The Thoughts of a Father: my journal from 10 years ago . . .Part 2

“I’m not supposed to walk”

March 4, Monday
Tonight was the first night since the accident that we didn’t spend the evening with Brian. I needed to drive Amy to Lebanon Valley College for an interview. After the interview we ate dinner with Lisa’s parents and had a nice time with them. It was good we didn’t go down to see Brian. We needed a break and to spend some time with just the girls. I worry they are feeling neglected. Plus Brian needs to learn to get along without us always being there. He had a lot of visitors there anyway, as usual. Carolyn and Jess from Hilltown Baptist youth group brought him a pizza.

The tough thing for me today was realizing it was the first day of baseball practice. Even if God does a miracle and Brian is able to stand again or even walk, he is done with competitive baseball. We’ll probably miss that even more than he will. We so enjoyed watching him play and cheering for him. We used to cheer for hits and good catches, now we cheer for finger wiggles and for his learning to feed himself. But in either case—in baseball or with this—he’s giving 110% and I’m just as proud of him, if not more.

[An added note I scribbled on the top of this page] We called Brian’s case worker today to get him more rehab time and things to do. With all his problems and this huge life change, his biggest problem—he’s bored! That’s our Brian.

March 5, Tuesday
Today is exactly two weeks since the accident and Brian is already doing so much. He gets around great in his motorized wheelchair, he is learning to feed himself pretty well, and beginning to learn to write with a contraption that attaches to his hand. One mom, whose daughter is in the spinal cord unit, remarked that he is way ahead of where her daughter was after just a week at Magee. But we are learning that everyone progresses at a different pace. Today we also started the process of getting financial assistance in buying a transport van for Brian—lots to learn.

We went down to Magee with a big stack of get well cards to read to Brian and he had a bunch of cards that came to him at the hospital as well. So many are from people we don’t even know. Brian quote of the day: “If you really want a lot of people to show how much they love you, just break your neck.” Today he got a personal letter from superman—Christopher Reeve. He was so tickled to get that. I don’t know how Christopher got Brian’s name, but that was truly special.

Brian seemed very tired tonight. He is still not sleeping well. We read Psalm 63 together: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” (verse 6). Brian liked that verse. He helped write some thank you notes tonight with his new pen holder contraption. Lisa says it’s better handwriting than mine. If you’re reading this [the handwritten journal] you can see why.

March 6, Wednesday
Today we won’t be going down to see Brian. I know there’s a gang of Brian’s friends going down to see him tonight so he certainly won’t be lonely. Heather from our church called us. There is a huge team of volunteers coming Saturday to work on our house. What a blessing!

Today Brian called us all excited about some new kind of spinal cord therapy being done as a research project out of UCLA that involves hanging the patient from the ceiling using a parachute harness while they walk on a treadmill. I don’t know all the details but he sounds pretty excited about it. They’re looking at Brian as a possible subject for the study.

Tonight we met with Jeff, an attorney who attends our church, regarding possible lawsuit stuff and the ski resort. I don’t know if anything will develop from that and that’s fine if it doesn’t. But I will say the one thing that really disappoints us is that no one connected with the ski resort has even called or contacted us at all. It hurts, really. If kids are still doing flips up there on the slopes, I’ll be furious. I intend to find out. [No legal action of any kind was ever initiated on our part]

I started reading the Adam Taliaferro book tonight. It’s hard not to compare his progress with Brian’s. There are some similarities to his injuries, does that mean the same outcome? I hope so.

I found out it was my sister Bonnie who had emailed Christopher Reeve’s organization to tell him about Brian. It was nice of Christopher to take the time to write.

[Adam Taliaferro was a Penn State football player who, in 2000, suffered a serious injury in a game at Ohio State, resulting in paralysis from a spinal cord injury. His book, Miracle in the Making, details his struggles and rehabilitation—at Magee Rehab where Brian was—and the amazing recovery to the point of walking out of the hospital. Brian and Adam became friends and he and his family were an inspiration and big help to us through our shared experiences.]

March 7, Thursday
What a day! Brian needed a little boost this week. God knew that. Brian’s therapist told us that he said to her, “this paralysis stuff really sucks.” I’m sure sometimes it really must. He got a great boost today! Brian is connecting with more celebrities. He had already gotten a personal letter from Christopher Reeve. Today a package came from the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team with autographed photos of many of the players including Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutumbo, among others. If that wasn’t enough, who comes into Brian’s room to visit but Adam Taliaferro. He stopped by and talked with Brian for about 20 minutes. (We had just bought Adam’s book yesterday!) Adam was highly impressed with how far along Brian is. Everyone is impressed with how he is doing. Brian was in awe and now Adam is his new hero. As I said, what a day!

Then later this evening Brian, Lisa and I were presented with a unique opportunity. Brian was asked to take part in the UCLA research study for a new treatment of patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries. They hang the person from the ceiling in a parachute harness and put them on a treadmill. It may not be any more effective in helping him to regain his legs, but that is what they are trying to learn from this study. One of the challenges for us to think through is the fact that Brian might be in the control group and receive the traditional rehab, or he may get picked for the new treatment. It is simply a random choice. We have to sign off on that if Brian is to be in the study. I know Brian wants the harness; we will pray. We made the decision to sign up for the UCLA study.

March 8, Friday
Well, yesterday’s high was followed by today’s low. As it turns out, Brian was chosen for the part of the UCLA study that utilizes the more traditional form of therapy rather than the parachute harness. Brian is OK with that. So are we but I think we’re just a little disappointed. Either way, as a part of this study, he still gets more therapy now per day. And there were some risks and potential complications with that other new form of therapy, especially a possible hazard with his catheter. [At this point Brian still did not have much feeling below the waist, nor control of bodily functions]

We started a web site today, We’ll use it to keep people updated on Brian’s progress and as a way for people to contact Brian and leave messages of hope. So many cards still coming in, many from complete strangers. I can’t wait to get the web site online and running. Brian is really excited about it. He is also excited that the hospital is transporting some of the patients to a 76ers game in a few weeks. There are a few extra seats at the game and I’ll get to go with Brian!

Great news, praise the Lord! Brian said that he made slight movements of his legs, calves, thighs and even his toes for Dr. Staas! [Medical Director at Magee Rehab and a wonderful doctor] The doctor told Brian that Brian had “made his day.” The nurses said they’ve never heard Staas say that before. We are so excited! We prayed with Brian to say thanks to the Lord and start crying as we pray. I looked down and Brian was also weeping, something unusual for him. “I’m not going to spend my life in this chair,” he said through his tears. I’m beginning to think more and more that he just may be right.

March 9, Saturday
Today we had an amazing crew of about 20 people, mostly from our church, come to our house to clean, strip wallpaper, paint, all kinds of jobs. What a blessing! These people are so wonderful. So much got done on the house. A couple more weeks and we’ll be done.

Brian had his usual bunch of visitors for a Saturday at Magee. Kim, our hair stylist, came all the way down to Philadelphia to the hospital to cut his hair. He looks really nice. Betty, one of our community friends tells Brian, “I’m going to be there to see you get your high school diploma next year and see you walk up to receive it. And I’m going to lead the standing ovation.” You go, Betty!

Tonight something wonderful happened. At one point as we were talking with Brian he said, “look Mom,” and he kicked up his left foot about 5 inches. “I’ve never done that,” he said. He did it again 5 or 6 times!! We started jumping up and down. Then Brian went out of his room into the hall and showed Barb the night nurse and she got excited too. The whole floor was excited! Praise the Lord, keep doing it Lord, I kept thinking.

On the way home I called all my family and everyone I could think of to tell them. Brian told us again tonight that he is not leaving Mage in a wheelchair. I’m beginning to think now that he—and Betty—are right!

March 10, Sunday
We’re still on cloud nine today about Brian’s leg moves. Today at the church services I shared about Brian and how he lifted his leg last night. I cried throughout the announcement, of course, but when I was done they applauded loudly in both services. The applause was for God, really, and His faithfulness in what he is doing in Brian’s life. Brian asked me, “even if only one person prayed, would God heal me?” I told him I don’t understand why or how prayer moves God’s hand and I don’t think it’s so much a numbers thing. I do know that God is honored the more we pray and prayer does things in our hearts to change us, and help us rely on Him. If there is some healing in this situation God will get the credit.

