JoJo, “their Superman,” was back, the family agreed.
From time to time, Michelle will look at the note, to remind her of how precious life is and how far JoJo has come.
‘You can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “If I could, I would put him—and all of my family—in bubble wrap.”
The journey back
Waking up was a critical first step for JoJo. The next step was for him to move to a long-term acute care facility, where his body could get used to living without a respirator.
After two weeks in long-term care, JoJo was well enough to be sent to Colorado’s Craig Hospital, for the intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy he would need to regain basic life skills. JoJo was supposed to be there for several months. He was discharged three weeks later.
“They would have preferred he stay longer,” Michael said, smiling across the table at his son.
But JoJo was determined. He pushed past his limits, knowing that every skill regained was a step closer to going home.
From those who had gathered to share JoJo’s story, which included JoJo and his mother, father, older brother, younger sister and brother-in-law, it’s obvious that the Frausto family is very close.
“My dad is my best friend,” JoJo said.
The family also shared an inside joke, that part of why JoJo wanted to come home was so that he could have one of his mom’s famous root beer floats. “They’re the best,” JoJo said, smiling.
‘Don’t get bitter, get better’
While he has come a long way since the accident, JoJo still faces challenges.
He has frequent headaches and pain in his lower left leg. He also experiences double vision and has yet to fully regain his sense of smell and taste.
JoJo has been told that additional recovery is likely, but the pace and timing are unpredictable.
The family smiles as JoJo shares a recent experience that gives him hope he’ll be able to taste again.
JoJo had ordered a sandwich for lunch. When he bit into the sandwich, he started to gag. From the taste or texture, he’s not sure which, JoJo knew there were tomato slices in the sandwich. “And I can’t stand tomatoes,” he said.
Another step forward took place in July, when JoJo accepted a job as the assistant manager of a local store.
JoJo has also returned to service with the Wyoming Army National Guard as an all-wheel vehicle mechanic. His long-term goal is to be deployed to Afghanistan. Short-term, he is working toward a four- to six-week deployment to Mexico.
JoJo and his family are grateful to Guard members for their ongoing support over the past year. “All of JoJo’s Army buddies came to visit him when he was in the ICU,” Michelle said. At one point a two-star major general also stopped by.
JoJo can’t help but smile when he recounts how his Guard unit threw him a birthday party last December, giving him a pink motorcycle helmet with a tiara glued to it. The message was for him to get better and to protect his head. “They also told me I wasn’t allowed to basically die again,” he said.
For all the gains he’s made, JoJo is aware that some things may never fully “get back to normal.”
“I cry at movies now,” he said, something he’d only done when he was a boy.
He can get frustrated at the changes. But he’s learning to cope.
“Don’t get bitter, get better,” JoJo said quietly, quoting lyrics to a favorite song by Lecrae, a Christian hip hop recording artist and songwriter.
The song, “I’ll Find You,” which speaks to God’s presence during life’s difficulties, was sent to him by the wife of a good friend. It is now JoJo’s “go-to” when he’s feeling down.
As a reminder of how far he’s come, JoJo also had Craig Hospital’s Broken Man symbol tattoed on his right arm. The symbol depicts an injured person who is made whole again.
“That was me a year ago,” JoJo said, pointing to the broken person.
He then points to the person who’s been restored.
“That’s me now.”
One Year Later
Several weeks after this interview, JoJo and his family returned to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s ICU. The date of the visit, August 25, 2018, marked the one-year anniversary of JoJo’s accident and admission to the ICU.
The family brought homemade enchiladas and rice to thank the doctors, nurses and staff for saving their son’s life.
There were lots of hugs and smiles and a few tears as the family recalled JoJo’s arduous journey over the past year.
During the hour-long visit, the ICU nurses and Dr. Fagin told the family how much they admired them for the love they had shown their son and one another during JoJo’s hospital stay.
“You’re an exceptional family, really a shining example,” Dr. Fagin shared.
“As a family, you lifted us up and encouraged us,” said Roz Weiler, an ICU charge nurse.
The family smiled at the praise and nodded in agreement when Michelle told the group of caregivers, “You’re stuck with us now!”
A Note from the Fraustos to the ICU:
“The Frausto family would like to thank all the ICU staff at CRMC for all the care, support and love they have shown. We truly consider you all family and will always be grateful, and you all will always be in each of our prayers!”
Published September 2018