Reaching for recovery
Collinwood teen determined to overcome injury

By Josh Bean
Sports Editor

COLLINWOOD, Tenn.

Adam Andrews wheels himself into the family living room flanked by his parents and 13-year-old sister. Wearing a green Collinwood toboggan emblazoned with his jersey number - No. 24 - on the side, he maneuvers his specially equipped wheelchair with his mouth.

Paralyzed from a football injury that requires him to use a wheelchair, Andrews smiles.

That smile - the toothy, "Aw, shucks" grin of an aspiring athlete - speaks volumes about Andrews' attitude.

"It's hard some days, but I try to look on the good side of things," said Andrews, who celebrates his 16th birthday today. "I try to be happy and not to put things off on everybody else.

"I think I'm going to get it. With God's help and all the prayers from people, I don't think I'd have gotten as far as I have."

Andrews' upbeat attitude masks his remarkable recovery, one that saw him knocking on death's door and now has him thinking about eventually returning toathletics.

Since returning to school this past month, he's attended the baseball team's practices and home games.

"He won't stay away. He's determined," said the Rev. Al Lyon, Andrews' pastor at

Shawnettee United Methodist Church, where the Andrews family attends services. "That determination and his faith are what's going to get him through.

"He told me, 'I'm going to whip it,' " Lyon said. "I think he will defeat this injury. He will win."

The injury
Andrews was injured on the final play of a 22-0 junior varsity football victory over Mount Pleasant on Oct. 15, 2002.

Playing linebacker, Andrews knocked a Mount Pleasant runner out of bounds moments after the final horn sounded.

"The horn had already sounded, but that's just the type of kid he is - always full speed," Collinwood football coach Michael Stattom said. "That's the kind of character he exhibited."

Although Andrews remained conscious on the field, he immediately reported paralysis. The other player was not injured.

Emergency personnel stabilized Andrews, and he was airlifted to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.

He fractured his fourth cervical vertebrae on the play and underwent a six-hour surgery two days later to repair the damage.

After a week in Nashville, he was sent to the Shepard Center, a hospital and rehabilitation facility in Atlanta that specializes in spinal cord injuries.

"At first, they didn't expect Adam to live," said his mother, Keddith Andrews. "Then, they said he would never get off the ventilator."

Andrews continued to recover during his stay in Atlanta, and he returned home to Collinwood on Jan. 1. He went back to school March 17.

Conventional medicine says he will likely never walk again, although it's hard to underestimate the resiliency of a person who was not expected to survive his injury.

Andrews and his family said they try not to think about how the injury happened, and Stattom said he hasn't watched videotape of it.

"You try not to think about it, but you see it every time you lay down and close your eyes," said Adam's father, Dwight Andrews.

Life changes
One peek at the Andrews house reveals how drastically life has changed for the family.

An 1,800-square foot addition to their home is under construction. It will include a larger bedroom and a specially equipped bathroom for Adam, as well as a laundry room.

The bedroom will be large enough to house the sports memorabilia Andrews received during his hospital stay.

Nearly every SEC school sent items - from signed footballs to an autographed helmet from Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. A huge Tennessee fan, Andrews also received a No. 24 Tennessee jersey with his name on the back.

Dwight Andrews said the family received thousands of cards and letters of encouragement, which now sit in boxes in the family's basement.

"Maybe one day, we'll get to all of them and reply," said Keddith Andrews, choking back tears.

While insurance paid the bulk of the family's astronomical medical bills, they had to purchase a specially equipped $50,000 van and Adam's $20,000 wheelchair.

Every Monday, he and his mom make the four-hour round trip to Vanderbilt, where he continues rehab.

Doctors in Nashville help him stretch, and he also does neck-strengthening exercises and continues respiratory therapy.

He attends school with the help of a laptop computer, which features voice-activated commands.

Like any other teenager, he's also prone to a bit of a mischief, like driving his wheelchair full speed through Vanderbilt Medical Center - with his sister riding on the back.

"How did you find out about that?" he asks his mom, smiling again.

Everything in life has changed, even the way he plays video games with his friends.

Thanks to an attachment to his PlayStation, he can play video games with his mouth.

Bashful and modest about his ability, he admits that he regularly defeats his friends when they are playing video games of football andbaseball.

"He's probably better than he was before. He actually got better," said Collinwood freshman Jacob Dixon, one of Adam's closest friends.

A three-sport athlete before his injury, Adam started on the baseball team as a freshman. He said he's enjoyed attending practice and games this spring.

Considering he's confined to a wheelchair, there's one obvious question - why does he want to watch if he can't play?

"Because they're my team," he replies.

He's also been a fixture at youth softball games that involve his sister, Abby.

His coaches and teammates welcome him as part of the team, even if he can't field a ground ball.

"It's been uplifting for him to be at school and to be at practice," Collinwood baseball coach Kevin Tingle said. "Our guys see him, and they cherish playing. They take it as a privilege to get to play. They know Adam wants to be out there, and that makes our guys work hard.

"Just getting to see him has been uplifting for our whole school. Having him here has been inspiring for all of us."

The future
While Adam calls his recovery a miracle, he already looks to the future.

Predictably, his plans feature athletics.

"I think God is going to take care of me," he said. "He knows I want to play. I want to play a sport during my senior year. That's my goal."

Will his parents allow him to play again?

"We'll just cross that bridge when it gets here. If that's what he wants to do, that's what he'll do," his mom said.

Adam now has feeling down to his fourth cervical vertebrae, which his father said translates to his upper chest, but he has no movement in his extremities.

Stattom said he wants Adam "to be as involved as he can be" during football season, perhaps even helping the coaching staff.

"I think he has an extraordinary outlook when you think about what he's been through," Stattom said.

"Not many teenagers I've been around - not many individuals I've been around - would have the positive state of mind he has," the coach said.

He's already served as an inspiration to his classmates and the tiny town of Collinwood, where he has become something of a celebrity these days.

He says he's not finished, flashing his infectious smile again.

Others agree.

"I think the good Lord is going to let him get up out of that chair and walk again," Lyon said. "I don't know when; that's not for us to know."

Josh Bean can be reached at 740-5725 or josh.bean@timesdaily.com.
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