Brian was really extra upbeat today. Everyone here at Magee Rehab Hospital, even the other parents and patients are so impressed with how he is doing. I want God to get the credit. I want to make it known that it is not only due to Brian’s great desire and effort but it is God doing a work as well. Brian told me tonight that he wants to get a t-shirt made to wear when (not if) he walks out of here that says, “I’m not supposed to walk.” Just like Brian. I said, “Brian if you walk again, promise me, to everyone you talk to, that you will give credit to God and give him the glory.” “I will Dad,” he said. “I will.”

March 11, Monday
Today is exactly 6 months since the terrible tragedy of 9-11 and the attack on the Twin Towers in NYC. What a horrible thing so many families had to suffer through. It makes our difficulties with Brian’s accident and resulting injuries seem like nothing. So many were lost on that day, but we still have our son with us. Brian was hurt as the result of a choice that he made on a ski slope. These were innocent people working in their offices and simply going about their daily lives. As I think about that day, my heart goes out to them now more than ever.

Today Brian’s new web site went online. We added a guestbook feature to the home page where people could sign in and leave a message. In the first 8 hours, 40 messages were left for Brian! I don’t know how all these people found out about the web site so quickly. Even some friends in Ohio we haven’t talked to in some time left a message in the guestbook. Our friends Jeff and Luanne have been so gracious. They are buying Brian a laptop. That way he can keep checking all his messages. Now he won’t be bored!

March 12, Tuesday
Three weeks since the accident. Brian’s web site continues to flourish. I think he’s really excited about all the response it is getting. Today we went into Magee to find Brian in a manual wheelchair! What a big step for him. He is moving around in it pretty well. It’s so much better than the big, clunky electric one. He’s still making some progress with the legs. He raised his right leg one time tonight. Alright Brian!

Andre Taliaferro, Adam’s dad, came in tonight to see us while we were in the family room. We had such a nice chat with him. He too was very impressed with how Brian is progressing. He can relate so well to what Lisa and I are going through.

Tonight was so nice. All six of us were together as a family. It’s rare we are able to do that even when we’re all at home. It was simply a special evening. We celebrated Camrin’s birthday (again) and had a cake. Brian seemed to really enjoy having his whole family there. He truly does need ALL of us.

Brian and his therapists

March 13, Wednesday
Brian’s new web site continues to generate unbelievable response! When I left my office at the church this afternoon, Brian had 110 messages in his guestbook and 48 emails to read! His site hasn’t been up even 48 hours. As I read through the many messages they were so encouraging to me. So many people are praying, so many are keeping up with his progress, so many hoping for a miracle. It’s something I can’t fathom even after three weeks since the accident—the outpouring of love and care from so many people from many different areas of our lives, many people neither Brian nor any of us knows. God is good.

We didn’t drive down to Magee tonight, but a gang of Brian’s friends went down to see him. It’s good for us to get a break from time to time. At times I am just so exhausted. All those nightly trips to Philly sort of wear on you. Lisa wasn’t feeling well tonight anyway. She’s been having headaches. Going to the doctor Friday.

March 14, Thursday
I am 46 years old today, I can’t believe it. Where have the years gone? I have been so blessed. I have a wonderful wife, great kids, a loving and caring church family, fantastic local community, such great support. This past month has shown me that in a very real and powerful way.

Today was kind of a lousy day, really. I didn’t feel so great, and went down to see Brian by myself and had to drive around for a half hour just to find a parking spot. I took my laptop in with me tonight to try to get Brian hooked up and spent over an hour fooling with it and after all that it still didn’t work. It upset me because taking time to do that stole my time with Brian. No new progress with Brian’s legs or any movement today. So all in all, it was kind of a bummer of a day. But every day in this adventure can’t be a banner day.

One bright spot was a letter from one of Brian’s former baseball coaches, coach Stevens. It was very moving, telling Brian he knows he’s going to make it because of the determined way Brian played ball for him on his Little League teams. I’m going to keep that letter!

[If I transcribed every letter or note that Brian received during his ordeal it would take up far too much space. But this letter was the only one I actually folded up and stuck inside the pages of this journal. I thought I should share it below in its entirety]

I was very sorry to hear about your accident and hope that your injuries are improving and that your spirits are good. The card I sent reminded me of you. Of all the boys I coached over a twelve year span, you stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to effort. Whenever I see you at our house or just passing by at a high school event, the same thought passes through my head: “effort, determined, always gave his best.”

