It’s been a year since the wreck, most of their scars are fading and they have returned to a fairly normal routine. The Archer family does have one constant reminder of March 12, 2005 – an 8-year-old who gets around in a wheelchair.
Charlie and Linda Archer and their two sons, Braden and Mason, were coming back to Arkadelphia from an evening in Hot Springs last March when their truck was hit head-on by a Mustang driven by a man whose blood alcohol content was .25. The man died at the scene.
Charlie was driving, Linda was in the front passenger seat and the boys were in the back seat. “All I remember is a glow,” Charlie said in an interview last year. “You know when you approach a curve, you’ll see a glow before you see headlights? I recall a glow.”
That was all Charlie knew about the wreck until he woke up in a hospital a couple of days later. Braden, who is 10, was the only member of the family who never lost consciousness.
Braden was the least injured of the four; his intestine was torn by the seat belt. Doctors were able to repair the tear orthoscopically, and he spent only six days in the hospital.
Linda had injuries to her abdomen and head. “The seat belt bisected my intestine and tore my liver,” she said in an earlier interview. The head injuries caused severe blood loss, and she had to be transfused. The injury ran from her scalp down to her right eyebrow. “They had to staple my scalp down in the emergency room.” The next day, a surgeon took out the staples and glued her scalp back.
Charlie’s injuries were to his ankles and chin. His tibia and fibula were sheared off just above the ankle on his left foot. “They theorized that I stood on the brake. It crushed my right heel. They actually glued it back together.” A piece of the steering wheel went through his chin and into his mouth and jaw.
The most seriously injured was Mason, who was just six days shy of his seventh birthday. “Mason’s spinal cord was nearly cut in half,” Linda said last April. He is paralyzed from the abdominals down. “They do not believe he will walk.”
The Archers were all treated initially at St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center in Hot Springs. Six days after the wreck, Charlie was transferred to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock for treatment by orthopedic doctors. He was released from the hospital on March 24.
Linda stayed at St. Joseph’s until she was released on March 30. Mason had been transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and was not released from the hospital until the last week of school in May. Braden stayed with his grandparents in Rosebud until his father was able to go home.
They have all made progress
Because he was conscious following the wreck and aware of what was going on, Braden suffered from nightmares for a time. He said recently that he doesn’t think about that night much. “From time to time,” he said when asked, “but not much. I’m like my mom.” He meant that he and his mother have recovered from their injuries far more quickly than his father and Mason. “I spent less than a week in the hospital.”
Linda has had another surgery since her initial surgeries. “I had scar tissue removed from my eyebrow.” She has a small gap in her eyebrow from the injury and subsequent surgery.
Charlie, who is an electronics technician for Sears, began his recovery in a wheel chair and eventually graduated to crutches. He can get around with a cane now, but he still has discomfort when he stays on his feet too long. He had a one-year leave of absence from his job, and had to return to work last Tuesday.
“I’ve been taking PT (Physical Therapy) three days a week,” he said, but since returning to work he’s had to discontinue it. “I’ve learned you can take a lot of those exercises home.”
He will continue to exercise to strengthen his ankles and increase the Range of Motion. “I have normal range of motion in my left ankle,” he said, “and it’s very close in my right ankle.” He covers 13 counties in his service calls, and has to drive a great deal.
He said the doctor released him last Monday – at his request, and discussed surgical options he will face in the future. Surgeries will depend on the level of pain he experiences. “So far I have not been unable to do anything I have to do,” he said after his first week back at work. “Those first few steps after I get out of the truck at each stop are painful, but it gets better after that.
“I am tired and sore when I come home, but I expected that. I have to take care of my family. In Mason’s prayer at dinner Sunday night, he asked for my feet to get well and not hurt me too bad. I found great strength in that prayer and have thought of it often this week.
“It’s so much better now than it was two months ago. I was still on crutches two months ago.” Charlie’s is a rare case, he said. “Not many people suffer severe injuries to both ankles.” He has to learn how to cope as he goes, but, “I can see the progress and the reward.”
