An accident left my son in a near-vegetative state. Everyone else gave up on him...
"Please God, let my son live," I pleaded during the hour-long drive to the hospital. All I knew was that Terry and his friend, Lowell "Chubs," had been in a terrible car accident early that Saturday morning in July of 1984. My son was eighteen with a wife and beautiful six-week-old baby girl, Amber.
Since we had no phone at that time, a neighbor had come over to tell me the hospital was trying to contact us. There had been a bad accident. My husband Jerry was out on errands with our other two sons, Perry and George, ages seventeen and ten. Terry's place was about a mile away, so I drove over to break the news to his wife, Sandy. Chubs's wife was there also. With a car full of various family members, we sped off to the hospital in a panic.
A cloud of fear and disbelief hung over us all. We prayed unceasingly, pleading for the lives of Terry and Chubs. My shock prevented any tears.
I could not believe this was happening to us. We lived a simple but happy life in a modest, two-bedroom house in Marshall, Arkansas. The two youngest boys lived at home while my daughter, Tammy, and Terry both lived close by with their spouses. At the time, my husband Jerry worked as a mechanic. I had been employed at a shirt factory for eight years.
When we reached the hospital, we were told the boys had both been taken by helicopter to Springfield Hospital, a trauma center that was three hours away. We got back into the car for the longest drive of our lives.
At the trauma center, we were taken aside so medical personnel could prepare us. Terry had a brain stem injury. This meant paralysis was a possibility. He had been given medication to reduce his brain swelling, but the swelling still continued.
"There will be machines and a lot of tubes," the nurse explained. "Terry has been given medication for pain and is not awake. It is possible he might be able to hear you, so it important that you remain calm. We do not want to upset him further in any way."
As I walked into the room and saw all the tubes and machines, my emotions spilled out. I quickly turned around and stepped back out. Shaking, crying, and gasping for air, I tried hard to get myself under control so I could go back in.
Taking deep breaths to calm myself, I walked over to Terry's bedside. Love and fear overwhelmed me as I looked at my son lying unconscious. Yet, seeing him gave me hope. The only physical sign of the accident was a cut over his eye that required three stitches. Terry's arms were twisting back forth. "Isn't that good?" I asked the nurse when I saw his arms moving. "He can't be paralyzed if his arms are moving."
The nurse explained to me that twitching arms were a reaction to his brain swelling and it was not a good sign. I swallowed hard but could not stop my tears from flowing. I touched his hand and struggled to keep my voice steady. "Terry, hang in there. I love you and I'm going to be here for you," I whispered.
His wife also touched his hand and talked to him reassuringly. I looked at my boy who had always been so healthy and energetic, lying there with tubes going into him. This can't be, I thought. But I could not change reality. I could only pray that Terry would recover.
Chubs did not make it. It was still possible that Terry could die also. For several days the doctors tried in vain to stop his brain from swelling. And day after day the only word was: "We don't know what the extent of his injuries will be."
But whatever kind of life Terry would have, as his mother—the one who gave him life—I would be there for him. For weeks I slept on a couch in a waiting room. Jerry came often with the other kids. Together, we kept praying and reassuring Terry to hang in there.
After a few weeks, Sandy and I worked out a routine where we took turns being with Terry. Although visiting hours were over at 8 p.m., the nurses let us stay much later. After a couple of months, they also let us sleep in the nurses' dorm next to the hospital.
Toward the end of October, the doctor told us that there was no longer any reason to keep Terry in the hospital. He was still in a coma, so he needed to be moved to a nursing home. I had not given up hope, but the doctors could do no more for him.
Terry was placed in a nursing home two hours away from our house. At this point, people started losing hope. Some questioned if perhaps it would have been better for Terry to have died in the accident. If he never came out of the coma, was my desire to keep him alive selfish? I did not want to let him go, and yet, what did Terry want?
I began asking God what He wanted. "Lord, I love Terry and I want You to heal him, but Your will be done," I started praying. "I trust in you, God." In the midst of my pain, I began to feel some peace. If Terry continued to live, it would be because God wanted Him to.
I returned to work, where I had been given a leave of absence, but I spent every other weekend at the nursing home. My mother and sister lived nearby, so I often stayed with them or simply slept in a recliner in Terry's room.