I was so proud to have you on my teams and always had so much confidence in you whenever a ball was hit in your direction or when you were at bat. I was very sorry when I lost you to the travel team but I knew you deserved to be there.

I think perhaps I was so fond of your efforts because I too had to work harder than my peers when I was younger. I was not the most talented athlete, but I did work harder than most and I know what that effort did for me and how it paid off for me later in life.

I have been told that God will not give us anything we can’t handle. I think perhaps He knows that you can handle this situation in your life because of that effort and determination that exists in you. I don’t know why accidents like yours happen to good people. But I do know that your life touches many others around you, including my family, and perhaps you have or will have the opportunity to influence others in your life through your accident.

In 1974 while I was playing football at the University of Southern Mississippi, I was given a quote from the book The Power of Positive Thinking, By Norman Vincent Peale. This quote not only changed my life and how I approached things in life, but I also ended up marrying the person who gave it to me and we are still together today! If it only influences you half as much as it did me, it is worth the read*.

Brian, our family is praying for you and your family, and my prayer to God is that you will continue to have the strength and effort that you have always shown when I watched you perform. I think you have probably seen the word “persistence” on the wall next to my office on the third floor of our house. I believe anything is possible with persistence and faith!

God bless you, Brian, and DON’T EVER QUIT!

Coach Stevens

*Included with this note was a bookmark that on one side had Isaiah 40:28-31 and on the back this quote from Norman Vincent Peale: “God renews our hearts and keeps us going, and holds us up. Indeed, He helps us to ‘mount up with wings as eagles’ so that we shall run and not grow weary and finally can walk (when the going is hard) and not faint.”

March 15, Friday
Today I looked at the web site of radio station 88.9 Word-FM and on their home page is a picture of Brian. If you click on the photo it takes you to his web site. How about that. That was so nice of them to do that. The web site continues to be a great source of encouragement for Brian and for all of us. Over 200 messages so far.

Next Friday is the high school’s first baseball game. I have a hard time thinking about the game, and not seeing him at his familiar place at first base or right field. It is probably harder on Lisa and me than it is on Brian. For now, I’ll just avoid driving past the baseball fields. Right now, seeing him move his leg is much more important than watching him make a great catch.

Tonight we didn’t go down to see Brian, but instead attended Pastor George’s 80th birthday celebration at Hilltown Baptist Church. It was a lovely evening. I’m seeing how Lisa and I need some time for ourselves, now more than ever.

March 16, Saturday
Today another big gang came over to our house to work. We got so much accomplished! Brian won’t recognize this place when he comes home. The front looks like a new house. These people are all giving so much of their time. It is truly an example of Christ’s love and how the body of Christ lifts up one another. We are now praying for a buyer and that we will find a place to move or some property where we can build a more accessible home.

We had a good time with Brian tonight. We were almost to the hospital when he called us on our cell phone asking, “Are you guys coming down soon?” I know he really misses us and misses his home (and the dog), and we miss not having him here in our house. Even his sisters really miss him. A nice visit again tonight but I came home totally exhausted. One thing that made our evening, though. Brian moved his toes tonight. We finally got that toe wiggle we were praying for!

March 17, Sunday
All those trips down to Magee and late nights are starting to catch up to me. I’m beat. My back is also going out on me. I need to make sure I am getting my rest. Poor Brian, he’s still not sleeping well either. And he has already lost 10 pounds. He can’t afford to lose any weight.

Jeff and Luanne brought Brian’s new laptop over to take down to him. What a blessing that is! It will give Brian something to do and enable him to check his messages which keep pouring in to his web site. It snowed all the way down to see Brian, the first snowfall since the night of his accident. We had a nice visit with him. Brian loves his new laptop. We gathered around him and prayed before leaving. We’ll be back down to Magee on Tuesday. I’m going to try to have his laptop all set up by then.

March 18, Monday
Today it is raining. We desperately need the rain—it has been so dry—even though it makes the day seem a little depressing. I’m battling a terrible sore throat. I’m still tired. When I think about whining because I feel lousy, I just think about Brian and his situation. He hasn’t whined once, that I know of. And he’s lying in a hospital paralyzed. Thinking about that makes my health problems seem so miniscule.

