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January 26, 2017

Injured by Chance Healed by Courage and Perseverance

Parker Cummings

Editor's note: Shortly after Pam wroter her story, Parker's brother Levi died in a snowmobiling accident. Our thoughts and sympathy go out to their family.

By Pam Witt-Hillen, ThedaStar flight nurse 

Call it coincidence. In one moment, lives can collide and change forever.

The ThedaStar staff’s paths would intersect with 12-year-old Parker Cummings and his brother Levi on Sept. 1, 2006, when they were involved in a T-bone type motor vehicle crash. Parker, of Hilbert, suffered a “chance” fracture of his low back which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Both Parker and Levi also had abdominal injuries. Trauma surgeon Dr. Ray Georgen provided initial surgery at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah; then both boys were flown together via ThedaStar to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin pediatric ICU in Milwaukee.

In healthcare it’s surprising how intertwined our lives with our patients become. We form immediate bonds when we assume the caregiver role. Our patients are ever-grateful for our compassion, encouragement, and clinical expertise. And our trauma warriors and their families in turn leave a lasting imprint on our lives. We are inspired everyday by their courage and determination. They help us be better people. And throughout the years we love to check in on how their hopes and dreams are shaping their future.

Parker and his amazing family have continued to share and celebrate important life-feats with us like getting his driver’s license, his first truck, high school graduation, school and first job. I had not seen Parker since he was 16 years old.

On Jan.14, 2017, on our way home from up north, dozens of snowmobilers raced by us on the trail adjacent to Hwy. 32 in Townsend. My husband Chris wondered what was on the back of a passing snowmobile. At a closer look, we realized it was a wheelchair bungeed to the snow machine. I immediately thought how great it was that a most likely paralyzed guy was out there living life large and influencing his destiny. I was reminded too that happiness is there for the taking, if we take it – and nothing in life is challenge-free. I was inspired by this free-sledding spirit.

A few miles down the road we stopped to eat breakfast. Shortly thereafter, a young man in his snowmobile garb and stocking hat rolled in in his wheelchair. I thought, this must be the guy we passed a short while ago. He went to his table, and I ordered my breakfast. Then I heard a friendly, “Pam, is that you?” Our paths crossed again. The inspiring spirit I saw on the hillside was Parker Cummings.

This chance encounter was just what I needed. To know he is so capable and adventuresome certainly validates what we do for a living. His polite, positive and capable nature far outshines the limits of his disability. He was snowmobiling with his father and his uncle’s family who have a cottage in Chute Pond. We caught up and I went back to eating my huge omelet. We made a date for next summer when he promised to stop by my dock on Lake Winnebago in the new 24-foot-pontoon boat he just bought. I left for home full of appreciation for many things that day.

When we have the courage to open up to life, we open so many doors to stirring possibility. Spinal cord injury goes far beyond immobility issues. There is loss of muscle mass, recurrent skin breakdown and infections, and bowel and bladder issues with paralysis. Wise at 21, Parker, who has spent half his life in a wheelchair, will deal with all this, but he will continue to reach for the stars. Like Walt Disney said, “Dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them. “ Parker is grateful for all he has, and he knows the journey is much easier accompanied by his amazing family and friends.

Gratitude is a powerful life force. Thankful people are happy people. Happiness is there for the taking and “the making” if we so choose. Parker is digging in his wheels, powering through, and writing his own blockbuster story. Wherever he is headed or whatever he chooses to do, we know he will get there. You cannot take the fight out of a true warrior!