Sailor John Harrison coming out of coma, trying to smile

John Harrison Doucet with mother, Ruthie McMullen
John Harrison Doucet with mother, Ruthie McMullen

Gulfport sailor John Harrison Doucet has done his best to flash his family a smile and is blinking for “yes” and “no,” his parents said in an e-mail update to supporters.

Doctors are slowly bringing him out of the medically induced coma he was put in after suffering severe burns almost two weeks ago outside the Gulfport Yacht Club. They are waking him from the coma a few hours at a time over a span of days, his parents said.

John Harrison’s parents, Tommy Doucet and Ruthie McMullen, sent the e-mail update on the 20-year-old Friday night from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., where last week he had to have his right arm amputated and muscle removed from his back. The Gulfport High School graduate’s legs were amputated at the Still Burn Center in Jackson shortly after overhead power lines shocked him Sept. 18. He was airlifted to the burn center in Georgia, the nation’s largest, as soon as he was stabilized.

Infection is the biggest threat to his survival.

“But we know that with all the love and support that both he and us have received from so many people, we are hopeful for his future on his long road ahead,” his parents said in the update sent to Gulfport attorney Joe Sam Owen. The family has hired Owen, along with Ocala, Fla., lawyers Abraham Banks and Jimmy Collins, to investigate what happened to John Harrison and to represent him.

He was injured while parking a sailboat and trailer outside the yacht club after an afternoon sail with his mother and her sisters. Mississippi Power has said it will have no comment until it completes its own investigation of what happened.

His parents wrote, “Very helpful information about the area where the incident took place has been received on the John Harrison Doucet information phone line at (228) 224-8984 and via email at TeamJH@yahoo.com. We continue to ask that if anyone has any information about the incident itself or the power poles and power lines in that area to continue to provide that information to us.”

John Harrison suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over much of his body.

“​The doctors and staff at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center have done an incredible job of surgically removing dead skin tissue and preparing the underlying tissue for skin grafts made from his own skin,” the email says.

“With only limited areas from which to work, the Joseph M. Still Burn Center takes biopsies of his good skin tissue and​,​ through a special laboratory in Massachusetts and the hand of Jesus, they are able to grow John Harrison his own new skin and surgically make ​(their) ​best efforts to replace the damaged areas.​”​

​It takes ​17 to 21 days to grow skin​ that is two to three cells deep​, doctors told his family.​

John Harrison is unable to speak because of medical tubing, but his parents hope to talk with him soon.

“We play country music for him, read him the Bible, and share all the love from the Gulf Coast with him​,” his parents wrote. “​One entire wall of his room is covered with all the cards, letters and posters everyone has sent to him.​”​

​Thousands have shown their support for John Harrison through prayers, donations to a GoFundMe account ​and well-wishes on social media.

St. Patrick Catholic High School and businesses in downtown Gulfport such as Pop Brothers handcrafted popsicles are raising money for travel and medical expenses. John Harrison’s parents say he has years of recovery ahead.

​They closed their email by saying, “​Please keep praying, and we will do our best to keep everyone updated as best as we can.”

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald