Real Name: Karen "Betty" Stephens
Case: Lost Friend
Location: Vietnam; Tacoma, Washington
Details: In 1965, eighteen-year-old James P. "Jim" Meade Jr., put his college plans on hold to fight in Vietnam. His family and professors at the University of Oregon tried to talk him out of it, telling him that he should finish college first and then go to Vietnam. However, he was determined to fight for his country. He won his wings and became an Army helicopter pilot in the winter of 1967. He served there for only three months; he transported troops to and from combat missions. He was shot down twice, but each time he returned. On May 8, 1967, he was shot down for the third time; this time, he would not be able to go back. The next day, his parents received a vague telegram which stated that he had been placed on the "seriously ill" list due to a fractured skull.
Jim was transferred to Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. When his parents and siblings arrived to see him, they had to wait in the lobby as he had not been assigned to a room. They had no idea how seriously hurt he might be. His father and two of his brothers decided to walk around the halls looking for him. They found a soldier severely injured and wrapped almost completely in bandages. A few minutes later, they were told that Jim had been assigned a room; they were shocked to realize that he was the injured soldier that they had seen earlier.
Jim's family was horrified by the condition he was in. For several weeks, he was in a coma; the helicopter rotor blade had fractured his skull. He was only able to make animal-like sounds and could only flail his arms and legs around. His legs had been shattered and were riddled with gangrene. The doctors feared that he would never recover.
As a last resort, Jim was assigned to a ward with amputees that had served in Vietnam. Doctors asked the men to talk to him, in hopes that the exposure to other people would help bring him out of his coma. After ten weeks, he awoke, but he had forgotten the first nineteen years of his life. He was also unable to talk or walk. However, he began to recover with the help of an army physical therapist named Lt. Betty Stephens. She started by teaching him how to crawl on mats. One day, after falling on his face several times, some basic trainees in physical therapy began to laugh at him. Shocked by their behavior, Lt. Stephens immediately went over, yelled at them, and kicked them out of the room.
Often times, Jim would be in too much pain to go to physical therapy. Lt. Stephens would still go to visit him and see how he was doing. One night, she told him not to give up; she said that he was going to get better as long as they kept exercising and working through his hardships. During their sessions, she taught him how to eat, walk, talk, and do other physical tasks. He feels that she gave him the encouragement to improve and regain all of his skills.
Because of her patient load, Lt. Stephens could only give Jim physical therapy one hour per day. As a result, she decided to send him home with his parents for thirty days. She felt that he could improve in his home environment with their round-the-clock attention. Even at home, he remembers trying to learn more skills so that he could show Lt. Stephens how much he improved. His parents felt that her supervision greatly helped them with his daily therapy.
One year after they met, Lt. Stephens and Jim had to say goodbye; she was leaving the Army. She never saw him walk on his own, and had no idea that she had sent him on the road to recovery. Thanks to her, he was able to regain all of his motor skills and abilities. He is now a successful clinical psychologist living and working in San Diego, California; he would like to find Lt. Stephens and thank her for everything that she did to help him recover.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 20, 1989 episode. It was also featured on the Third Anniversary Special.
Results: Solved. Lt. Stephens, now Karen Stephens Nelson, was watching the broadcast, recognized Jim, and contacted the telecenter. She lives just thirty miles from him and was surprised to learn that he was looking for her. On September 25, 1989, they were reunited at his home. He was finally able to thank her for everything she did for him. She was overjoyed to reunite with him and see how much he had improved in the past twenty years.
Jim is still a psychologist and has started the "James P. Meade Jr. Foundation" which helps to provide treatment and support to Traumatic Brain Injury patients. He also wrote a book on his experiences, Making Your Own Reality: A Survival Story.
- Unsolved Mysteries: Cracking Cases and Repairing Lives
- Making Your Own Reality by James P. Meade, Jr.
- He Believed and Made Miracles a Reality
- Vietnam Vet gives back after experiencing TBI
- Making Your Own Reality: a Survival Story
- Facebook page for the James P. Meade Jr. Foundation