Gavin headed home next month; teens who saved him after diving accident honored
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The Civitan Club of Salisbury has recognized the four teens who responded quickly to save friend Gavin Littleton, the North Rowan High School student who was critically injured after diving into shallow water last month.
Nick Cornacchione, Thomas Tucker, Zack Lemmon and Dakota Honeycutt received the club’s annual Ernest Curtis Hero Award on Thursday.
Lemmon pulled Littleton, 15, from the water after he attempted to make a shallow dive off a pontoon boat into High Rock Lake, but instead went straight down.
Cornacchione gave him CPR immediately following the accident, while Tucker drove the boat to seek help from a fisherman with a faster vessel. Honeycutt called 911.
“Their quick, accurate and good decisions are the reason Gavin is here today,” said Mark Ritchie, chairman of the club’s hero award committee. “While paralyzed, Gavin is alive and slowly recovering at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.”
The hero award, named for longtime club member Ernest Curtis, is given annually to those whose actions are deemed extraordinary, spontaneous and motivated by the needs of others.
Curtis, who was inspired by the heroic stories that came out following 9/11, worked with the board to establish the award before his death at age 99 in 2007.
“For those of you who knew him, I’m sure you will agree he was a one-in-a-million kind of man,” Ritchie said. “He gave back through a life of service and in a lot of ways lived a heroic life.”
Ritchie said this is the first time teens have received the honor.
“It’s amazing the steps they were able to take to save Gavin,” he said.
Jennifer Littleton, Gavin’s stepmother, read a letter from her husband, Todd, who could not attend the ceremony Thursday because he was with Gavin in Atlanta.
“There is no secret that I think the world of each and every one of them,” Todd wrote. “Not just for saving Gavin’s life, but for their never-ending love and support for my son and his family. They will always be welcome in our homes and our lives, they are part of our family forever.”
Todd wrote the family is extremely indebted to the teens.
“I could spend hours sharing stories of testament and inspiration while explaining to you how lives have been changed for the better, mine included,” he wrote. “But I think I’ll close with words of thanks to the Civitan Club for recognizing these young people for the heroes that they are.”
Todd wrote the teens not only saved Gavin’s life, but his.
“If you had not given me this second chance, I would be nothing more than a bitter shell of a man,” he wrote. “Now, I have a chance to be the best man I possibly can. I love you guys, thank you.”
Tucker said it felt awesome to be honored for something that came so naturally.
“None of it seems real,” he said.
Cornacchione was humbled by the award.
“At the time we did what we had to do,” he said. “We didn’t do anything beyond what we should have.”
Each teen received a plaque and the Civitan club donated $200 toward Gavin’s medical expenses through its charitable foundation.
CPR saves lives
Lt. Chris Warr of Rowan County Emergency Services urged members of the Civitan club to learn CPR in case they are ever in a situation like the one Cornacchione, Tucker, Lemmon and Honeycutt faced after Littleton was injured.
“I’m a huge cheerleader for this because CPR really helps people,” he said. “It really does change lives.”
Warr said friends and family members can be the first responders when a loved one goes into cardiac arrest.
“CPR is the single most effective thing you can do to save someone’s life,” he said. “All you have to do is push hard and push fast.”
Warr said out of 255 cardiac events in Rowan County last year, 15 people were resuscitated.
About 45 of the 127 people who experienced cardiac events since March have been revived.
“We’re doing amazingly well. People are working hard in this county to train as many people as possible,” he said. “We’re really trying to turn this around.”
Warr encouraged people to find a CPR class at their church, a local school or the American Red Cross.
“Anybody can do it,” he said. “Four people made a difference in Gavin’s life by recognizing, acting and doing what needed to be done.”
Littleton, who was paralyzed from the neck down following the accident, is expected to leave the Shepherd Center, which specializes in rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, Oct. 9.
Jennifer Littleton said Gavin was being fitted for a sip-and-puff wheelchair Thursday. The motorized wheelchair can be controlled by Gavin through puffs of air.
When Gavin returns home, Littleton will need full-time nursing care, but Jennifer said the family expects him to eventually return to school.
“He’s going to continue with a normal life as much as possible,” she said.
Since Gavin’s been at the Shepherd Center, he’s regained his ability to sit up, talk and eat in a time span that Jennifer said is shorter than normal.
Jennifer said Gavin has seen some setbacks along the way, but he’s remained optimistic.
After arriving at the center, the family found out Gavin’s injury extended beyond the C3 and C4 vertebrae up to the C1 area. That type of injury is similar to that of Christopher Reeve.
Gavin was also set to have surgery to implant a diaphragmatic pacing system that would allow him to get off the ventilator, but it was unsuccessful due to unresponsiveness from the diaphragm nerves. Doctors can try the procedure again in a year.
Todd reports in his letter to the Civitans that Gavin welcomes every challenge.
“Though he may not always prevail immediately, he keeps pushing forward until the challenge is met,” he said. “He is 42 days into his journey and has no reason to believe that the fight is going to get any easier, and yet he still keeps the goal in sight. His mental toughness is an inspiration to myself and all who come in contact with him.”
Todd wrote that Gavin and the family find their strength in God. “His faith is his drive,” he said. “The Lord lends him his strength to persevere in the times of struggle when the only thing you can rely on is the hope that the Lord’s promise gives.”
A community group dubbed Team Gavin is hosting a fundraiser for the Littleton family from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the F&M Trolley Barn.
The event costs $50 per person and includes dinner, drinks and entertainment by Kenny Floyd.
Seats must be reserved by Oct. 10 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by Salisbury Square Antiques, 111 S. Main St.
Updates about Gavin’s progress can be found on the Facebook page “Praying for Gavin.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.