Like the rest of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ramon Ramos celebrated another victory Wednesday.
For the first time since a car accident left him with head injuries in December, Ramos left the hospital. He got into a car and was driven around the block by his father.
"When he got into the car, he smiled, waved to his mother, and said goodby," Ramon Ramos Sr. said.
The drive may have been short, but it was symbolic of the long distance he has come since Dec. 16, when his car struck an icy patch on Interstate 5 and flipped several times.
Ramos, a 22-year-old rookie forward, was signed as a free agent after he helped Seton Hall reach the final game of the NCAA Tournament in 1989.
For more than two months after the accident, Ramos was comatose. After he began to show progress, he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon at Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center, where he has undergone daily physical and speech therapy.
Wednesday afternoon, the same day Portland took a 2-0 lead over Phoenix in the NBA playoffs, Ramos was helped to a chair at the end of a Ping-Pong table and a paddle was placed in his right hand.
Physical therapist Patty Kimber lofted a ball in a soft arc toward Ramos at the other end of the table. Ramos hit the ball back.
Ramos' father and mother, Iluminada, smiled as proudly as if they'd just seen their son hit the winning shot in a championship game.
"I see progress every day," the elder Ramos said. "He's speaking better and better each day, speaking in both English and Spanish. He feels he is back home in Puerto Rico now."
Young Ramos is able to help some with his personal care, brushing his teeth and combing his hair, said medical center spokesman Chuck Williams.
And recently, Williams said, Ramos has been able to say a few words and write some words and short sentences.
"When his college coach at Seton Hall, P.J. Carlesimo, visited, he very plainly said 'P.J.,' " Williams said. "And during a Blazer game on TV, when they showed a closeup of Mark Bryant shooting a free throw, he clearly said 'Mark.' "
Williams said Ramos likes to watch the Blazers' games, but "it's hard for us to understand exactly what he knows about how the Blazers are doing."
"He watches the games but he's not able to fully follow them," he said today.
Dr. Franklin Wong, who is in charge of Ramos' rehabilitation, said there's no question Ramos is improving.
"He is now eating enough food that we have been able to take out the feeding tube," he said. "He is now making attempts to speak and to write. . . . Sometimes it is appropriate and very accurate, and at other times it is not appropriate and shows confusion. But it is all very encouraging.
"He has made some nice gains, but there still is a long way to go. But I am happy with his progress. Our goals remain the same: to get him to where he can live in as independent a situation as possible. At this point, he requires a lot of care."