It’s hard to believe that three years have gone by since Shelly’s car accident on December 24, 2006. So many of you have asked for an update on how she’s doing, what’s been going on in her life and what, if any, changes there have been on her paralysis. We are so very happy to let everyone know…Shelly is doing great!!!
Since our last posting, Shelly has gotten engaged! She is now 21 years old, and a senior at The University of Alabama. She will graduate in August with a double major in Business Marketing and Management and a minor in Computer Science. She has worked very hard taking a heavy course load each semester so she could graduate on time, missing only the one semester she was home recuperating from her accident. She also had an extra incentive to graduate in August…her daddy wouldn’t let her get married until she finished school! We are all so very proud of her hard work. She had to learn to write left handed, take notes quickly in class, keep up with assignments, etc., while dealing with a traumatic brain injury and short term memory loss. In all this, her attitude never faltered. Self pity never entered the picture and she became very determined that this was not going to change her life or her plans for the future…and it hasn’t!
At the present time, Shelly is finishing up the spring semester at Alabama and busy making wedding plans. She and her fiancé, Ron Smith, have been dating for five and a half years. He is such a wonderful young man and has been with Shelly since she was 16 years old. Ron played a significant role in Shelly’s recovery, motivating her to not be discouraged and to never give up on their relationship. He had to convince Shelly he was not going to leave her because of her disability. We are very blessed to have Ron as our future son-in-law. He’s the kind of man we as parents pray for our daughters to marry! Ron graduated from The University of Alabama in December with a degree in Business Marketing and is employed at Regions Bank in Birmingham. Shelly’s has had a couple of job offers, but her daddy’s still trying to convince her to come to work at Mark’s Outdoor Sports…no decision yet!!!
Shelly has come a long way since that Christmas Eve three years ago. She says it seems like she’s always been this way and she can’t really remember ever using her right arm. The doctors say that her paralysis is permanent because the nerves in her spine were severed. Shelly says that this is just the way it is, there’s nothing she can do about it, so why worry about things you can’t change? She said, “Only God can change my situation, and if He wants to, great! If not, I’ll just deal with it and thank Him everyday that I’m still alive and continue giving Him all the glory for impacting so many other lives through me and my situation…”
I cried everyday for the first two years after her accident. Watching her learning to write, trying to dress herself, doing everything one handed, etc. was so painful as a parent. We mourned because we knew that her life would never be the same, and everything was going to be difficult for her for the rest of her life. But we are all so blessed as her family to have been able witness God at work in such a personal and wonderful way. There are no words to describe the peace in knowing that God loved and trusted our daughter enough to carry such a heavy load, and to be used by Him to reach someone else in need of Jesus. God has taken this potentially tragic situation and used it for the Kingdom of God. My husband Mark has been speaking at men’s church groups and wild game cookouts for many years, but his message changed from the great outdoors, to the Great Commission. He has probably spoken at 30 different church functions here in central Alabama, retelling of the accident that nearly took the life of our daughter. But his message is not one of sadness, but of how wondrous it was to watch God perform miracles in our midst. As strange it may seem, Shelly’s accident was the best thing that ever happened to our family. And watching God at work was the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen.
God is still God… “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:19-20
Cover Story from Birmingham Christian Family Magazine
“Daddy, what day is it?” asked Shelly Whitlock, as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from a horrible car accident that left her with multiple injuries, including severe brain trauma.“ I don't know Shelly, I think it may be Tuesday, ”replied Mark, her dad. “No, Daddy, what day is it?” Shelly persisted.
“Honey, I'm not sure, but don't worry about what day it is, ”stated Mark. “But, Daddy, I've got to know what day it is.”
Somewhat irritated, Mark found a calendar and confirmed the date was January 14. “So, I haven't missed deer season! ”exclaimed Shelly. “If I get better, will you take me hunting?” Hardly the words one would expect from a beautiful 18-year-old young woman who miraculously survived a car wreck in the early morning of December 24, 2006. But when your dad is Mark Whitlock of Mark's Outdoors and you have grown up surrounded by camouflage and tree stands, the question reflects its motivation. For Shelly and Mark, the last day of deer season became the date to aim for in regard to her recovery.
Shelly Whitlock was the kind of child that never gave her parents, Dana and Mark Whitlock, any kind of trouble. “We used to call her 'Momma Shelly' because she was so responsible, ”says Dana. “I knew when she was late coming home that night that something bad had happened. She was always punctual. ”Indeed something horrible had happened. Shelly's Escalade SUV crashed into a tree not far from her home on Highway 119 in Indian Springs. The car was totaled and her body so badly mangled that emergency workers declared her 'Dead On the Scene.' Workers were considering how to remove her contorted body from the vehicle when a fireman noticed that Shelly's hand moved. They immediately went into rescue mode.
