African author Igwe Daniel Kelechi once said, “Life is a journey, and the road we travel has twists and turns which sometimes lead us to unexpected places and unexpected people, but in turn it always leads us to our destination.”
Ten years ago, life was about to take one of those unexpected turns for Beverly and Donnie Waters of Inman, South Carolina, their 22-year-old son, Andrew, and their 17-year-old twin daughters, Kimberly and Katherine.
It had been another typical family Christmas, replete with the usual overabundance of food, friends and celebrations, and 2012 was almost in the books. For Andrew, who was living in Boiling Springs, South Carolina, the new year would mean going back to work at BMW and monthly Reserve duty. As for the girls, starting their last semester as seniors at Chapman High School in Inman was exciting proof that graduation celebrations were just around the corner.
What could possibly go wrong?
On Dec. 28, 2012, Andrew and his friend went clubbing to celebrate the friend’s birthday. Drinking was involved. On the way home from the club, the driver lost control of the car and swerved, causing the vehicle to flip. While the driver experienced only minor injuries, Andrew had not been wearing his seatbelt and was tossed like a rag doll into the back seat. Most of the bones in his face were broken, but there were no serious injuries to any other part of his body – except his brain.
Beverly Waters remembers the 4 a.m. phone call – the one no parent ever wants to receive – that found her and Donnie three hours away from home in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Andrew had been in a car wreck and was at the hospital in critical condition. Every mile of the seemingly endless drive back to Inman was filled with questions, fears and prayers, some spoken and some whispered into the darkness. After contacting Andrew’s aunt and two family friends and asking them to go to the hospital, Beverly simply posted on Facebook, “Please pray!”
Donnie called a highway patrolman friend seeking more information and was assured Andrew was still alive. As they approached Inman, it was time to call the girls, break the news and summon them to the hospital as well.
The neurosurgeon who met them there had good news and bad news. Andrew could move his arms and legs but needed major facial reconstruction, and he was in a coma. The next 72 hours would be critical.
After three days at Spartanburg Regional Hospital, doctors recommended airlifting the comatose young man to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for reconstructive facial surgery and special attention to the complex brain damage. There they met the trauma intensive care unit doctor and nurse who would be handling Andrew’s care. The examination found not one but two brain bleeds and a brain shear, from which he might wake up with 100% brain function or severe permanent brain injuries – or he might never wake up at all. Not even the doctor could predict what the future would hold.
Everyone’s specific prayer became “Andrew 100%.”
Beverly remembers the next three-and-a-half weeks at the hospital feeling much like a roller coaster ride. While her only son silently battled pneumonia and other infections, he also needed a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. Then there was the nine-hour facial surgery, which involved placing seven plates and 42 screws along the shattered bones in Andrew’s face. It would be the first of three surgeries to repair some of the damage from the accident.
Two days later, on Jan. 19, 2013, Andrew Waters opened his eyes and responded to his parents for the first time since the accident. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he had two more facial surgeries and began the long journey of learning how to live again. This meant daily speech, physical and occupational therapy. For the once virile Chapman High School football and track athlete, it was a slow process.
During this time, Donnie and Beverly Waters primarily stayed with their son while his two sisters tried to navigate both their final semester of high school and quick trips to Atlanta every weekend to encourage their brother and have family time.
When the three-month Atlanta rehab was completed, Andrew returned home to continue his treatment as an outpatient, three days a week at Peace Rehab in Greenville. Although he was able to navigate around the house, he required 24-hour care and could not be left alone because of his brain injury. Getting their son back to the place where he could drive a vehicle and start classes at Spartanburg Community College would be a full two-year journey for the entire family.
Today, Andrew still works on memory issues, his reasoning abilities, balance, loss of smell and the loss of hearing in one ear. He has no memory of about six months surrounding the time of his accident.
“I am blessed to be alive and continue to see blessings each day,” he said. “I work part-time and do some public speaking about the dangers of acting before thinking, from a medical perspective and as a brain-injury survivor. For my future, I see happiness. I hope to be able to get into a full-time career and live independently.”
Faith remains a very important part of the Waters family journey. Learning what had happened to him in the accident, initially threw Andrew first into a serious depression. However, now, he said, “I feel that this accident brought me closer to God. My faith is what saw me through and continues to strengthen me today.”
“We could not have gotten through this without relying on our faith and sticking together as a family,” his mother said. “God gave us peace that Andrew would be OK. We had people praying all over the country. We received tremendous support from our families, our friends, our church family at Inman First Baptist and our community.”
To other families dealing with a traumatic brain injury, Waters offers this message: “You have to hang on to hope.”
“Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you will land among the stars,” Andrew added.
Fast Facts About Traumatic Brain Injuries
Approximately 1.7 million Americans will face traumatic brain injuries every year.
Closed brain injuries often occur from being struck by an object or experiencing an explosion or blast at close range that damages the structural integrity of the brain’s neurons. As a result, the frontal and temporal areas of the brain are damaged, causing havoc with the working memory.
Teenagers, military personnel and those over 65 are most vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries, 80% of which are categorized as mild head injuries and often caused by contact sports and accidents.
A 3% to 5% mortality rate is associated with more severe head trauma, and there are high-risk factors for PTSD and other psychiatric disorders.
Source: The National Library of Medicine.
By Janet E. Perrigo