Summit firefighter’s son walks out of hospital 6 months after near-fatal crash
“Expect big changes every day.”
That was the motto that Paul and Catherine Lawrence clung to as their sons Joshua and Samuel were stuck in an intensive care unit recovering from life-threatening injuries after a car accident Nov. 4.
At the time, the family didn’t know how many big changes were ahead for them: Day-to-day worries of regular life evaporated at the prospect of losing their sons, hobbies gave way to educating themselves on traumatic brain injuries and the very concept of normalcy seemed to melt away as they embarked on a months- (and perhaps years-) long effort to help with rehabilitation. But as they look back on the accident, and the subsequent journey to recovery they’ve begun with their sons, the most meaningful changes have been seeing them slowly begin to live their lives again.
Joshua, who faced the worst of the injuries, was wheeled into Craig Hospital on March 1. On May 1, he walked out.
There’s still a long road before he reaches a full recovery, but he’s made tremendous strides in the six months since the crash, and he’s kept a positive outlook throughout.
“I did not believe it was real until recently, but you know, you just make the best of your situation, whatever it is,” Joshua said in an interview with the Summit Daily on Tuesday afternoon. “… There’s nothing I can do to change it. All I can do for myself is to have the best attitude possible.”
In November, Joshua and Samuel were pulling into a parking lot in Florida when they were hit on the passenger side of the car by another vehicle.
Samuel was rushed into emergency surgery to repair a subdural hematoma, or blood collecting in his brain. He’s already made great progress in his recovery. He was quickly up and walking around after his surgery, and he started at Southeastern University near Tampa, Florida, in January. Catherine said he just completed his first semester — he received all A’s and B’s — and will soon return to Colorado on summer vacation.
Joshua spent about 47 days in the intensive care unit, at first unconscious and unable to even breathe on his own. He returned home where his parents took over his rehabilitation, and he eventually graduated to a stage where he was able to eat on his own, respond to yes or no questions and even step across the room with the help of a walker.
Catherine and Paul likened the experience to a rebirth, following Joshua’s lead as he made his way through the different stages of recovery step by step, and said getting to watch him recover at home was a beautiful gift. On Jan. 29, Catherine’s birthday, Joshua said his first word since the crash: mom.
“By the grace of God, we’re all making it through,” Catherine said. “I think you don’t realize what you can go through until you go through it. We didn’t have an option; quitting on our son was never an option. … I remember Josh asked us, ‘Why did you guys stick with me? Why didn’t you just leave me somewhere?’ like a hospital or something. Paul said, ‘I’m a fireman. We would never leave you behind.’ I said the same thing, ‘I’m your mother. If I had to crawl on my hands and knees to the hospital, I would do that to get to you.”
Joshua was admitted March 1 to Craig Hospital, where his parents continued to work with him along with a staff of professionals who introduced him to specialty mechanisms, treadmill and pool therapy to help him learn to walk again.
He left the hospital May 1 walking on his own, though still a little wobbly, Catherine said. He has continued to work on strengthening his body at home, a routine that includes daily situps and pushups.
Joshua said he initially was convinced the ordeal was just a dream that he couldn’t wake up from. The crash and his recovery efforts ever since have been transformative. And he clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
“I can promise you I will never take walking for granted ever again,” Joshua said. “I’m so grateful to walk. … I’m glad for the experience overall (at Craig Hospital), plus I got to see lots of pretty nurses.”
Catherine and Paul would spend hours every day at the hospital and said Joshua made a positive impact on others around him, helping family members of other patients better understand the needs of their loved ones and cracking up the nursing staff.
“One of the biggest takeaways from the Craig experience is his incredible resilience and positivity,” Paul said. “I mean, the nurses would come in and say, ‘Josh, I just love visiting you because every time I come out of here I’m smiling or laughing.’ His humor is like a medicine, like the old proverb says. He really used that and was such a blessing for a lot of the people that were facing dire circumstances.”
Joshua still has a ways to go, but Catherine said they expect him to make a full recovery within the next six to 12 months. He’s currently living at home with his parents in Colorado Springs and is set to begin outpatient therapy soon. He said he was looking forward to sharing his story and that he still hopes to become a pastor someday.
In all, the Lawrence family is in good spirits as things continue to improve for their sons. Paul has returned to his post at Summit Fire & EMS, where he and his crew have helped to douse both of Summit’s early season wildfires this year.
“On the day of the accident, I emptied my bucket of good deeds running calls for people for years and years,” Paul said. “It’s been good to get to filling that bucket up again. … It’s nice to start giving back again.”
For his part, Joshua said he also is looking forward to getting back up to Summit County sometime in the future.
“I can’t wait to see everyone one day,” Joshua said. “Hopefully, I can give them a hug, even if it’s just one person, to say ’thank you for believing in me.’”
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