Meanwhile, Dana and Mark were convinced something was wrong. “As soon as I saw the police car, I knew, "says Mark. “I asked, "How bad and where is she?'” He replied, “Very bad and she's on the way to UAB.” They immediately headed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), passing the scene of the accident on the way. “I had to look – a dad has just
got to know, ”says Mark. “There was debris all over the road. I couldn't even identify the vehicle. ”Dana comments, “We don't really know what caused the accident because Shelly doesn't remember. We think she might have fallen asleep because an eyewitness said she never hit her brakes. ”This sole eyewitness turned out to be an 18-year-old college student named
Andrew who called 911. “We consider him a guardian angel, ”says Dana.
“We've never gotten the chance to thank him and we wish we could.”
From Bad to Worse
For the next two hours, things went from bad to worse concerning Shelly. “They told us she was paralyzed, bleeding in her spine, had a traumatic brain injury, and in a coma, ”says Dana. “Basically, they cleaned her up and told us to come tell her goodbye before they took her to surgery. She was not expected to live through it. ”Dana continues, “I remember falling on my knees and begging God not to take her.
At this point, all we could do was pray. ”Nothing could have prepared the Whitlocks when they finally did see their daughter. “She had the look of death,” says Mark. “We knew it was bad but we didn't know just how bad until a few months later. A nurse came in our store and introduced herself as one of the trauma nurses who took care of Shelly in the emergency room. When I told her that Shelly had survived, she was amazed because that night they had already ordered a death certificate for Shelly.”
Following the surgery, her parents were told she would only live 48 hours due to bleeding on the brain that could not be stopped. “At one point, I realized that all the worrying and praying for Shelly was not going to change God's plan for her, ”says Dana. “There was a peace that came over me like a warm blanket. It is the peace God gives you that cannot be explained. I knew her soul was secure because I knew what she believed.”
Shelly Whitlock's Escalade was totaled in the devastating accident. Her beloved, now deceased, grandfather had given it to her. “I didn't want any other kind of car,” says Shelly. “I loved my granddad and the vehicle reminded me of him.” On the way home from the hospital, the Whitlocks passed by Driver's Way. Amazingly, an identical Escalade was on display and soon was hers.
As time progressed, the Whitlocks were constantly being informed of new obstacles regarding Shelly's situation. However, behind the scene an army of prayer warriors amassed for battle – a battle for Shelly's life. “We had so many precious friends that began to spread the word about Shelly's condition,” says Dana. “People everywhere started to pray.” This was largely due to relationships built through Mark's Outdoors, their church family at The Church of Brook Hills and their community involvement.
Daily miracles began to happen. As soon as one obstacle would arise, 24 hours later it would improve. A broken ankle, paralyzed on the right side, paralyzed vocal chords, a feeding tube, bleeding on the brain – all were part of the battle for Shelly's recovery. One such miracle occurred with Shelly's ankle as x-rays revealed a nearly healed ankle when only days earlier it was completely broken.
“God took care of every little thing,” says Dana. “When Shelly stood up for the first time, an entire team of doctors came in the room. No one could believe it, ”says Mark. “One of the doctors said, "We're moving her to rehab immediately. '”Indeed, Shelly's healing was miraculous in its brevity! She was home within four weeks of the accident: two weeks were spent in the hospital, one week in a trauma step-down unit, Spain rehabilitation hospital for one week, and then released for home health care.
Though her intense injuries took quite a toll on Shelly, she coped remarkably well. “At first, it was like the movie "50 First Dates,'” says Mark. “Every day we would tell her over and over again who she was and where she was.
We didn't know to what extent she would recover from the brain injury. First she spoke only in song lyrics, then she constantly repeated everyone, and even had violent episodes.”
Gradually, Shelly did improve though her right arm is still paralyzed due to a brachioplexis injury. But she remains hopeful of healing because she has recently experienced some feeling in her fingertips. “I want to tell people to never underestimate the power of God,” says Shelly. “We try to put God in a box, but He says, 'Don't put me in a box. You don't realize what all I can do!'”
The Whitlocks took Shelly to visit the Mayo Clinic a few months ago to have her brachioplexis injury assessed. “We were in the room with Shelly and there were nine doctors, ”says Mark. “The head doctor spoke up after reviewing Shelly's chart and said, “Do you realize there are about five or six clinical reasons you should be dead? We have never had a young lady like you, with your injuries, sitting up, looking at us with your type of recovery. Everybody is given only one life and God gave you a second chance at yours.'” Shelly Whitlock takes her second chance seriously. She knows none of these events have taken God by surprise. She believes God has a special mission for her life.
And did she get to go on that
hunting trip? You bet. She's got
the deer to prove it!
Dee Branch Park