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Health Team

From a coma to playing ball: Boy fights back after crash

Posted November 26

— A year ago, Wendy Rogers had it all — a loving husband, two healthy children and a happy career.

That's all changed.

Rogers is now living in a dream world, stuck somewhere between past and future.

She no longer cries herself to sleep, but often thinks about the way things used to be.

This new chapter of life, the one she never prepared for, began last November when her husband, Kirk, died of cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease. Six months later, their son Garrett was struck by a car.

"I didn't think I could endure so much pain," she said. "I was wrong."

Garrett's accident happened May 14, the day after his birthday, on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

The 10-year-old boy was attempting to retrieve two baseballs that went over the park fence on Iron Branch Road near East Millsboro Elementary School. He darted out into the street, failing to notice the oncoming Ford van.

"It happened so quickly," she said. "He was just being a kid."

Garrett was transported by ambulance to the Beebe Medical Center in Lewes. After a brief stay, he was transferred to A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, where he was put in a medically induced coma for a month.

At times, they weren't sure if he was going to make it.

"They told me he would most likely walk and talk, but not much was known beyond that," Wendy Rogers said. "I told them, 'You don't know Garrett.' "

"He's a fighter"

When Garrett came out of the coma, he couldn't move his body.

He was hooked up to dozens of life-sustaining machines, with broken bones and a rod through his right leg.

He could barely open his eyes. But he could move his fingers.

So he communicated with loved ones through thumb war.

"That's Garrett for you," Wendy Rogers said. "He's a fighter."

After the accident, thousands of people took to social media and posted under #GMoneyStrong, to show their support. The Facebook page where the family posts updates of Garrett's recovery has 5,704 likes.

Jamie Davis, owner of JD Shuckers Seafood Grill and Raw Bar, hosted a fundraiser with live music, raffles, and a silent and live auction that raised nearly $22,000 to help with medical bills. Davis held the event on June 22, in honor of Garrett's baseball number.

"Garrett was a phenomenal athlete, one of the best I've ever seen," Davis said. "He inherited it."

Garrett's father, Kirk, was a wrestling state champion and his grandfather, Dave Rogers, played numerous sports and took to a life of coaching.

Although doctors said he would likely never play again, Garrett was determined to prove them wrong.

He spent three weeks in ICU, slowly regaining his strength.

Every victory after the coma, like the first time he laughed or when he held his own head up, was celebrated.

And the triumphs kept coming.

Garrett began turning syllables into words, and words into sentences.

"He did better than anyone expected," Wendy Rogers said.

Once his condition was stable, Garrett spent another three months at the hospital.

He said his time there was,"tough and scary," but it had its perks.

The 10-year-old boy was a huge hit with all of the nurses, got warm blankets after every bath, and was visited by family, friends and even several celebrities, including Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins, Wilmington native Justin Perillo of the Green Bay Packers and Kevin Reilly, a former NFL player who is currently a broadcaster for the Philadelphia Eagles Network and a motivational speaker.

"We had so many people rooting for us," she said. "The love and support we received was overwhelming ... and wonderful."

"Forgiveness always sets you free"

Garrett doesn't remember anything about the accident, in fact, he doesn't remember anything about the entire day.

His last memories are of the day before, of his 10th birthday, specifically, of his mom bringing cupcakes to school and taking him and some friends to the movies afterward.

"It was the best birthday ... I heard the next day wasn't so great," he said, a mischievous grin spread across his face.

The man responsible for the accident was John Swift, 54 of Millsboro.

Police said after hitting the 10-year-old boy, he immediately pulled over. Swift was uninjured, and cooperative. But he wasn't completely innocent.

After further investigation by the Delaware State Police, he was charged with his third offense of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while suspended or revoked and failure to have insurance in possession, according to Master Cpl. Gary Fournier of the Delaware State Police.

Swift said in a statement that he "was sorry."

Although he nearly ended her son's life, Rogers said she has forgiven him.

"Hating him won't change what happened ... it won't change where Garrett's at right now," she said. "Sometimes you have to forgive in order to save yourself. Forgiveness always sets you free. "

Finding a new normal

It has been six months since the accident.

Garrett's road to recovery has been long and arduous, but nothing short of a miracle, his mother said.

Not only can he walk and talk, he can run, jump, arm wrestle and annoy Aubrey, his 7-year-old sister.

On Sept. 4, he threw the first pitch at a Delmarva Shorebirds game in Salisbury. In October, he started going back to school.

He now attends physical therapy twice a week, where he works on everything from strength training and coordination to thought processing and reasoning. For the rest of the week, he's at East Millsboro Elementary.

Although the rod in his leg will limit his abilities, Garrett intends to play baseball in the spring. In the meantime, he anticipates teasing Aubrey on a daily basis, hanging out with friends and going deer hunting with his grandfather.

"I'm just enjoying life," he said.

While Garrett relishes in his second chance at being a 10 year old, his mother attempts to find a new normal.

Having two rambunctious kids has helped.

"They haven't given me a lot of time to wallow," she said, while being tackled by Garrett and Aubrey.

The three have been busy creating new family traditions, including an upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.

"I think we might go out somewhere, just do something totally different," she said.

"We'll see," said Aubrey, wrinkling her nose.

Their home still looks like it did before tragedy struck — family portraits are scattered about, Kirk's jacket still hangs by the washer, his boots are by the backdoor.

"There's pieces of him everywhere," she said, unsure of when she'll be ready to store away the memories.

"Sometimes I forget ... for a split second I forget what we've just been through and then I remember and it terrifies me," she said. "But I can't live in fear. It's not what Kirk would have wanted and it's not what my kids need.

"We have been blessed with a second chance and we're going to celebrate it — we are going to get through this together."

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