Toddler's freak, near-fatal accident ignites mom's strength
Nov. 05, 2017
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — For Stacy Halstead, Oct. 29, 2012, started off like any other day. She dropped her 2-year-old son, Tripp, at daycare and headed to work on that sunny Monday morning.
Nothing could have prepared her for the freak accident that changed this family's world forever.
The Halsteads experienced something more dreadful than any parent's worst nightmare.
Millions of people around the world have been following their story, rooting for little Tripp, praying for peace and healing, and admiring Stacy as one of the strongest women alive.
This self-described "all-American" family was rocked to the core.
And they never saw it coming.
"I had a very nice life growing up," she says. "My parents have been married for 41 years, there were never any divorces or tragedies. I was very blessed. The worst thing that ever happened to our family was Tripp's accident."
In 2006, Stacy met her husband, Bill, through mutual friends. They were married in 2007 in Asheville, North Carolina, but frequently traveled to visit her sister, Crystal, and her family in Georgia, where they currently reside.
"In 2008, we decided we wanted to have a baby, so we started trying," Stacy says. "We moved to Georgia to be close to my sister, so we could raise our kids together."
It wasn't until 2010 — and the intervention of a fertility specialist — that the couple conceived Tripp.
"It felt amazing," she says. "It was a terrible pregnancy, but I was so happy, after trying for two years and being devastated every month, that I didn't care."
On Sept. 11, 2010, Tripp Hughes Halstead was born.
"He was great," Stacy explains. "He slept great, ate great, everything was good. He was an awesome toddler. He was in daycare and so smart. Before the accident, he was saying sentences, he was extremely social — he wanted to be included in everything."
She recalls something Bill always told her.
"He used to say, 'There is just something special about Tripp. I know that he's our kid, but . it's something.' "
When the couple took vacations, strangers constantly asked to hold their baby.
"How bizarre is that?" she asks. "People gravitated to him — his big eyes, crazy hair. People just wanted to be around him."
Tripp loved going to daycare and was happy as can be.
"That was his second family," Stacy says. "I walked him in every morning, got him settled and would leave. He saw them more than me and Bill. I still have a great relationship with them. I want them to know it's OK — that reassuring force that I know it was not their fault."
Stacey had no reason to think the morning of Oct. 29, 2012, would change her family's life forever.
She dropped Tripp off as usual, then made her one-hour drive to work. Around 11 a.m., Stacy got a phone call.
"They said Tripp had an accident and I needed to come right there," she recalls, through tears. "I didn't even ask how bad it was. In my mind, I was thinking, 'Great, he broke his arm or leg,' nothing tragic."
On the way, she got another phone call, saying Tripp's been taken to the local hospital and that she needed to meet them there. She called her husband and her mother, still not assuming the worst, and told them to head that way as well.
Stacy then got a third call, advising her that Tripp's injury was very serious, and he was being airlifted to the children's hospital in Atlanta.
"I was hysterical," she recalls. "I told my husband and mother that something traumatic happened. I said I wanted to meet them at the local hospital before he was taken by helicopter. That's when I got the full story."
Tripp had been playing outside, as the children did each day, and was leaning up against a fence. They were playing a game of "Ready, Set, Go," during which the kids raced back and forth on the playground. The others had grown tired of the game and moved on to another part of the playground.
But not Tripp.
He was hanging around, leaning on the fence.
"They heard a horrible crack," Stacy says.
A large branch had broken, crashing toward the ground, landing directly on Tripp's head.
Everyone thought he was dead.
"His teacher saw it fall on him," she recalls, trying to hold back her emotions. "She said the only reason it didn't kill him was because of the fence."
Tripp was knocked unconscious. Everyone was screaming, and the business next door heard the commotion.
"The woman ran over and was a retired ICU nurse, so she knew exactly what to do. She came flying out of her store, told her assistant to call 911."
When Stacey arrived at the local hospital, she says Tripp looked great.
"There was no blood, nothing," she says. "He just looked like he was asleep."
Tripp was stabilized before transport, but nobody knew how serious it was.
"I still didn't think he would die," Stacy says. "I was in shock. It never occurred that it was life-threatening. I just thought, 'He's hurt, and they're gonna fix him.' "
When they got to Atlanta, Stacy and Bill were brought to their baby. Nothing could prepare them for what happened next.
