The last time Kathy Pearson saw her son walk was two years ago, to this day. Her son Alex was an artistic, funny, budding 15-year-old and she was on her way to her church to help fix meals. She asked him if he could please walk their two little shih tzus.
"We drove by and he was walking down a steep hill near our house," she said. "He was so happy and strong and just doing a normal thing."
That afternoon Alex suffered a massive brain aneurysm and subsequent stroke that tried to kick him down in his prime.
"It happened on the only day I go to work at the church," Kathy said quietly. "Two days later we were told he was probably brain dead."
Several months of headaches and visits to specialists were harbingers to this rare, slow leaking brain bleed that finally erupted March 18, 2015. His mom said these last two years seem like a century at times, and a nanosecond at others.
Kathy is hard as nails and rarely cries publically. However, when she talked of seeing her son whole, walking their dogs, her voice cracked. Sometimes even nails bend and when this life- changing event struck her family, Kathy and husband Troy did bend, to their knees. The story of Alex is not pretty, but it's filled with colorful hues of hope and rejuvenation. See, Alex was not brain dead. He stunned the doctors at first with some blips on his EEG and even today, because he's able to walk with help, understand, communicate and even read. He's 17, tall, and gains strides every minute of every day. And while the road to recovery has steep hills and swerves, its destination is marked with a huge neon sign that will say, "Well done."
"No, we never thought anything like this could happen," Kathy, who is stunningly spiritual, said. "You learn to make plans and it's OK if plans change. The Bible says it's not our place to plan out the future."
These days Alex's friends are planning for college, taking the ACT and looking toward the dorm and life on campus.
"Our time will come," this faithful mom said. "We are not supposed to do that now. My faith has never waivered."
Alex, who, by the way, is extremely funny and clever, has youth, strength, time and faith on his side and while he's marveled the doctors these past two years, his family always knew the "old Alex" will return one day, vibrant and whole.
"The old Alex is in there!" Kathy said. "His personality and his sweetness. The new Alex shines bright as well."
On March 25 there is a benefit walk at 2 p.m. at Charlie Daniels Park to help raise funds to get Alex to California for a break-through physical therapy stint that will dramatically enhance his recovery.
That fateful day
It was an ordinary Wednesday. Troy was out of town on business for his job and Kathy was helping out at the church. Weeks prior Alex had unusual headaches and they took him to get help. Diagnosed as migraines, medicine didn't really help. The morning of the brain bleed Alex told his mom he was having trouble finding his words.
"In retrospect, I should have realized this was a huge sign," said Kathy.
That day Alex was home with his now sister-in-law and collapsed. And while Troy didn't know this, for some reason something made him leave his trip early and he booked a midnight flight home and surprised Kathy at the church to help make meals. They were together when they got the call.
Flash back to March 18 in the sterile waiting room at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
"He was rushed there," Troy 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.'"
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 many traumas.
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.
After Alex's brain told everyone he was fighting, the work started. He spent 37 days at Vanderbilt and in rehab at a special hospital in Atlanta for 47 days. On June 10, 2015 he came home. At first he could just move his eyes. He had a feeding tube. However, six hours a day of all types of therapy happened.
"Can you imagine what it would be like to be cognitively viable, but trapped in a body that won't work," Kathy whispered.
Kathy, Troy and his siblings became expert nurses and soaked up therapies and techniques. Kathy stopped working to heal her son. However, insurance only covers about 20 visits of physical therapy a year. It costs about $220 a week if paid out of pocket.
Alex's progress is remarkable. Kathy works relentlessly with computer programs to help him communicate. The stroke hurt his understanding and if shown a picture of a carrot, he'll communicate watermelon.
"It's all in there, we just need to be patience and rewire things with him," said mom. "The brain has so much room for growth and repair."
It's true; scientists say we humans only use a fraction of our brain. Alex is tapping into the unused part now. The future is bright for Alex.
"It's leaps and bounds for Alex with communication," said Kathy.
Alex snaps his fingers when frustrated, can point and even chided his brother when he tried to steal a french-fry from his plate. He said, "Stop it," and pointed to the kitchen cupboard.
And yes, mom has broken down. Alex's parents, rather than pulled apart in the stress of it all, pulled together.
"I've yelled and stomped in private," Kathy said. "I've questioned. But, never God. I know you are never alone with God. Good will come from this."
You have to be totally selfless when things like this happen, she said.
They hope to raise enough funds to make the trip to California soon. It's $7,500, plus travel expenses. They hope to raise $10,000 on March 25 at their simple fundraiser. They rented a pavilion and will have some popcorn and the Zack Allen Band will play. There will be some games. It's not a fancy event, but one that is life altering for Alex.
Alex is a junior at Heritage Christian Academy and has singed up for four classes next year. Drawing is one. Before his stroke he was an expert artist. He works everyday on his art. And, he's an expert at telling his mother, "I love you."
"I can't wait to see the new Alex merge with the old," said mom. "The new Alex will have so much more understanding, and be so strong. He will have so much more to give after so much was taken."
On Saturday, March 25 there is a benefit walk at 2 p.m. at Charlie Daniels Park to help raise funds to get Alex Pearson to California for a break-through physical therapy stint.