When I was just six months old, my parents, who work for the State Department, moved to Washington DC to do their periodic check-in with Big Brother. They lived in a town called Reston, Virginia, which had plenty of swimming pools, one within walking distance of our house.
My brother, Steve, was about five years old at the time, and loved the water. So, it happened, did our neighbor's son, Mac. Mac was about a year older than Steve, and the two took to each other immediately. Steve even joined the swim team with Mac, and was over at his house often.
Eventually, though, my parents' job called them away from DC and back overseas, and it was with a heavy heart that my brother left his first best friend behind. But Steve is resilient, and bounced back quickly in Lisbon, Portugal. And we came back to DC in the summer to visit often enough.
In on September 30th, 2001, when Steve was just starting his Freshman year in college and Mac was nineteen, a link
stole Mac's consciousness for a long time. And it wasn't even his fault.
"According to witnesses, the Jeep Cherokee tried to pass a Chevy Suburban on a steep, blind hill outside Reston, Virginia. Mac Fedge was on the other side of the hill in his Honda Civic. They met head-on, and Mac’s body took the full force of the crash.
"Mac had been an athlete, activist and scholar – a triple major at Virginia Tech. The crash left him with broken feet, a torn spleen, a crushed left arm and the dashboard of his car pushed up into his body. The worst was a severe traumatic brain injury"
Mac's parents, obviously devastated, remained positive throughout Mac's entire ordeal. But Mac was stronger than anyone could have thought. And when he finally awoke from the coma, it wasn't over at all. Mac had severe brain damage, not to mention serious damage to his legs and spine. He had short term memory problems, and his earliest memories were the strongest ones.
When my brother heard, he called Mac on the phone from Seattle. According to his mother, when he heard Steve's voice a broad smile claimed Mac's features. She wasn't too sure about what they discussed but she distinctly remembered hearing Steve's voice telling Mac to "hang in there." When Mac hung up, she asked her son what Steve had to say. Mac frowned at her, confused, and said. "Did Steve call?"
But as Mac made a slow-- but very steady-- recovery, he managed to get a bit of his old life back. Today, six years later, he still has problems, but it's truly miraculous to watch him. He walks now, with some help and not for long periods of time, but he does. He can carry on a conversation very intelligently. He even reminds his mother of things sometimes. But most importantly, and most encouragingly, he laughs.
The doctors told the Fedges in the beginning that though Mac's brain damage was severe, he was young enough that his brain hadn't fully developed by the time of the accident. Which means that his brain was still generating tissue, and could repair itself easier. If Mac had been even five years older, he might not have made such an impressive recovery.
The reason I was inspired to write this soapbox was not just because of Mac, although just Mac by himself is inspirational enough. But it's also because of his parents, specifically his mother.
Both of his parents, Don and Kathy, were very stalwart. But Kathy is one of my mother's best friends, and most of this story I told here was told to us through her viewpoint. She's chatty, and upbeat, all the time. My mother and I are constantly amazed because we have never seen her cry, we have never seen her angry, we have never heard here complain about her lot in life.
After the accident, Kathy became active in making young drivers aware of aggressive and reckless driving. She points out that one can still make stupid mistakes while sober, like the man who ran over Mac's car. She's had students and teachers alike come up to her and tell her how much her story has touched them. And she always tried to tell her story as one of inspiration-- not a tragic one. She is just so grateful that her son is OK, and it shows in her beaming face. I have rarely met one so generous, so patient, and so understanding as Kathy Fedge.
"Every second given to safety is a brain saved from injury. The moral of my story is: Bad driving and car crashes are only exciting in high budget, action movies."-- Kathy Fedge
So I want people to take a note out of her book. When things seem bad, be grateful for the small things. If tragedy has recently struck you or your family, and the grief is too much, take up an activity. It can be anything from hiking in the mountains to community service, but make it something in honor of your lost loved one, in order to remember them and help them continue to make a difference in the world. A celebration of how they touched you and your life.
It's hard to be positive when your whole world is falling a part, and it's OK to break down. But it's important to move on as well. And when you're ready, do something constructive with your grief. It'll give you a feeling of completion. A sense of satisfaction. It will help you to move on.
And remember-- miracles can happen. I've seen it first hand. The odds were against Mac, but he overcame them. If his story isn't miraculous, I don't know what is.