The words began tumbling out — at first just a few nouns and eventually a torrent of phrases.
Terry Wallis, who had been in a coma since a 1984 car accident, regained consciousness last month to the surprise of doctors and the delight of his family, including his mother, who heard his first word in 19 years.
"He started out with 'Mom' and surprised her and then it was 'Pepsi' and then it was 'milk.' And now it's anything he wants to say," Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center social director Alesha Badgley said Tuesday.
His mother, Angilee Wallis, called her son's return to consciousness a miracle: "I couldn't tell you my first thought, I just fell over on the floor," she said.
Terry Wallis, now 39, was riding with a friend in July 1984 when their car left the road and plunged into a creek. Wallis and his friend were found the next day underneath a bridge. The friend was dead and Wallis was comatose.
Wallis' daughter, Amber, was born shortly before the accident, and the coma dragged on for almost two decades. She is now 19 and her dad has said he wants to walk again, for her. He is a quadriplegic as a result of the crash.
"It's been hard dealing with it, it's been hard realizing the man I married can't be there," said Wallis' wife, Sandi. "We all, the whole family, missed out on his company."
The silence ended June 12 when Wallis uttered his first word. He was able to talk a little more a day later and has improved ever since.
Terry's father, Jerry Wallis, said his son talks almost nonstop now, but it seems as though time stopped for him after the wreck. Terry still believes Ronald Reagan is the president.
Terry has asked to speak to his grandmother, who died several years ago, and even recited her phone number — something everyone else in the family had forgotten.
"You see, he's still back in 1984," said Jerry Wallis.
For the Wallis family, Terry's return to consciousness has been a blessing.
Perry Wallis, Terry' brother, said "just to put it bluntly, it was pure hell to see your brother laying there, not knowing if you'll ever talk to him again."
The timing of the recovery also has raised eyebrows.
"It's kind of peculiar. He wrecked on Friday the 13th and 19 years later he started talking on Friday the 13th," Jerry Wallis said.