Christy and Willy Rookard have been home in Gardiner for a month now after an assault in Mexico left Willy with a collapsed lung and a brain injury. The couple continues to work on his speech and motor functions together. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Christy and Willy Rookard have been home in Gardiner for a month now after an assault in Mexico left Willy with a collapsed lung and a brain injury. The couple continues to work on his speech and motor functions together. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Rookard family finds healing at home following June incident in Mexico

It's been one month since the Rookard family of Gardiner returned from San Diego when a celebratory time turned to disaster.

It’s been one month since the Rookard family of Gardiner returned from San Diego when a celebratory time turned to disaster.

The couple, Willy and Christy Rookard, were preparing to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with family and friends but a late night assault led to a hospital stay for more than a month.

At about 12:15 a.m June 27, the couple, their daughter Alexis Rookard, and a family friend were in downtown Cabo on their way back to their hotel, capping their second day of hanging out with family and friends, when men in their 30s in a silver car pulled up and began harassing them.

Eventually, the men grabbed Willy by his arm. He tried to run and match the pace of the car but couldn’t keep up and the men dragged him away, Christy said.

He was later diagnosed with a collapsed lung and a brain injury, a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Willy spent five days in the intensive care unit at Sharp Memorial Hospital, and during his stay their anniversary passed, followed by another six days in the hospital and 30 days in rehabilitation.

He doesn’t remember much from recent months, Willy said.

“I remember a little, tiny bit,” he said.

“Very little do I remember. I thought all of June was gone but it’s coming back to me. July, I can’t remember anything. August is gone, too.”

As the days passed, Christy said things got better after a lot of initial confusion.

“I’ve learned a lot in the rehab process,” she said.

“He would progress but not remember something from five minutes ago. It’s amazing how the brain works.”

In rehabilitation, Willy spent three hours, six days a week, working on gaining his basic functions back.

Willy is proud to say he’s graduated from physical therapy and he continues to work on home exercises with stretches, walking and balancing. He also works on word scrambles and sentence structures.

“Everyday things are getting better,” Christy said.

“With the physical part, that’s easy to see. It’s the brain part that’s harder to recognize but then he’ll say something from memory and then you know he’s progressing.”

Six months later

Christy said doctors told the couple Willy’s status at six months after the incident will give them a good idea how his day-to-day life will be going forward.

“Hopefully, I’ll be a lot more advanced,” Willy said.

After being by Willy’s side since the incident, Christy went back to work at First Federal this week as a retail training specialist after using vacation, sick time and donated vacation time from co-workers.

Willy is eager to go back to work too at the Dungeness River Lamb Farm where he did an array of tasks from caring for chickens to cooking in their commercial kitchen.

“I haven’t worked yet, but I want to go back to work,” he said.

Willy joked, saying, “I haven’t been able to drive. My wife stole my keys. She’s taken away all my good stuff.”

Christy said they plan to explore options with his employer to see how he can transition in the future.

In recent weeks, Willy has taken some initiative doing some cooking, following recipes and making their bed like he used to before the incident.

“I haven’t been able to help with weeding and mowing, stuff like that,” he said. “It just wears me out too much. I’ve had to take naps. I normally wouldn’t.”

Sequim’s support

Since learning of the incident, the Sequim community has set up online fundraisers through GoFundMe and CaringBridge, an account at all First Federal branches, and held various benefits raising tens of thousands of dollars total to help the family with medical expenses.

“The community has been super awesome,” Christy said. “I don’t know what all the medical coverage is going to cost yet after insurance. I knew financially it would be devastating but the way the community has supported us I don’t feel that way anymore. The overwhelming support has been humbling.”

Initially, Willy was taken to an unnamed “rinky-dink” hospital only a few blocks from the incident, Christy said. Family members felt uncomfortable with the facility and the Rookards’ son-in-law Michael Dunning and his dad Tom coordinated with Sharp Memorial Hospital for an airlift that came in 18 hours later.

“They (the medivacs) were amazed we did it so fast,” Christy said. “It’s because we had amazing support of the people with us.”

Christy still doesn’t see the actions of two men as a reflection of the city.

“Bad things happen everywhere, even the United States,” she said.

Despite being in a place they’ve gone five times before with a time share rental, Christy said a return visit is not something she’d want to do.

“It would bring back bad memories,” she said.

“He doesn’t remember it and I’m still debating. The verdict is still out. I might want to get rid of the time share. Having an experience like that happen is really scary. There are hundreds and hundreds of places to go.”

As for seeking justice with the two men who assaulted Willy, Christy said she doubts there’s been any progress on the incident and their police report.

“I probably could follow-up if I wanted to, but my thing is all about Willy’s recovery,” she said.

Willy’s incident wasn’t the only heartbreaking incident this year for the Rookards.

Christy’s father, Richard Valaske, died in March and her brother, Greg Valaske, died in June from a single-car crash.

“This has been the biggest challenge of my life thus far,” Christy said.

“Making it this far, I feel like we can make it through anything.”

Christy said she continues to learn a lot and to be patient because brain injuries can take time from which to recover.

Willy Rookard owned Rookard’s Hardware, which had been open for more than 30 years and in the same family since 1988, until it closed in January 2006.

Again, to help the family cover medical, travel and accommodation expenses, an account at all First Federal community banks has been set up, as well as at online sites GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/willyrookard) and Caring Bridge (www.caringbridge.org/visit/willyrookard).

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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