Teen paralyzed in diving accident has high hopes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 9, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Fifteen-year-old Gavin Littleton may be paralyzed, but his indomitable spirit is moving quite well, inspiring people across the globe, family members say.
Despite learning for the first time Monday that a diving accident at High Rock Lake resulted in paralysis, Gavin’s faith never faltered, said grandparents Karen and Jeff Littleton.
“He’s been incredible,” Jeff Littleton said. “He has been phenomenal throughout the whole ordeal.”
Todd Littleton told his son, an accomplished wrestler and tennis player, that doctors say he may never walk again. Gavin, who has been hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem since Aug. 1, can’t speak and communicates by nodding his head and mouthing words.
He breathes with the help of a ventilator.
“And just as I expected, he took it like a man full of faith. He said he was not scared,” Todd Littleton wrote on Facebook. “He knows the miracles that we have claimed are on the horizon but will come in God’s time.”
The family has set up a Facebook page titled “Praying for Gavin.”
Gavin remains in good spirits and inspires everyone who comes to visit with his steadfast faith in God and the power of prayer, his grandparents said.
Family members hope he will be accepted at the renowned Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Experts from Shepherd were scheduled to evaluate Littleton Wednesday, Karen Littleton said.
Shepherd is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury and brain injury.
Gavin broke his neck when he dove into shallow water at High Rock Lake. Teenage friends saved his life by pulling him from the bottom of the lake, administering CPR and finding help.
Littleton has undergone two surgeries, including fusion of the broken vertebrae in his neck and a tracheotomy, Jeff Littleton said.
Family members could see Gavin’s entire face for the first time Tuesday after a feeding tube was inserted in his stomach, Littleton said.
“He makes everybody else feel good,” he said. “At 15 years old, he’s like an old soul.”
After the fusion, the surgeon told family members Gavin’s spinal cord appears intact, with no severance or fluid leakage, Littleton said.
“We’ve done all we can,” Karen Littleton said the surgeon told the family. “Now we put it in God’s hands and pray that he gets better.”
Gavin’s official prognosis is paralysis, but the Littletons hope as swelling subsides and physical therapy begins, he will start to make small improvements that eventually will lead to mobility.
“We are praying for a full miracle,” Karen Littleton said. “But we will take whatever God sees fit.”
The Littletons said they are stunned by the outpouring of prayer and support since Gavin’s accident. Jeff Littleton said churches in Zimbabwe added Gavin to their prayer list when Littleton’s cousin was there on a mission trip.
The family has learned that people enduring even worse tragedies have taken time to pray for Gavin, Karen Littleton said.
“It’s just remarkable,” she said.
All 17 members of the close-knit Littleton family gather once a week to share a meal at the home of Evelyn Reavis, Karen Littleton’s mother and Gavin’s great-grandmother.
When Gavin walked into the Rowan Mill Road home on Sunday afternoons, he greeted people with a kiss, a hug and “I love you.”
“That’s him, every day,” Karen Littleton said.
Instead of going to the beach this week as planned, the family gathers at the hospital.
Parents have to gently insist that Gavin’s sisters — 19-year-old Brie, 10-year-old Laney and 4-year-old Lexie — leave their brother’s side at times.
After more than 40 people came to visit Gavin on Sunday, nurses had to put their foot down and limit visitors, Jeff Littleton said.
Visitors are still allowed during certain periods, and Gavin had an important guest Monday.
When Scott Elliot was wheeled out of Baptist hospital five years ago, he was told he would never walk again.
“Gavin sure did enjoy watching him stroll through the door on his own two legs,” Todd Littleton posted on Facebook.
Elliot was treated at Shepherd, where Gavin could be a patient in a week or so.
“They are an exceptional rehab and if you didn’t know, they do miracles down there!” Todd Littleton said.
Littleton said the faith, love and strength of his family and friends has never been stronger and called “mind-boggling” the number of hearts and souls Gavin’s story has touched in less than a week.
“He is such an amazing inspiration to us all,” Littleton said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.