QUARTZ HILL — Nearly a year after a near-fatal automobile accident, Brant Theurer's progress is still measured by small victories.
They come slowly but surely: Walking a few steps with help. Giving the thumbs-up sign. Typing "I love you" to his father, Mike, on a laptop computer.
But Thursday night, Brant took another sizable step on the road to recovery. That evening, surrounded by relatives and friends who stood by his side through many months in a coma, Brant attended the graduation ceremonies of his class at Paraclete High School.
"The kids just sort of gathered around him and let him know he was still a part of the group and made sure he was included," Mike Theurer said. "It was really neat."
Brant, a patient at the Meridian Neuro Care facility in Santa Ana, did not graduate with the others because he was in a coma for most of the school year, but he wore a cap and gown and received an award from the principal, Father William Caffrey.
"We gave him the award for spirit," Caffrey said. "He influenced so much what the senior class' positive attitude was this past year. . . . He motivated all of us on how we look at our lives."
It has been a grueling and uncertain haul since last summer for Brant, a former football player who turns 18 on June 16.
Last July 29, Brant and three friends were returning from a football camp in Los Angeles when the driver fell asleep and the Ford Bronco crashed on the Antelope Valley Freeway near Acton.
His friends suffered only minor injuries but Brant, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle. Brant's spinal cord was not damaged but his brain was badly bruised and bleeding. He was not expected to survive.
Brant was in a coma until February. During those months, his parents tried to pull him back to consciousness. They played for him videotapes of Paraclete's football games and tape recordings of Coach Steve Hagerty giving instructions at the games and at practices.
The sounds and images seemed to reach Brant. He muscles tensed and his head and arms moved slightly when the tapes were played.
His improvement since then has been steady. He has gained limited mobility and uses a wheelchair, and his speech is impaired. But Linda Lew, a speech therapist at Meridian, said Brant is making progress.
"I'm working with him with a computer and trying to get an alternative way for him to communicate," Lew said. "I think the football training he had is to his benefit because he works hard and he has a real strong drive."
But the long-term prognosis, Mike Theurer said, is unclear. Not only for Brant's recovery but also for his care. The family's health-insurance coverage ran out recently and the Theurers have been tapping other sources for money.
"Everything is up in the air. [Brant] has gone beyond everything medicine expected him to do. All indications are that he continues to improve," said Mike Theurer, an orthodontist who takes turns with his wife, Mary, in visiting their son.
"We are working on private funds and some donations that have come in. We are trying to carry the financial part as long as we can. It's incredible what people have given to us this year. It has been really appreciated."
As much, no doubt, as the warm reception Brant received Thursday night at Paraclete.
"It was a real experience here [Thursday] night," Hagerty said. "There were a lot of teary eyes. It was a good tribute to him and his struggle."