With a decisive blink of his eyes, Ethan Kadish has changed his whole world.
Ethan is the Loveland teenager who suffered a severe brain injury after being struck by lightning in 2013. For two and a half years, his family has been documenting his journey of recovery for friends and supporters known as Team Ethan, and WCPO has been telling his story on air and online.
On Sunday, Ethan's mom, Alexia Kadish, shared a video documenting her son's biggest breakthrough yet. Ethan can blink to answer "yes" to the questions that his family members ask him.
"It was amazing," Alexia Kadish told WCPO. "There's just this renewed energy, and it's so exciting to be able to share something of this magnitude."
Alexia Kadish was inspired to suggest 15-year-old Ethan blink to communicate on Halloween night. He was sitting in a recliner and was starting to get cranky while his parents answered the door for trick-or-treaters.
"I asked him, 'Ethan, do you want to go to bed? You seem really uncomfortable. Close your eyes if it's no that you don't want to go to bed.' His eyes closed so fast and in such a deliberate way," Kadish said.
She quickly realized that she wanted a blink to mean "yes," not "no." So she told Ethan that she was changing the rules, and she wanted him to close his eyes for yes.
"Would you be more comfortable in your wheelchair?" she asked him. "Blink for yes."
Ethan blinked for his mom and dad, and Alexia Kadish started crying.
"We got him up to the chair, and his smile was all we needed for validation," she said. "That's all he wanted, and he stayed up for another hour."
When Ethan started to get cranky again, his mom asked him to close his eyes if he wanted to go to bed, and Ethan did.
Alexia Kadish made her video the next morning on Nov. 1. Scott Kadish, Ethan's dad, had taken his younger sister Elyse to soccer. The house was quiet, and Alexia Kadish took out her phone to try to document the breakthrough.
"We always second-guess ourselves," she said. "When we see something new and good, we kind of second-guess ourselves."
But when Ethan answered her series of questions so decisively – both by blinking for yes and by keeping his eyes wide open for no – Kadish knew she had to post the video for all his friends and supporters to see.
This isn't the first time anyone has tried to communicate with Ethan using eye-blinking, but it's the first time he has been able to use the strategy so decisively, his mom said.
"I really don't understand what it is that changed," she said. "I don't know if it's a level of alertness in him or just some other connections in his brain."
Kadish said she and her family see the blinking as a game changer.
"This is the direction we're going," she said. "I can't imagine that he gains it and loses it."
While the blinking is the biggest, it's not the first communication breakthrough that Ethan has had in recent weeks, his mom said.
His school has been working with him to use switches to indicate preferences and answer questions. The Kadishes don't have switches at their Loveland home. But Alexia Kadish decided late last month to try using her hands.
She asked Ethan if he wanted to listen to an audio book or movie. She rubbed one side of his head for book and the other for movie, and he indicated he wanted a movie.
Then she got two movie choices – National Treasure and Prince of Egypt – with a different side of his head representing each choice.
"He just looked straight ahead," she said. "He did nothing. Usually he'll at least pick one."
That was Kadish's first real glimmer that Ethan was trying to tell her he didn't want either of those.
So Kadish picked Star Wars and Hercules and tried again.
"His demeanor changed completely," she said. "He had a big smile. He started with the happy vocalizations, thought it through and then – boom! – Star Wars."
Kadish said she sees these latest communication successes as a progression for Ethan, who has struggled with multiple ailments and setbacks since his injury.
"It's just really pumping us up," she said. "This is clearly a result of almost two and a half years of just hard, laborious work and faith and perseverance and just having that hope that there's more to come and not giving up."
Ethan's older brother, Zakary, had a video chat with Ethan and their dad over the weekend to see the progress for himself.
He asked, "Ethan, are the Bengals going to the Super Bowl?"
Ethan's eyes closed very definitively, his mom said.
It sounds like a Who Dey/Team Ethan partnership in the making.
To help fund the hundreds of thousands of dollars of ongoing care for Ethan each year that isn't covered by insurance, go to http://jointeamethan.org.
WCPO reporter Lucy May and WCPO photojournalist Emily Maxwell are following the progress of Ethan Kadish as he continues to recover from being struck by lightning on June 29, 2013.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.