BY MICHELLE BOUDREAU
All across the country, fall is in the air. When we think of fall, typically the first thing that comes to mind is the gorgeous changing colors of tree leaves and the foliage across the country that can be breathtaking. The air feels crisp, clean and for many people it is their favorite time of year.
For one family I had the pleasure of interviewing this month, the colors of fall and thinking of trees may have a different meaning. Yet their spirits shine ever so brightly and are colored with joy and love. Stacy, Bill and Tripp Halstead are a light of inspiration to me, I concluded after interviewing Stacy, who is the mother of Tripp Halstead.
On October 29, 2012 Stacy recalls dropping off her two-year old son, Tripp, at his daycare center in Winder, Georgia. Tripp was outside playing, when suddenly a huge gust of wind came across a large tree and a large branch broke off and fell onto Tripp’s head, crushing his skull. The accident left her son fighting for his life.
At the time Tripp was injured, the doctors didn’t expect him to make it through the first surgery. Additionally, the doctors didn’t know how far Tripp would progress if he did make it. As Bill (Tripp’s father) and Stacy we’re driving to meet their precious son at Eagleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, they were beside themselves with grief. Stacy recalls she didn’t think they even spoke ten words to each other for the entire trip. They were scared, and just prayed for their child. They honestly didn’t know how bad it was. Stacy’s first instinct when the accident happened was that she didn’t want to live if her son did not survive. She could not comprehend living a life without her child.
Stacy recalls arriving at the hospital and seeing Tripp. “He looked perfect. No blood and no cuts; he looked so peaceful. Then the doctor started telling us how bad it really was. It took me some time to realize they were saying he could die. It was a slice to my heart and soul. The next few hours after that were a total blur. When I dropped my happy, perfect boy off at daycare that morning, it might have been the last time I saw his smile or his eyes open.”
“Tripp survived surgery, the following 24 hours, and made it through Friday. Then he took a turn for the worse and they told us to say our goodbyes. That was the worst day of my life. To think he had survived this and then was given no hope. But Tripp proved them wrong and pulled through.”
Bill and Stacy Halstead are dedicated parents to help Tripp reach his full potential. She states she will never take another day with her baby for granted.
Stacy said, “We were certain that we were going to lose him four years ago. That was a devastating thought and then he survived and we did not know what to expect. We didn’t know if we were going to have a child that was completely incapacitated. Our largest concern was if he did survive, what was that going to be like, what kind of life would he have, and would that be fair to him?”
“Once reality set in and I realized he was going to survive, then the panic really set in and at first you just think your life is over. Then your mind wonders with thoughts of surgeries, hospitals, and money and how are we going to take care of him. I can recall a very panicky feeling and thinking; you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with this child.”
When I asked if the accident strained their marriage, Stacy replied, “Amazingly we grew closer together.” She recalls crying and saying to her husband, Bill, she just didn’t want to live. He replied, “As long as we’re together, we can do this, we can get through this, and we can do anything as long as we’re together.” Stacy remembers Bill stating this repeatedly to her. She recalls, “He was there for me when I would have my emotional breakdowns, when I would cry and leave the room, he definitely was the strong one at that point in our relationship. Most people do not get stronger through this type of tragedy. Typically marriages break up over this type of stressful situation.” She feels her marriage is stronger even now, where they rely on each other, and she is grateful for a wonderful husband. In her words, “He let me have my crazy moments and have emotional breakdowns, he would know what to say and what to do. He knew whether to bring me flowers or just leave me alone. I cannot imagine going through this with anyone else.”
Stacy shared, “We have our ups and downs like any marriage. No marriage is perfect but we certainly have grown closer through this tragedy.” She feels they have bonded over the healing of their son instead of letting it tear them apart, she finds it remarkable that they both have worked hard towards the survival of their relationship. Currently, they schedule date nights, and babysitters for Tripp. She would like to recommend to other couples, to concentrate on staying a couple and not just focus on being a mom and dad.
Four years later the most obvious change Stacy sees in Tripp is; his happiness. “We first realized he was happy approximately two years after the accident. He finally started to wake up bit by bit, his eyes cleared and he would smile when we would talk to him. Our absolute best moment since the accident was the day when he started smiling.”
“He has a big smile every day, you can see he is a very happy child no matter what’s going on, he is loved and he is happy. He is very aware of his surroundings and even if he never walks again or talks again like a typical child, he smiles and has a look of contentment, and that is all that we could ever ask.”
I asked, when she knew that Tripp was going to survive if she felt overwhelmed with choices when looking at therapies for him? She replied that she and her husband looked for therapy according to location, close to home. They were recommended to Athens Regional in Athens Georgia where, from the moment they met all the doctors and therapist, they knew they were in the right place. She feels the staff takes an active and personal interest in Tripp and his family.
ROCKET MAN: Tripp imagines his hyperbaric chamber as a rocket. “After hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we noticed that Tripp seemed happier. He started to connect more with what was going on around him.”