As Christmas neared that first year after the accident, I could not imagine a family celebration without Terry. I wanted him home. Since he was still in a coma, there was great concern that this would be too difficult. I was scared but I was also determined; Terry needed to be home during Christmas.
Terry's feeding tube was removed shortly after Thanksgiving. I had watched the nurses feed him with a syringe and decided I could manage. Staff from the nursing home helped us carry Terry into the car. Family and friends helped us carry him into the house once we got him home.
In the familiar setting of home and surrounded by family and friends, loved ones came by to wish Terry a Merry Christmas. Everyone talked to him as if he were the old Terry. He was still in a coma, but I believed he had to know the difference between being in the nursing home and being at home. I could not prove it, but I felt it with my whole heart.
From that time on, we started bringing Terry home every other weekend. By the end of the next year, Terry was moved into a nursing home in Mountain View, which is the town where I work. I frequently stopped by to see him after work and we brought him home every weekend.
The months turned into years—five, ten, fifteen—and people saw no improvement. Terry's young wife had gotten on with her life. His daughter, Amber, only occasionally saw her father as she grew up. A few people questioned the wisdom of bringing him home every weekend, but most of our family and friends supported us. It was a strain, but Jerry and I were united in our unwavering love for Terry.
Like a bud that blooms so slowly that its movement is imperceptible, Jerry and I felt that our son was opening up. It was so gradual, it escaped others. There were little things or a wink. One day, Terry laughed. And once Terry did something, he could continue to do it.
Driving with Terry in the car one morning, his head bobbed up and down after I asked him a question. I paid no attention, thinking it was the bouncing of the car that caused it. But Jerry cried out: "Look, he's answering you. He's shaking his head yes!" From that moment on, Terry was able to shake his head when asked a question. Later on, he started making the sound: "uh-huh."
Nineteen years after the accident, on Wednesday, June 11, 2003, I walked into Terry's room and said "Hi, Terry," as I always did. One of the nursing home aides asked him, "Who is that, Terry?"
"Mom," he answered clearly. I almost fell over I was so shocked. The aide and I looked at each other with the same astonished expressions on our faces. Tears of joy rolled down our cheeks as we ran over and hugged Terry.
"Did you hear that?" I cried. "He said 'Mom!' Terry, say that again!"
Terry laughed and again said the most beautiful word I had ever heard: "Mom."
Terry did not say another word that day, but after nineteen years, he had spoken! His one word was music to my ears, more incredible than his first "mamma" so many years before. We brought him home for a weekend visit that Friday. I kept asking him questions that he could answer with "Mom." Later that day, I got him to say "Pepsi."
On Saturday morning, I awoke to turn him over at 4 a.m., which was a necessary task. This was always a time when I would talk with him. Terry was mumbling.
"I know you are trying to tell me something," I said. "Just keep trying and I'll catch it," I told him. He kept struggling until "Mom and Dad" tumbled out.
"Say it again," I pleaded excitedly through my tears.
Terry repeated: "Mom and Dad."
"Terry, tomorrow is Father's Day," I cried. "When Dad gets up, we'll tell him what you can say. It will be his Father's Day present from you."
When Jerry got up, I could not contain my excitement. "Jerry, Terry has a Father's Day present for you," I said, escorting him to Terry's bedside. Then, very clearly, Terry spoke: "Mom and Dad."
Jerry is not one given to emotions, but tears glistened in his eyes. "That's the best Father's Day present I could have," he said.
For breakfast, I expected Terry to ask for Pepsi—his new word—when I asked him what he wanted to drink. Instead, he said: "Milk."
When a nurse at the nursing home learned of all Terry's words, she arranged for a speech therapist to visit Terry. "Angilee, I believe he will be speaking in full sentences within a week," she announced.
The next week, when I walked into his room, he was telling the people around him that his birthday was April 7, 1964. I laughed and hugged him then asked: "Terry, what you else can you say?"
"Anything I want," he answered, laughing.
By the end of August we brought Terry home to stay. I quit my job to care for him full-time. His daughter Amber is nineteen now. She comes every day to spend time with her dad. She loves Terry just because he is her dad.
Terry is a quadriplegic as a result of the accident. Yet, many times he has told me, "I'm so happy." God wanted him to live, and now I know Terry also wanted to survive. My family is still the center of my life, but God is also there with us.
My son's life is a miracle. I keep praying and trusting that God will continue to see us all through.