LEAVITTSBURG - It's been more than three months since 17-year-old Richard Eastman has seen his home.

The LaBrae High junior spent the summer receiving therapy at Shepherd Center in Atlanta after a June 29 diving accident in South Carolina left him paralyzed from the chest down.
When he returned Wednesday afternoon, Eastman saw not only a new bedroom and remodeled home, but more than 60 family members, neighbors, classmates and friends waiting with open arms.

More than 20 ''Welcome Home Richie'' signs and balloons decorated most of the telephone poles along Gillmer Road. A cake, more banners and a large ''Welcome Home'' card awaited him at the house.

Eastman left the Atlanta hospital Monday, driven home by his mother, Lydia Evelsizer. The Shepherd Center has the country's largest spinal cord and acquired brain injury program.

Before coming home, Eastman stopped at his employer, the Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren, for a reunion with co-workers, who streamed out of the restaurant to greet him.

The improvements at the Eastman home include a ramp, a larger bedroom, an expanded living room and new bathroom, all accessible by wheelchair.

Debbie Brinsey, a family friend and one of the more than 50 people who helped with fund-raisers and the home improvements, said workers stayed until 4 a.m. Wednesday and then returned at 8 a.m. to finish as much work as possible before the homecoming.

''We had some all-nighters working here. There's quite a few of us who had two or three hours of sleep last night,'' Brinsey said.

Keith Burnett, one of the workers and Eastman's boss at the Hot Dog Shoppe, said everyone put in the extra effort. Eastman marveled at the work, which included bright red walls with white and black paint splashes in his room. Extra touches included wall posters and an entertainment center with a television and CD player.

Evelsizer said her son resumed his schooling twice a week while getting his therapy in Atlanta. She said a tutor has been lined up through the LaBrae school system.

Back in July, Evelsizer said doctors told her son that all he would be able to do was move his head and shoulders. But more than three months later, the hard-working teen is beating the odds.

With an intense daily schedule of physical, occupational and recreational therapy, he has movement and feeling in his arms and shoulders. Eastman also is learning to function as independently as possible by using adaptive techniques to complete day-to-day tasks.

Today, Eastman has enough strength in his arms, wrists and hands to operate a power chair. Sensation has returned to his fingers, and he is able to feed himself, brush his teeth and take care of himself. Also, his handwriting is improving gradually.

Eastman, who was active in various extracurricular activities at LaBrae High, including football, track and field, marching band and Beta club, eventually will return to school to begin his junior year. In the meantime, he said his primary focus is continuing physical and occupational therapy at home.

The accident occurred June 29 when Eastman was in South Carolina visiting his grandparents. While Eastman and some friends were playing in a backyard pool, he dove into shallow water, hit his head on the bottom and broke his neck instantly. Within seconds, one friend jumped into the pool and held Eastman's head above the water while the others went to get help.

In the emergency room, Eastman was given a CAT scan and x-rays. He was given steroids for his pain and to reduce the swelling in his spinal cord. Eastman was flown to the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston, where he underwent neck surgery and was placed on a ventilator.

Two weeks after his injury, Eastman was transferred to Shepherd Center to begin rehabilitation. At the time, he was too weak to control a battery-powered wheelchair.

Four days after arriving at Shepherd Center, he had regained enough strength in his lungs to breathe without the ventilator.


"It was once written "To thine own self be true". But how do we know who we really are? Every man must confront the monster within himself, if he is ever to find peace without. .." Outer Limits(Monster)