You've got to get through the dearth to get to the birth of hope for Alex Pearson, and his journey to rejuvenation after what is not a pretty story to tell.
It's a scary story; told from a dad driving in the dark Sunday night on his way to a special hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where his 15-year-old son waits for him.
Alex is slowly recovering from a knee bending, head-in-hands, surreal "how can this happen" aneurysm and subsequent stroke that tried to kick him down even before his prime nearly two months ago to the day.
"It is humbling," dad Troy Pearson said quietly from his car somewhere between Mt. Juliet and there.
But, Alex has youth, strength, time and faith on his side and has marveled the doctors who at one point told his parents news fathers and mothers race from and hide. They are words Alex defied.
"He's probably brain dead."
The beginning of Alex's story
Flash back to March 18 in the sterile waiting room at Vanderbilt Medical Center's Children's Hospital.
"He was rushed there," this father of six said. "We had no idea what was wrong with Alex. The doctors asked us a bunch of questions. They looked up and I looked in their eyes and I knew it was bad. Real bad. They asked us what we wanted to do? We said, 'Do anything, do everything.'"
As he transported himself back to that mind-blowing moment, Troy's voice gets strong.
"We said of course do what has to be done to save our son," he said.
And they did. The doctors performed surgery and even took a plate of the young man's skull off to allow for the swelling of his brain after so much trauma.
Troy said they don't really know why the vibrant, smart and artistic Heritage Christian Academy freshman suffered an aneurysm. The only answer was "some kind of genetic flaw," a slow-leaking aneurysm.
Unusual headaches were the harbingers of this life-changing event.
"About three weeks prior to the stroke, Alex suffered from severe migraines," Troy said. "He got physically sick from them."
They immediately took him to doctors and because of his seemingly good health otherwise, and young age, were told some people get headaches.
"He was alone when he went down," his dad said.
An unplanned and unquestioned trip home
And that's when the story gets raw. Troy said Alex's brother's fiancé stopped by the house and found Alex very sick, trying to clean up things with his own hair and acting "strange." He was convulsing as they waited for the ambulance.
This is where Troy calmly talks about a "God thing," and why he happened to be in town when this happened and not in Tuscan, Arizona, where he was supposed to be that dreadful day.
"The night before Alex got sick I was in Arizona," said Troy, who travels a lot for Gideon International. "When you have six kids there are a lot of issues going on. But, the Holy Spirit told me to go home. I rebooked a flight and did not even question it."
Not knowing why he was moved to go back unannounced, he surprised his wife who was at Hermitage Church of the Nazarene at the time.
It was there they got the call their son had collapsed.
What followed was a parents' worse nightmare that seemed like eternity, but played out over just a few hours.
"It was a constant unknown," Troy recalled quietly as he made his way to his son for a visit.
In the beginning they helplessly thought perhaps it wasn't as bad as it seemed, that their son would somehow just go back to school and to his life and this episode would be a blip in his long life.
"But, it wasn't that way," Troy said. "We didn't know if he would live through the night. He was in a medically-induced coma, at times a flat line with no brain activity. But they backed off the meds to see if he would wake up."
Alex didn't. Three days passed. Nothing.
"I kept saying to myself, 'God is bigger,'" Troy said. "I had faith."
But, they even talked to him about organ donation.
"At one point I didn't even know how to articulate my prayers," Troy remembered. "I finally said, 'OK, God, he's yours.' "
Then came the EEG blip. A fluke they wondered? Then another blip, and another.
"We knew something powerful was going on," Troy said. "He was waking up. We prayed and asked others to pray. We rejoiced and were thrilled. It was hope. Hope resonated, and we hope now to get him back fully."
The long road to recovery
Mom Kathy is by her son's side pretty much 24/7.
Alex is now at a rehabilitative hospital in Georgia. This weekend his sister Lauren was there to keep him company as well. Progress is slow. The young man's left side is not responding well and the brain injury has affected his speech and thinking.
"He has deficiency in areas," said his dad.
Troy said his "little boy is there, awake and fully aware and understanding us."
"When we say something really funny, we know he's laughing," he said.
Their "little boy" is an accomplished musician and was growing quite proficient with drums, guitar and the ukulele. Alex has been playing music with his church worship band, his church youth group and the HCA band. He's also played with a local group of artists from Mt. Juliet.
He's a budding artist and wowed his art teachers when he out of the blue picked up a pencil and created a mini-masterpiece.
Community rallying around Alex's journey
As a charter member of the local Trail Life U.S.A. outdoors adventure club, Alex has served as a leader and enjoys fishing, camping and many other outdoor adventures. They are hosting a fundraiser pancake breakfast to benefit Alex this Saturday between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Mt. Juliet First Baptist Church.
"Alex is a kid who seems to get along with everyone," his dad said as he drove through the night to visit his son, and then sleep in a kind person's basement during his stay. "He's not prideful, he's a peacemaker and not flashy or showy. Just a nice kid. I didn't realize how many hearts he was breaking until we got so many wonderful words from his friends."
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty knows Alex well.
"Alex is an awesome young man," Hagerty said. "He is blessed to have incredible loving families who have stayed so positive through Alex's illness. The entire Pearson family is holding strong to their faith expecting a full recovery. The way they have handled this situation is an example for all of us."
Hagerty's wife Katrina is fond of this young man as well.
"Alex is an amazing young man; not only is he very artistic, but he is also a very talented musician," she said. "He is polite and always very willing to be helpful at school. Alex is well loved by his peers and teachers. He has a great personality and is a lot of fun to be around. We are all praying for him daily! He has a long road in front of him, but he is progressing daily and we look forward to him being back at school."
Troy said his son's story, while hard to tell, is about, "faith, hope and trusting in God."
And while Alex will have to relearn everything, his dad said he'll go as far as God wants him to go, and in the meantime, remind everyone anything is possible.
"When you are a parent of a very young child there are stages of development," Troy said as he reached his destination. "You expect each stage to come naturally. We are doing this again, but in another way with Alex. God has revealed nothing is guaranteed. With each improvement the old Alex comes back, we rejoice."
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.