Mason, who will be 8 on March 18, has what must be considered a permanent injury. His paralysis is unlikely to lessen, and he can expect to spend his life in a wheelchair. He is in second grade at Central Primary School, and is a straight-A student. He has no difficulty negotiating in his chair, which is powered manually. “He has to rely on the strength of his arms,” Linda said, “so it’s manual.” The school has a lift for when he has to go up and down stairs.
There are accommodations that Mason must make; one is to lift himself off the chair for 30 seconds every 30 minutes to prevent pressure sores. He demonstrated his ability to do so, and grinned when asked if he ever forgets. “No,” he said. Then he admitted that his watch alarms to remind him.
When he is not in the chair – in bed or on the floor – he can roll himself off his back instead of lifting himself. It took a while for him to be able to hold himself off the chair seat for 30 seconds at a time, but, his mother said, “he doesn’t have any trouble now.”
Mason has occupational and physical therapy at school. In Occupational Therapy, he learns how to manage the ordinary routine of daily life in a wheel chair such as learning to transfer from his chair to another chair or bed. He also does exercises to prevent Atrophy and to strengthen his arms. “Sometimes I stretch like he (his dad) does with a Theraband,” he said.
He’s on his fifth chair, he said. The first one was a big one to accommodate the brace he had to wear. “Then I had hot wheels, a turquoise one, a green apple,” and his current one is trimmed with camouflage. He’ll get a new chair about every two years as he grows.
Mason really loved the red pickup truck that was destroyed in the wreck. He had helped his dad add features to it, and, if they still had the truck, Mason would have been given it for his 16th birthday. They have gotten another pickup, and Mason can still help his dad in their workshop. They’ve added a heavy duty bumper, brush guard, winch and a tool box to the truck, he said.
Things had to be added, re-arranged
Besides the fact that Mason is in a wheelchair, there are other outward signs that the Archers’ lives have changed. There is a ramp leading from the driveway to the front door, and a ramp into the patio door. They have a van with an electronic lift.
The Archers express no bitterness toward the other driver, and they are grateful that they’re all alive and at home. “I don’t really think about him a whole lot,” Linda said. “I do take advantage of any opportunity to give my little spiel about drinking and driving. He took something from us that we can never get back.”
Their lives are different. “It has changed things. It takes more time to get ready to go somewhere,” Linda said.
“You can’t just go out and jump in the truck when it’s raining,” Charlie said. Before they go anywhere, they have to find out about handicap accessibility for Mason.
They have also had to make alterations inside the house. The bathroom door had to be widened, and more space made available. Bedrooms had to be rearranged, and some furniture had to be removed.
The Archers are focused on helping Mason, but they’re confident of his ability to cope. “He’s got a ‘can-do’ personality. We run into challenges, but we work them out.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep him ready for whatever the future brings,” Linda said. Although there is no surgery to repair the kind of spinal cord injury Mason has, there is hope that it might be available some day.
Linda was offered a position this school year as a paraprofessional at Central Primary, which Mason attends, and she accepted it. “The school has been really nice,” she said. She said the family has received help from many quarters. “The prayers. There have been so many prayers.
“We’ve been blessed by churches, family and friends. We feel a closeness with people that we weren’t close to before. The people at school did a silent auction for us just before Christmas.”
She said they have become more aware of the troubles of others. “You have a compassion for people who’ve had a life-changing event – an understanding you didn’t have before.”
Linda said she and Charlie were excited to do a follow-up story about their wreck and recovery. “We get a chance to say thank you to the many people that have helped us through a trying year. We feel such gratitude to so many.
“To our family and friends who have openly supported us day after day, and to those we have never met who quietly donated to our bank account and consistently hold us up in prayer.
“Without all of them we could never have come so far. We want to offer our heartfelt thanks and wish God’s blessings on each and every one.”
By Dolores Harrington