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Tyler Lang, front center, was paralyzed when the mini-van he was a backseat passenger in was hit from behind by a box truck in March. Tyler, 16, was in Huntsville, Ala., on his way back from spring break. Despite there being tough days, Tyler, who has been told that he likely never will walk again, is moving forward with the help of his family. From left are his mother, Jenny, brothers, Hunter, Todd (Tyler’s twin) and Jake, and father, Billy. Photo by Chris Adams

Teen trumping tragedy

Crash left Tyler Lang paralyzed, but love from family giving him strength

September 12, 2012
Life can change in a second. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not. In either case, the people you have around you can make all the difference.

Last March, on their way home from a spring break trip to Panama City, Fla., 16-year-old Tyler Lang of Birdseye and the group he was with had just gotten back on the road after stopping at an Olive Garden in Huntsville, Ala., for a late dinner. They hadn't even made it back to the Interstate when that second came for Tyler.

Without warning, a box truck slammed into the mini-van in which he was a backseat passenger as it was stopped at a traffic signal, exposed like a wide receiver going up for a catch on the football field not realizing a defender is barreling in for the tackle.

Twin brothers Tyler and Todd Lang hold hands during Tyler’s stay in an Alabama hospital following a wreck that left him paralyzed.
"It sounded like a jet flying over you," he recalled.

Despite barely having a scratch on him, Tyler, who was awake and in a lot of pain, instantly knew something was wrong.

"I couldn't feel my legs. I actually thought they were cut off or something because I didn't know where they were," he said.

Emergency personnel assured Tyler that his body simply had gone into shock and feeling in his legs would return. However, he had no doubt that the wreck had left him paralyzed.

"As soon as the wreck happened, I knew I was," he said.

Tyler's twin brother, Todd, was at home in bed. For whatever reason, he woke up and couldn't fall back to sleep. He checked his phone around midnight and saw that he had a text message saying that Tyler had been in a wreck.

Todd immediately went downstairs and woke his parents, Billy and Jenny. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get in touch with anybody immediately to learn Tyler's condition.

"For 45 minutes, we were frantic," Jenny said, adding they finally received a call from the emergency room nurse. "Her first thing was, 'How quickly can you guys get down here?' "

Longtime foster parents, Billy and Jenny quickly made arrangements for two girls living with them as well as another son, Jake (a fourth son, Hunter, was in Illinois). The couple, along with Todd and family friend Paul Crecelius, then drove through the night to northern Alabama, arriving at the hospital around 7:30 a.m.

As difficult as the drive was for them emotionally, it was even more difficult knowing that Tyler was lying in a hospital bed without his family at his side.

"For Tyler to be there by himself, he was hysterical," Jenny said.

Once they arrived, it didn't get much better. In the Intensive Care Unit, Tyler only could have visitors 20 minutes at a time four times a day.

Needing to get back to the rest of the family, Billy, along with Todd and Paul, drove back to Indiana after a few days. Jenny, however, remained with Tyler.

"It was the first Easter I ever had being away from my family," she said.

Once Tyler was released from ICU, Jenny stayed by his side. She often didn't say anything, instead just offering silent support as they both cried.

The tears weren't only for the current situation but the future. Having suffered an L1 burst fracture in his spine, Tyler likely will never walk again.

"I was standing in the hall crying to one of the many wonderful nurses, when I said, 'This guy has ruined Tyler's life!' " Jenny remembered. "She quickly said, 'Don't ever say that again! This has not ruined his life; it has changed it, yes, but don't ever let him hear you say his life is ruined. Things will be challenging at times, but he can still lead a happy and fulfilling life.' "

Jenny quickly realized the nurse was correct.

"It could be so much worse, because he has all of his upper body strength," she said, explaining that Tyler at first couldn't hold his arms out straight and had no trunk balance. "They'd set him up and he'd just fall over."

After 12 days, Tyler was transferred by ambulance to Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville. For the next three weeks, staff worked with him to help him regain strength. Tyler would get on a localized treadmill, where he was held up by a harness and two people sitting in front would move his legs in a walking motion. Already with some feeling in his upper thighs, he even took some steps on his own.

"They said he would never do that," Jenny said.

