Firefighter’s sons making progress in recovering from crash

Samuel, left, and Joshua Lawrence are in recovery after suffering traumatic brain injuries during a car crash in Florida in November. Their father, Paul Lawrence, is a lieutenant at Summit Fire & EMS.
Photo from Paul Lawrence.

Joshua and Samuel Lawrence are on the road to recovery.

The siblings, sons of Summit Fire & EMS Lt. Paul Lawrence, were both seriously injured in a car crash in November, though both have made considerable progress as they’ve worked through their rehabilitation over the past three months.

Their father said the experience has had a transformative impact on the family.

“It’s amazing to watch the whole situation,” Paul Lawrence said. “In a weird way, even though we’re locked into our home and into this world 24 hours a day, we’re the ones who get to watch all this progress. We’re the ones who get to see all the victories we’ve seen. And there’s so many of them, and there are big ones yet to come in getting back to a normal life. We’ve watched the whole process, and we’re going to be the better for it.”

On Nov. 4, Joshua, 25, and Samuel, 18, were pulling into a parking lot near Sanford, Florida, when they were hit by another car on the passenger side of their vehicle. Both of their injuries were life-threatening.

Samuel went into emergency surgery to repair a subdural hematoma, or blood collecting in the tissue surrounding the brain. Joshua also suffered a subdural hematoma, but the bleeding stopped on its own and no surgery was required. He was later placed in a medically induced coma.

Samuel’s recovery has been swift. Within days of the crash, he moved into a hotel room in Florida with his parents and was quickly up and walking around. Paul said he’s now “97% to 98%” recovered but is still dealing with some memory and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Earlier this month, he began college at Southeastern University near Tampa, Florida.

“We were in Florida, and we had the whole driving away thing, off he goes to college with his car packed up,” Paul said. “He’s finding his way. He’s living in the dorms and navigating the social stuff there, meeting friends, deciding what friends are good and which aren’t. … He’s just doing what an 18-year-old college kid does.”

Joshua’s recovery has been a more involved process. He first opened his eyes about two weeks after the crash and spent a total of 47 days in the intensive care unit. Paul said Joshua couldn’t even breathe on his own at first and was on a ventilator.

Joshua’s rehabilitation efforts are being led by his parents.

“He went to a rehab facility, but very shortly because he was still basically in a coma state,” Paul said. “It wasn’t really beneficial to him at all. The system kind of sent us home, saying he’s not progressing enough, and we had to take him home until he emerges a little more. After that, we decided we’d start rehabbing him ourselves, just looking at YouTube videos online and researching. … It was kind of placed in our hands.

“I pictured it like somebody dropping you in the middle of Lake Dillon, and you sank in, and you’re swimming toward shore. Every once in a while, he’d come back up from the water and go back down. There were moments of lucidity, and he’d go back down.”

Lately, Joshua has been spending more and more time above the water. Paul said he eventually got to the stage where he was eating on his own, chewing ice at first and now using a fork for real food.

Paul and his wife, Catherine, flew Joshua home to Colorado Springs about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and they have been taking turns helping him rehab. Since returning, Joshua has learned to stand up with some assistance and has been doing walks around the living room with a walker. Paul said he was able to have a conversation with him this week, asking him questions and letting him shake his head to respond “yes” or “no.”

“A couple nights ago, my wife got some flashcards and put them out and said to Josh, ‘I’ve got a rabbit and chicken, point to the rabbit,'” Paul said. “He went through the whole thing without missing one of them. He’s fully there. It’s just his body and his mind are not connecting just yet. … Without formal training, we’re just following the cues his brain gives us.”

The family remains confident that Joshua will make a full recovery. Paul said they’re hoping to get him admitted to a 60-day program at Craig Hospital in Englewood, one of the country’s foremost facilities for traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and research.

A GoFundMe page called “Firefighter Sons Joshua & Sam critically injured” has raised more than $14,000 to assist the Lawrence family in rehabilitation costs, which Paul said already has come in handy paying for traveling expenses and new equipment for their home. If Joshua is admitted to Craig Hospital to continue his treatment, Paul said their insurance would cover only about half of his stay and that the family would be responsible for funding the rest, about a $108,000 bill.

Paul thanked community members for their continued support and for the help his family has received from his colleagues at Summit Fire.

“There were so many logistics and costs that came in,” Paul said. “The people that have been giving, and are still giving, it’s an amazing thing. We don’t have a lot of petty cash to work with. But we ask that people continue to send good thoughts and prayers and continued support for the fire department up there, who are really helping us with my schedule and time off.”

Paul also said he hopes the progress that Joshua is making can serve as a symbol of hope for other Summit County residents who have struggled since the onset of the pandemic.

“If Joshua can get through this, then you and your business and your family can get through whatever you’re dealing with, as well,” Paul said. “We’re all in this together. … It’s been a rough year for everyone in some shape or form, but you just have to look at the horizon and know we’re going to get through it. We don’t have a choice, do we? It’s either give in or fight.”


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