Friends, faith bolster paralyzed player's therapy - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Friends, faith bolster paralyzed player's therapy, hopes for walking

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LAFAYETTE, GA. (WRCB) -- Doctors may have given 15-year-old Austin Whitten only a one percent chance of walking after a freak accident while swimming left him paralyzed below the chest.

"But he keeps telling us that he will walk again," his father Brian says. "Everybody that I've talked to says they really feel like he'll walk again."

Barely a month after his son's injury, Brian Whitten believes his own faith has never been stronger.

But then, he factors in the number of friends who've made the hour-and-a-half drive to visit Austin as he rehabs at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta.

"I think they really help," he says. "It gets his mind off things that are going on with him."

For now, Austin's therapy covers the basics of living; dressing, bathing, and feeding himself.  He's regaining the use of his arms; lifting and finer motor skills. This Friday, he'll join friends at Turner Field for a Braves game.

"I know there's gonna be days when he's gonna be down, and he's gonna wanna give up," his dad says. "But I  don't worry about that. I don't worry about the house payment. Doctor bills, I don't worry."

To say that friends and strangers have stepped in, is to know barely the half of it.

Six days after he was hurt, friends, classmates and perfect strangers filled LaFayette High School's football stadium.  

They offered prayers, and hundreds of dollars in cash and checks, to help defray the mounting costs of therapy and medical costs.

Fast-forward to Tuesday. The Modern Woodmen of America matched local contributions, to present Brian Whitten with a check for $5,000.

"I'm proud of Brian, and Austin, this community, this school--what they've done for him," Modern Woodmen's Buster Smith says, through tears. "This community down here has sure got together."

Austin is set to be released from Shepherd August 8. LaFayette High resumes classes after Labor Day. Structurally, emotionally, it and the student body are more than ready for him."

"There've been times when I've wished we didn't have these big, long, wide hallways," Principal Mike Culberson jokes.

Then he pauses.

"When it hits close to home, with someone you've seen, on the field, walking down the hallway, it's been a perspective check for all of us," Principal Culberson says. "Especially me."

Brian Whitten has no doubts about a son who lettered in football, basketball and baseball his freshman year.

"That first ball game, he'll be there," he says. "Whether he walks on that football field, or rolls on that football field, he'll be there."

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