Several people were sending her information about hyperbaric oxygen therapy. She received pamphlets in the mail, private messages on Facebook and emails with several stories relating to hyperbaric oxygen therapy—about helping other children and the results they were having. Stacy and Bill were always open to alternative therapies for the healing of their son. The messages and information caught their attention and they wanted to find a way to try it, Stacy posted a message on the Facebook page, stating they were thinking about trying hyperbaric oxygen therapy. They were quickly contacted by another family that had a chamber. That family brought the chamber to the Halstead home, set it up for them and showed them how use it (they gave them a 40-day trial). Stacy recalled how they were amazed at the results in that time period. (See Tripp’s Facebook page, “Tripp Halstead Updates”, with over a million followers. www.facebook.com/TrippHalsteadUpdates/).After the trial, the Halsteads purchased their own. The hyperbaric chamber of choice that Stacy and Bill trust their precious son’s life with is the “Vitaris” by OxyHealth (www.OxyHealth.com).
Stacy mentioned significant changes she noticed in Tripp from the therapy: “I know my son, he’s my child. He went from something always bothering him to, after hyperbaric oxygen therapy, being content, happy and relaxed. All of us, including my parents, my husband’s parents, our friends, we all noticed the same change in him. Everyone collectively noticed he seemed happier. He started to connect more with what was going on around him.”
Tripp currently uses his hyperbaric oxygen chamber four days a week. Tripp gets out of school an hour earlier than the other kids so he can come home and be in the chamber for an hour. Prior to placing Tripp in the chamber; his mother will say to him, “You’re getting into your rocket.” Now he looks at the chamber as his “rocket.” Stacy and her husband take turns going into the chamber with him. They sometimes take a book or take an iPad in and watch cartoons or videos with him, or sometimes she will do his stretches inside the chamber with him.
Stacy likes to have her down time in the chamber, an hour to enjoy being with her son. She said she looks forward to their time together. At the same time, she seems to have more energy with her Zumba and other activities she enjoys. According to Stacy, her husband also goes in the chamber, often on his own. He exercises every day and feels the hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps his performance and his recovery. He is currently training for an Ironman competition and he has been in the chamber daily.
Stacy shared her goals for Tripp, “Honestly I would like him to stay as content and happy as he is today, that would be a blessing! He has no more surgeries scheduled currently, an enormous relief. Now we can just focus on enjoying him and not living in the hospital, my main focus is to just be able to enjoy him now daily. We never know what’s going to happen from day to day. So for now we cherish each day that he’s here, and each day that he can smile and show us that he is feeling good. We will take it!”
Shannon Kenitz, president and director of International Hyperbarics Association (IHA) said, “The Halstead story is remarkable. I love and am privileged to hear stories like this and others, regarding hyperbaric oxygen treatments. The treatments have helped heal traumatic brain injuries and stroke patients. It has helped soldiers and veterans. I always find it inspiring that people can come together in sickness, bringing about change for recovery and healing. When you’re not left with much hope from people in the medical profession and you have all your dreams and hope wrapped up in the words they say, after all they wear a white jacket and walk into your hospital room. I feel the movement is changing. I feel people are realizing that physicians are just people and that are educated in the medical field. At the end of the day, you have to be proactive with your loved ones’ healthcare. The medical professionals may make decision based on science and what they have been taught, but that does not mean they know everything or their diagnosis and prognosis is absolute.”
Shannon relates to Stacy Halstead, as there is nothing more devastating then hearing that your child’s not going to make it. “All of your dreams come crashing down on you, so I love hearing stories that have a happy ending. As a parent we are challenged when a physician says to us your child is not going to live, your first instinct is we do want to die, if our child is not going to live, then we don’t want to live.” Shannon said that she felt that same way when her daughter, Grace, was diagnosed at age two, with a rare mitochondrial disorder and was not expected to live. Shannon knew she had to continue to live because she had another daughter, Lily who needed her also. Shannon can certainly empathize with any family that’s going through this, “It’s terrible we’re not supposed to outlive our children. The Halstead family is remarkable for making the decision to do whatever they could do to help their son, and that support came to them via social media.” She was happy that people reached out to them about hyperbaric therapy. Shannon recalled when her family found hyperbaric oxygen therapy for Grace. “I would have never known about hyperbaric oxygen therapy if it had not been for Grace making the news. Several parents did reach out to me recommending hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Even though Grace didn’t have a clear indication for the therapy, several mothers still felt strongly that Grace had to try it. Often stories keep surfacing like this one…At the end of the day, as parents, we are in this together.”
“It’s so wonderful to see people giving to families that they don’t even know and parents sharing information with families. That’s really what it’s all about. I often talk about the circle of life… it takes a village. To me, all it really takes is people being compassionate towards other people and putting yourself in another person’s situation, what would it feel like if that were your loved one or your child. There are many compassionate people out there and that gives us all hope everyday!” (For more information on Shannon Kenitz and Grace visit ShannonandGrace.com)•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michelle Boudreau is a national bestselling author who was once considered for a Pulitzer Prize nomination. She is a UCLA alumni, and media journalist, authoring numerous publications. She has 16 years’ experience as a consumer product specialist, focusing on health product awareness.
Photography: Hannah Kidd Photography (HKP)