Staff photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Tyler Head feeds himself a meal at Shepherd Spinal Center, something no one knew would happen six weeks ago.
COVINGTON -- Life for Newton wrestler Tyler Head came crashing down after a severe neck injury left him lying motionless on the mat.
But after a surgery to fuse his neck and six weeks of intense therapy at the Shepherd Spinal Center, Head is on the road to recovery as he gets ready to continue with his life with none of his hopes and dreams sidelined.
"I don't see this as stopping me or slowing me down at this point," Head said. "I still want to pursue a career in video broadcasting. It may be a little different for a while but I think I can manage to get back to where I was."
A typical day for Head consists of three hours of physical and occupational therapy where they work on strengthening his arms, speech and assisted technical lessons on the computer. Some of the lessons include texting using the voice recognition Dragon software and other classes explaining to him and his caregiver what they need to know about his further recovery.
He also meets with an educational coordinator two days a week to keep him from falling behind in his school work.
"Getting back to school is a pretty big thing for me. Obviously that's not going to happen this school year," Head said. "If I could be there the first day of the fall, that would be great."
When the doctors came from the operating room the prognosis was very unclear as to his ability to ever have movement below his neck. Now he is able to feed himself and has even gone on a field trip to the Georgia Aquarium where he was able to get around by himself using a power-operated wheelchair. Even though he has made great strides, he realizes that this is just the beginning of a long journey.
"It's been six weeks on Saturday and I can say that I'm pretty pleased with how far I've come along," he said. "I know there's a lot more coming, not necessarily soon."
When Head reflects on the injury he does not get angry or think about why such a terrible accident befell him. What he wants to know is, how can he help others who are going through the same thing?
He is getting practice helping others while other people in the same condition are helping him, as there are five other teenagers on the teen ward at Shepherd.
"We're all going through the same thing. So in a sense it's casual for us. We motivate each other to do better and help each other out anyway we can," Head said. "My mom and I were talking about it and we think there's a reason why this may have happened. It could be to help other people.
"It made me realize that I took a lot of things for granted without realizing it. It's not a bad thing, everybody does it. But something like this makes you slow down and think about it appreciating all the little things."
There is no doubt that therapy, a strong faith in God and visits from his girlfriend, Madison Damiani, have helped him in his recovery. But the one thing that boggles his mind and the mind of his mother, Deborah Head, is the support they have received from the community and beyond.
"We are just overwhelmed by the support we got from the community, our church (Crossroads United Methodist in Conyers), other churches, faculty and students at Newton. They have been outstanding and coach (Andre) Byrd has been awesome. It really makes you feel good because this is very overwhelming. But to know that people care and they're praying and supporting you. We get cards from people that we don't even know from other states," his mother said.
With more than 1,300 Facebook followers and a website, www.fightliketyler.com, a lot of people are sending him messages and well wishes. Many of those inspirational messages, including a letter from Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, end up on his hospital room wall.
Two fundraisers are planned to help the Head family. The first is a yard/bake sale on March 2 at Lifepoint Church of the Nazarene, 5133 Jackson Highway S.W. in Covington starting at 9 a.m. In conjunction with the St. Patrick's Day parade and festivites in Porterdale, a benefit concert will be held on March 16, three days before Head is scheduled to leave Shepherd to begin outpatient treatment. The start time for the concert is noon. Some of the fundraising events include a raffle, auction and a Cow Bingo Chip contest. Performers include Thomas Tillman, Wesley Brooks and Dustin Lee Bragg.
The other ongoing fundraiser is the popular "Fight Like Tyler" shirts.
The saying was a combination of Byrd and his sister, Nicole Swart. After the doctors finished with the surgery, the surgeon that spoke with the family said that now it was Tyler's time. That was when someone said "No, it's fight like Tyler time." From there it evolved to the current signs that can be seen in the gym and Newton and T-shirts all over town. To order the shirts, priced at $20 and made in the career academy Head attended, contact the website or his sister at email@example.com.
"It has been quite surprising. I figured family and close friends would be in support. But we're getting things from people we've never even heard of," Tyler said. "It's pretty crazy how people can rally around you in a tough situation like this."