While he mostly is in a wheelchair, Tyler can use a walker, although his lower legs must be in a brace to keep his ankles from being hurt, for a limited time.

Tyler, who still visits Frazier twice a week, has impressed his therapists with how much progress he has made in a short time. Likely to have been the starting varsity quarterback at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School this year, he is physically driven and said it is just a matter of "self-determination."

Still, physical therapy can only do so much and Tyler has had to accept that he may never walk again. Having already undergone one surgery, one of his doctors said a second procedure could help, but there is an equally big chance that it could do more harm.

"It's such a risk to take," Jenny said.

Tyler said at the time he didn't want to take that chance, and, having had time to think about, he still feels that way.

Since coming home from Frazier, Tyler has attempted to regain some semblance of a normal life. He still rides an all-terrain vehicle and enjoys hunting and going to bow shoots.

"He's still really good with the bow," Jenny said.

In fact, Tyler has a special hunting trip in Ohio later this month, thanks to a friend, Travis Hensley, who told the TV show "Young Guns," which highlights young hunters, about Tyler.

"Immediately they want Tyler to come for a hunt," Jenny said. "So, he leaves on the 23rd."

After working with a homebound instructor to get caught up on his school work, Tyler began his junior year at CCJSHS in August, right on schedule.

He has a girlfriend and still hangs out with friends and family. He and Todd have a special bond and, like most brothers, still wrestle around, wheelchair and all.

"There's tough times of course, but we try to make the most of everything," Todd said.

For instance, the twin brothers were to get their driver's licenses on the same day this summer, but Tyler could only watch as Todd got his.

Tyler, however, hopes not to be too far behind. He has been working with the driver's education teacher at CCJSHS to learn how to drive with hand controls and hopes to take a driving test with a special Bureau of Motor Vehicles instructor soon.

Billy and Jenny hope to get him a car and have permanent hand controls installed. However, with Tyler no longer working and Jenny having taken off from her job when he was in the hospital, money is tight. Hand controls alone cost about $1,000 not including installation.

Friends from throughout the area are coming together for a fundraiser at the Birdseye Conservation Club on Saturday, Sept. 29. It is just the latest act of kindness shown to Tyler and his family.

With all of the kids' bedrooms upstairs, John Schwartz and his construction crew built a first-floor addition onto the Lang home. Besides a bedroom, they added a bathroom featuring a large wheelchair-accessible shower. The addition includes larger doorways and other amenities to make life easier for Tyler.

"I just thank God for having good friends," Jenny said, adding that members of the family's church, First Pentecostal in Birdseye, also have helped, including lifting the family up in prayer.

Even the staff at the hospital in Alabama has remained supportive, she said, adding the family still keeps in touch with a couple of nurses and the occupational therapist. In fact, they have asked her to send them the "Team T. Lang" shirts she had made for the benefit.

"They are a wonderful bunch of people," she said.

Life can change in a second. Tyler's life didn't change for the good on that March night in Alabama, but it did on Nov. 24, 2009.

That was the day that Billy and Jenny, who had cared for him and Todd as foster parents since March 17, 2008, formally welcomed the brothers into their home by adopting them.

The past six months have been full of heartache, fear and struggle, and as Tyler continues to recover and come to terms with his injury, there likely will be more tears. However, just as they have, they'll continue to be there for each other, offering love and support, facing each challenge together, as a family.

Benefit scheduled for Sept. 29

A benefit for Tyler Lang, a 16-year-old Crawford County Junior-Senior High School student who was paralyzed when the mini-van he was riding in on the way home from spring break in Florida last March was rear-ended by a box truck, will be Saturday, Sept. 29, at 4:30 p.m. at the Birdseye Conservation Club.

The fundraiser will feature a chili and hot dog supper, silent auction and bake sale. Music will be provided by Boogie Tunes disc jockey service.

To pre-order chili by the gallon (bring your own containers), call Erika Gehlhausen at 1-812-309-0515. To donate an item for the auction, call Gehlhausen or Shonna Wiseman at 1-812-639-3588.

In addition, T-shirts are for sale for $10.

For more information, visit the "Benefit for Tyler Lang" page on Facebook.

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