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Posted at 7:48 AM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Story pick: A father's heartbreaking devotion

By Steve Hendrix

There was really only one piece of storytelling in yesterday's Amercan journalism that I even considered for today's don't-miss read: My Story Lab colleague Paul Schwartzman's tremendous telling of a Virginia father's obsessive devotion to his comatose son. It's a tough but infinitely worthwhile tale of round-the-clock compassion bordering on -- it's hard to conclude otherwise -- a step away from reality. Here's the top:

As midnight approaches, the father is where he was when the day began, sitting on the edge of his son's bed, peering into his unfocused eyes and misshapen mouth, rubbing his bare chest and scarred scalp. Checking his diaper. Making sure his boy is okay.

He is not okay. Ryan Diviney is 21 years old. For the past year, he has existed in what his doctors call a vegetative state, or "eyes-open coma," resulting from a horrific beating. He is awake but seemingly unaware. His father describes his son's existence as little more than that of a heart beating inside a body.

Schwartzman travels with the father to the sentencing of the college kids who beat Ryan savagely (over a baseball argument). Here, the sympathetic caregiver bares his fangs:

Forty-five minutes later, he's still talking and showing photos: the Divineys on their last vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Ryan on the left, smiling. Ryan hitting his last home run. Ryan at a West Virginia football game, the last time his father hugged him before the night he was assaulted. Ryan in a hospital bed, half his skull missing.

Ken describes Vantrease's parents as failures. He rejects Austin's apology and says he deserves 10 years in prison, and even that wouldn't be enough.

"My fantasy is to have two minutes in a locked room with a baseball bat," Ken tells the court. Austin, he promises, "won't come out in any worse condition than my son."

In the first row, Vantrease's mother lurches forward in her seat.

Devastatingly good.

By Steve Hendrix  | December 3, 2010; 7:48 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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Next: Postscript: Ken Diviney

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