I ordered a trackball for Brian’s laptop so he can make better use of it with his non-working hands. It should be here tomorrow. Brian asked Dr. Staas today, “will it be possible for me to walk,” to which Dr. Staas replied, “Brian, I think it is very possible.” I like hearing that, “very possible.” I know with God “all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26)

March 19, Tuesday
Today I woke up feeling really, really lousy—sore throat, wiped out, just plain sick. I didn’t sleep much last night, which did not help matters. I think this past month has finally caught up to me. I’m exhausted. Today is exactly 4 weeks since the accident. In some ways it seems like a year.

I decided to stay home from the office today. I slept for much of the day. I needed it. Lisa, Amy and Lindsey drove down to Philly this evening to see Brian. They said they had a great visit with him. He has made some amazing progress in this past month and especially since leaving Lehigh Valley hospital. The PICU nurses from LVH sent Brian a nice message to the guest book on his web site today. Along with so many others, they’re also keeping track of his progress!

March 20, Wednesday
Today I felt better than I have in many days. I slept 14 of the last 24 hours and I really needed that sleep! I’m not so sure I was sick as I was exhausted. This whole experience, the trips to Philly and back, worrying about my son, really tires me not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

Today I found out that 88.9 Word-FM is going to use the upcoming Sonic Flood concert on April 12 (already sold out) to raise funds for Brian. [Sonic Flood is a contemporary Christian band that was very popular at the time] They’re going to begin to advertise that on the radio and on their web site. Amazing stuff.

Tonight I was the only one that drove down to Magee. That was kind of nice, just to be able to be with Brian and have him all to myself. Some of his high school buddies came by later and we all played with Brian’s new laptop. After they left, we talked a little while longer. I kissed his forehead, prayed with him briefly, then left. Tomorrow Brian’s caregivers will meet to decide how much longer he will stay.

March 21, Thursday
When I got to the office at church today there was an email message from Brian. He said Dr. Staas came in and told him that he has all his leg muscles still. That’s a really good sign. Dr. Staas always has encouraging things to say about Brian’s progress. Brian is able to put enough weight on that left leg so that he can pivot on it (with a lot of help, of course). That is wonderful! God is doing a miracle in that boy!

God is providing in other ways as well. Craig and Rich [both realtors that we knew] are moving things along toward getting our house on the market. Ursinus College (thanks to our friend who works in Admissions) has offered Amy over $25,000 in financial aid!, over $20,000 in grants. Praise the Lord for that. I don’t think Ursinus is going to be Amy’s choice but that is an encouragement and a blessing. It helps us to trust the God is going to work out this whole housing deal. A lot of things have to come together. We’ll just watch and see what happens!

March 22, Friday
Today I had a day off so we were able to head down to Magee early. It’s been a real “downer” of a day so far. Amy didn’t get accepted into Grove City College which greatly disappointed us (but not Amy—she has kind of cooled off to Grove City). The report from yesterday’s “Brian team” meeting at Magee is that he’s still not moving his legs enough and the muscles aren’t strong enough for them to keep him longer and work on walking. Three more weeks, they say. That really bummed us out because his legs DO seem to be getting stronger all the time and moving better. We were hoping for a longer stay. We’ll mobilize our friends to pray for Brian’s legs to get stronger.

On top of this, today was the first high school baseball game of the season. I tried not to think about it. In the past, Lisa and I used to talk about how much we would miss baseball when Brian was done playing. He has played baseball every spring and summer and even some fall ball since he played tee ball as a little kid. We always knew baseball would end after high school. We never thought it would end this soon and certainly not in this way.

After this discouraging stuff, on the way home we get some great news! It was a message from our case manager telling us that Monday they are going to give it a try and get Brian up to see if he might possibly take steps. Yes!! A much better way to end the day!


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2 responses to “The Thoughts of a Father: my journal from 10 years ago . . .Part 2

  1. Debbie Holdash

    David, this story is amazing!! Your wonderful son is amazing!!! And most of all our God is amazing!!! How terrific your church and community are with helping you and your lovely family!!! I look forward reading the rest of this awesome story!!! I think this would be such an inspiration to many if you were to publish your journal!!! I can hardly wait to read the rest!!! God bless you and your family!!! Debbie Holdash (AAHS class of ’67)

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