Dr. John Reisser is as cool a customer as you’ll find.
When his daughter, Ashley, was badly injured in an automobile accident on an iced-over road in January, the Maryville physician knew without thinking where to find the best doctors, the best course of treatment and all the right decisions to be made.
He was, in short, the family’s rock.
Then he began reading the Facebook pages.
A family friend had initially set up the site so Ashley’s classmates at Maryville High could keep track of her progress. Within days, it was so much bigger.
“A lady in Arkansas would say, ‘Would you please give us an update. We haven’t heard anything from the family for several days,’” Marilyn Reisser, Ashley’s mom, said, “and she didn’t even know (Ashley).’”
It would get a lot bigger.
The outpouring of concern for Ashley grew so rapidly, in less than a week the site was literally receiving postings from around the world. Friends began printing some of the well wishes for the Reisser family to read while at the hospital. One evening, Marilyn noticed John leafing through the printouts.
“I could see it really touched him,” she said. “He’s not an emotional guy. He’s the captain-of-the-football-team kind of guy, and I could see him over there wiping his eyes reading some of the pages.”
Last week, the Maryville softball team formally welcomed Ashley, a senior, back to the dugout in stirring fashion. The Lady Rebel center fielder was there for senior day as Maryville played host to Bearden at Sandy Springs Park.
Even the Lady Bulldogs brought gifts.
“It was a blessing to have her back,” Lady Rebel senior Kylie Whaley said. “Just seeing her again brought tears to people’s eyes to know she’s OK.”
If only the crowd at senior day had seen Reisser’s first return a few weeks before, Maryville coach Ken Hawkins said.
“She just came down behind the dugout and said, ‘Hi,’” he said. “That was incredible.”
Reisser’s car had spun out on Pellissippi Parkway and struck a concrete wall separating opposing lanes of traffic. After exiting the car, Reisser was then struck by a trailing vehicle, pinned underneath and drug for several feet.
The accident forced doctors at the University of Tennessee Medical Center to put the Lady Rebel standout in a medically induced coma for several days to relieve pressure on her brain. Her Maryville teammates, coaches and classmates feared the worse.
Reisser isn’t just well-liked by her teammates and other athletes at the school, Lady Rebel senior Chelsea Weaver said.
“Ashley is the kind of person where she’s friends with everybody at the school,” she said.
“She’s so rambunctious, she just talks to everybody”
That’s one of the reasons the Facebook page took off the way it did, Lady Rebel senior Taylor Dockery said.
“She just doesn’t hang out with one clique,” she said. “She likes art, so she hangs out with art kids, too.”
The first day of classes following the accident, students gathered to say a prayer at the school’s flagpole before the bell. When Ashley was released from the hospital weeks later, the team finally got to see her at a birthday party.
“She was sitting at the table,” Weaver said. “I saw her and it was like a miracle. I started doing the “Thriller” dance. She got up and started doing it with me. It was so funny.”
Reisser resumed classes at Maryville two weeks ago.
“She said she got so many hugs she couldn’t believe it,” Marilyn Reisser said.
Students with little interest in athletics of any kind are some of Reisser’s best friends, Dockery said. The days immediately following the accident were the toughest, she said. Hawkins and Lady Rebel assistant coach David Allen kept a vigil at the hospital, but the administration at Maryville, out of respect for the Reisser family, asked that students and the team visit sparingly. Many came anyway.
“Hundreds of people came to the hospital the next day to see her, and this is the next morning, 18 hours after the accident,” Marilyn Reisser said. “They ended up giving us our own waiting room because there were so many people. I can’t thank those kids enough. Even the following weekend, people just kept coming and coming and coming.
“It’s just been so humbling that so many people care so much.”
Ashley, who carries a 4.3 grade point average at Maryville and needed only ½ credit prior to the accident to graduate, is scheduled to begin classes at Tennessee in the fall and will live in the dorms. There’s still some healing to do, Marilyn Reisser said. Ashley is currently undergoing therapy at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville in morning before attending class at Maryville in the afternoon.
Still, Ashley having come so far so quickly, when things so easily could have been far worse, is proof of one thing, Marilyn said.
“God was listening,” she said, “and we ended up with a miracle.”