Veteran wakes from months-long coma days before Christmas: ‘It was just his will'

Tony Belt is now able to embrace his three sons after waking from his coma. (Photo: Courtesy of Kyli Belt)

In the days after 39-year-old Tony Belt — a father of three and Purple Heart recipient who served overseas in the Army Infantry — fell 18 feet from a scissor lift at work on Sept. 26, doctors gave his family “pretty much no hope,” his wife, Kyli Belt, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“They brought in the organ donation team, the palliative care team,” she recalls. “They made me explain to my kids that daddy was going to heaven.”

Kyli, from Missouri City, Iowa, says she was encouraged to set a DNR [do not resuscitate] order as her husband lay in a coma, hooked up to a ventilator.

But Kyli noticed that Tony was initiating his own breaths — and last week, he had a major breakthrough. With just days to go before Christmas, Tony started opening his eyes and is now communicating with his loved ones via hand gestures and, as of this Tuesday, mumbled words. It’s a development his son Eli predicted.

“Since the beginning, he’s the only one who never gave up hope,” Kyli says of the boy. “He told me that daddy was going to be awake and talking on Christmas Eve — and tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, and here he is today, turning his voice back on and saying yes and no.

“It was just his will,” she continued, in reference to Tony’s persistence.

While Tony — whose fall was caused by a crane knocking into the scissor lift he was using — still has blurred and double vision, he’s made great strides in the days since he came out of his coma. Kyli says his latest scans show no swelling on his brain, and he’s been using hand gestures and “forming words.” This Monday, he stood up on his own while using a robotic device during rehab at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha, Neb. Therapists there are optimistic about his recovery, Kyli says.

“They never gave up hope on him,” she says. “At any time he could turn that corner and start talking and actually be at the point where he could start walking on his own.

“It just depends on when everything in his brain just clicks ... and be him again, I guess,” she adds.

For now, Tony is “getting his strength back” through physical therapy. This Monday, he was able to sit up and give dispense hugs and kisses to his three boys, who have been committed to bringing Christmas cheer to their dad’s room. Kyli says they’ve put up holiday decorations — with the help of hundreds of Christmas cards sent by well-wishers and strangers who have been moved by Tony’s story — and have even enjoyed visits from Santa.

On Christmas Day, they’ll spend the day with Tony at the hospital, where they’ll open gifts as usual.

“They’re really excited to come here and see what Santa brought them,” Kyli says.


GoFundMe has also been set up for the Belts, who are living off of Tony’s workman’s compensation, a partial payment which Kyli says barely covers their daycare expenses for the boys who must be looked after while their father undergoes his therapy. Kyli lost her own job at a data processing center shortly after her husband’s fall. Having returned from maternity leave just three weeks before the accident, she was told she wouldn’t be able to take the necessary time off to care for him. So far, more than $15,000 has been raised.

As the fundraising page notes, this is Tony’s second traumatic brain injury, having been shot in the head while serving.

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