In Depth: Eddie Lancaster's courage makes believers out of many




By ROSE QUINN, rquinn@delcotimes.com March 09, 2003





Ed Lancaster Sr. holds a giant get-well card for his son Eddie outside A.I.DuPont Hospital in Wilmington. (Times staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Usually, it's at night, just before bedtime at the A. I. duPont Children's Hospital, when the Lancaster men get serious,really open up. They might even allow themselves a few tears. "I tell him, 'Hang tough,'" Ed Lancaster Sr. said, referring to his 16-year-old son and namesake, Eddie Jr. "I tell him, 'We are going to do everything possible to get you recovered. Our goal is to get you on your feet again.'

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"I tell him, 'I love you.'"

As he spends his days, and nights, watching Eddie fight to reclaim the use of the body he's lost from a spinal cord injury in a car accident, Lancaster, 51, of Edgmont, has never been more proud of anyone, ever.

"He's my hero," Lancaster said.

Tough times for Easy E

Peek in Eddie's hospital room and the first thing you see -- besides some pretty intimidating medical equipment -- is a huge "Get Well Soon" poster strung across the wall above his bed. It's signed by name after name after name; so many they blur.

"His friends mean everything to him," his dad said. "They always have."

It's been years since Eddie first earned his "Easy E" moniker.

Even as a little boy, Lancaster said Eddie was atypically generous with his friends. When others were hoarding their toys, young Eddie was offering his own favorites to friends to take home.

As he got older, Eddie always had a soft spot for the younger kids in the neighborhood, whether it was sharing his fondness for lacrosse or just passing time.

Heading out for breakfast that fateful January morning, Eddie was with his three closest friends, Kyle Kennedy, 16, Lou Stephens, 15,and Evan Brady, 16, when he hopped into a 1995 Infiniti.

Exactly what happened on Jan. 5 is now in the juvenile court system. But investigators and Brady's attorney say Evan was driving at least 74 mph when he came over a rise on hilly Valley Road, lost control and crashed into a tree. He had his license for 17 days.

About the same time Pennsylvania State Police began investigating a fatal crash in Edgmont, Eddie's parents were on their way home from breakfast themselves. Knowing that Eddie spent the night at Evan's house, they called to see if he wanted a ride home.

Knowing, too, that the deli was only a mile-and-a-half from Evan's house, Lancaster said he and Eddie's mom, Diane, thought they all walked.

When Evan's mom said they drove, Lancaster admitted they were a little concerned.

"New kid, new license," he said, referring to Evan.

Giving it some quick thought, he decided they were close enough to home. And after breakfast, the kids' plan was to drop Kyle and Louis home.

"But that never happened," he said.

Lancaster has since been told the foursome found the deli too crowded to stay. But first, Eddie hopped out of the car and ran inside to say goodbye to some girls.

"When he got back to the car, Kyle had moved to his spot in the front passenger seat." Kennedy was killed in the subsequent crash.

Lancaster said the seat shift haunts Eddie.

"He feels guilty," Lancaster said, noting that the group had been friends since their elementary school days at Glenwood. Eddie and Kyle were exceptionally close, covering each other on the lacrosse field.

Brady attends Malvern Prep, while the others were schoolmates at Penncrest High School.

Lancaster told Eddie that Kyle didn't survive the accident the very same day doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia told him he was paralyzed from the shoulders down, due to cervical injuries. It was about two weeks after the accident.

Officially, Eddie has a C-5/C-6 injury, but because of swelling, he's dealing with the effects of a C-2 injury. In simpler terms, Lancaster said, Eddie has a broken neck.

"Well, not forever, right?" Lancaster remembers his son asking the doctors.

Finding the words to tell Eddie about Kyle was just as tough, if not harder. But Lancaster said he knew it was time because after the prognosis, he sensed an immediate dip in Eddie's spirits.

"That," Lancaster said, wasn't at all good for his recovery.

Lancaster said he told his son that the very fact he made it out of the car and with his full faculties was a double miracle.

Lancaster repeated to Eddie what investigators told him: "Looking at the car, no one should have gotten out alive."

