Laura Browning Grant has been teaching pilates for almost 15 years – but she never imagined she’d have to use the practice to help her husband regain even the most basic of motor functions.
On March 17, Jonathan Neal Grant, who began serving as a Navy SEAL in 2007, was in a horrific car accident as he and a friend rushed to offer medical aid at the site of a fire in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Jonathan – who was serving as a combat medic instructor at Fort Bragg at the time of the accident – suffered a traumatic brain injury called a diffuse axonal injury and fell into a coma.
Jonathan, 36, has since woken up, but is confined to a wheelchair and hasn’t regained his speech. He’s once again eating on his own, and working toward standing up without aid.
“To this day, I’m still in shock,” Laura, 32, tells PEOPLE exclusively of her husband of five years. “That first day, I kept thinking that I was going to wake up tomorrow and he was going to be awake and everything was going to be okay.”
Jonathan’s future remains unclear and he’s still “100 percent dependent,” Laura says, noting that he’ll likely be an in-patient at the hospital for a least another year.
But Jonathan has made some major improvements through physical, speech, occupational and recreational therapies. And, Laura’s been putting her career as a pilates instructor and owner of Laura B Pilates to good use.
“As soon as we got into the ICU I knew that movement was going to heal,” she says. “So just laying there, his body is not going to be able to circulate correctly. So I would massage his feet every night because in pilates we always start from the feet and go out.”
Laura says the “awareness” of her body that she’s learned through pilates has also enabled her to help work with Jonathan on physical therapy techniques on her own.
The response to the Grants’ story has been powerful, and Laura admits that although she was initially fearful of negative comments, her husband’s military “brotherhood” has come to the forefront.
“I do have my times that I get down,” admits Laura. “Usually I just like to kind of go for a run and be with myself at those moments and think through things and remind myself, I have to remember that God has a plan and that the journey that we’re going on, God has full control of it.”
Laura says part of relinquishing control was telling John it was “okay if it is too hard to fight.” She says, “The first day when it happened, I whispered into John’s ear, you know, if it’s God’s will for you to live, then fight, but if it’s too painful then I understand, and I’ll be okay.”
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But Jonathan’s a fighter.
“When he went into the military, he decided he was not just going to be in the military. He was going to be a Navy SEAL,” she explains. “If he was going to do it, he was going to do it all the way. But, that’s the mentality of John and that’s why I have no doubts that he’s going to push as hard as he can through this.”