"The next miracle is going to be in smaller steps," Lancaster said he told Eddie. "And it would be hard."

With that, he told Eddie, "Kyle didn't make it, buddy."

Lancaster said his son's eyes just froze.

To this day, Lancaster said he has no idea where he found the words. But he heard himself reminding Eddie that God's plan for Kyle was different than one planned for him.

Lancaster said it took a little while, but Eddie got back on track.

"Nowadays, he's working his magic on the nurses and aides at duPont. Word has it, there's a daily scramble to be his caretaker.

"I don't know if it's because he's good looking, or because he's an easy patient," Lancaster said, shaking his head.

Friends, old and new

There's a certain calm all about the halls of the renowned children's hospital in Wilmington, Del., almost church-like. Lancaster said he felt it the moment he walked into the building.

He urges those feeling sorry for themselves to simply take a walk around.

Stories of despair, and hope, are endless.

Across the corridor from Eddie is another paralyzed teen. He suffered a broken neck in a wrestling match back in November.

Like Eddie, a ventilator breathes for him.

Sitting out in the hall in a specialized wheelchair, the teen is all smiles when visitors bring him a gooey cheesesteak for lunch. He's friendly, and between sandwich bite breaks, chats non-stop.

Lancaster, noting that Eddie recently passed swallowing tests that might allow him to be taken off a feeding tube, said he and his wife have become friendly with many of the family members on the floor.

"They show you the ropes," Lancaster said.

Lancaster, a self-employed window contractor, essentially moved into Eddie's room with him. The bathroom is a makeshift office, though his brother is carrying most of the load these days.

Diane Lancaster runs a nursery. Like her husband, she spends most of her time with Eddie.

Lancaster said he and his wife decided it would be best for him to spend nights with Eddie, because he's the least squeamish of the two with the medical routine.

"We've had some scares," he said, and he worries about the time when Eddie's home and there's no medical staff to rely on.

"You really have to come into this situation as a student," he said. "You have to learn what it takes to get your son stable and better."

Given the recent weather, Lancaster said, "If there is a snowstorm and the nurse doesn't make it, you have to be your own nurse, your own doctor."

Diane Lancaster arrives at the hospital between 9 and 11 a.m. every day. On this day, she's helping a nurse tend to her son.

She concedes it's been a hard day.

Though she's confident Eddie will walk again, she asked, "Will you pray for my son, please?"

Daughter Ashleigh, 19, spends a lot of time at the hospital as well. She was so devastated by her brother's situation that she put off college this semester.

Lancaster said though he has complete faith "in God" and "in science," he still has his moments.

Some days he said are so exasperating he doesn't know if he will make it through. But if anyone told him this time last year that he would be changing a tube in his son's ventilator, Lancaster said he would have told them they were nuts.

"I get my strength from Eddie," he said. "And I get my strength from God."

Lancaster, who admits his Catholic faith has grown stronger, said he's had the "why us?" conversation with God. Many times, in fact.

"But even at those moments, I turn back to God and ask for help," he said.

The Lancasters said no less than 17 church groups are praying for Eddie. And a group of friends have established the Eddie Lancaster Foundation, a trust to help bear the financial burden that lies ahead.

The Penncrest family, Lancaster said, is a godsend.

Lancaster said among the frequent hospital visitors are members of Kyle's family, including his mother.

Recently, "Sandy Boughner had a dream, her first with Kyle in it," Lancaster said. "Mom, Eddie is going to be OK," Lancaster said Sandy told him Kyle assured her.

Lancaster said Eddie and Kyle were so close that there are times he believes he can feel Kyle in the room with them.

Lou, too, has been to visit Eddie, as well as countless other friends from school.

"I think it's most hard for Eddie when he hears what he's missing at school, socially," Lancaster said.

Lancaster said he talked with Evan three days after the accident.

"It was very emotional," he said.

Pausing, Lancaster said, "I think the best thing for Evan, the best way he can help Eddie, is to talk to other kids. It could help a future Eddie from happening."

©The Daily Times 2003




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