The doctor told them Tripp was probably not going to survive.
"They said he has extensive, extensive brain damage," she recalls. "And they didn't think he would make it through surgery.
"We gave him as many kisses as they would let us, told him it would be OK and that we would see him soon."
Family and friends flooded into the hospital as Stacy and Bill waited several hours to find out if their baby would live.
At this point, Stacy's friend Katie Riney decided to start a Facebook page — which now has more than 1.3 million followers — to post updates about Tripp ("Tripp Halstead Updates") so they wouldn't have to keep reliving the story to everyone who asked.
"The news picked up on it," Stacy says. "It was just so surreal. This is the stuff that happens to other families. We are the all-American family — it took us a while to get used to it."
Hours had passed since the surgery had begun, and the doctor finally called Stacy and Bill back to a room.
Miraculously, Tripp had survived — but it didn't mean he was out of the woods.
A lot of his brain was killed, so the doctors were unsure of the life quality Tripp would have, if he lived.
Once he was transported to the intensive care unit, Stacy and Bill were able to see their boy for the first time — and they weren't prepared whatsoever.
"You would have never recognized him," she says. "His head was bandaged, he was black and blue, swollen, with tubes and wires. He looked horrible. He was in a coma, and doctors wanted to keep him that way. We couldn't talk to him, make noise. The lights were dimmed."
Stacy didn't leave that ICU room for four days.
The accident was on a Monday. By Friday, nothing had changed, but then Tripp's vital signs began to go haywire. They ran some tests, and once again, his parents were told that their son would not survive.
"This was just worse than the accident," Stacy recalls. "A nurse told us she could bring in a hospital bed so that we could lay with him until he passes. I went into the bathroom and screamed into a towel. Bill came in and told me, 'It's gonna be OK. Even if Tripp doesn't make it, it's gonna be OK.' "
The doctor explained that there was just too much swelling, and it was causing his body to shut down. He said there was one risky surgery that they could perform, during which the spine is tapped to drain fluid from the brain.
"Bill asked the doctor, 'If it was your kid, would you do it?' "
He said yes.
Tripp made it through the operation, and enough fluid was removed to save his life.
Over the next three weeks, his breathing tube was removed, and he opened his eyes. Although Tripp never really moved, Stacy recalls the relief she felt just knowing he was awake.
After close to a month in the ICU, Tripp was moved to a rehabilitation facility across town.
His mother finally got to hold her baby for the first time since she was told he was going to die.
"It was very, very nerve-wracking because I didn't want to hurt him," she says. "They set me up in a chair. It was very sweet."
Still, nobody knew how much damage he had.
Tripp's rehabilitation was going very well — he was kicking a ball upon command, waving and swallowing ice cream and apple sauce.
"We were extremely excited," Stacy says. "He was in a wheelchair, he couldn't stand, but still, the little things were amazing."
Tripp entered rehab in November. Those first few months were incredible.
In February, however, the family was once again rocked by an unexpected tragedy.
Because brain injury causes the body to stiffen up, Tripp was given a drug called Baclofen, used to keep his muscles loose. Doctors wanted to do a trial in which a pump would be inserted, administering the medication 24/7.
When doctors performed the surgery, Tripp developed a bacterial infection called ventriculitis, and it was more threatening than the accident itself.
Tripp hasn't been the same since, and all progress was lost.
All hardware had to be removed, including his tubes and drain. He couldn't wave, swallow or kick the ball anymore.
"He would cry, he was miserable," Stacy says. "To see him in all this pain after all that's gone on, it was a really hard five weeks."
That's how long it took for Tripp's body to fight the deadly infection.
On March 29, 2013, he finally went home with his family.
Life was unrecognizable for the Halsteads. For a time, they moved in with Stacy's parents, Larry and Connie Hughes (aka Bobo and Mimi), two people the family "could not even begin to function without," she says.
Tripp had nurses seven days a week and needed round-the-clock care.
"We still didn't know if Tripp was in there or not," Stacy recalls. "He had no motor skills, wouldn't look at you . he was just a shell. He was just alive, and unfortunately, that was pretty much it. He was very, very stiff. He had a hospital bed and a recliner. It was a chore to hold him — he would moan and cry. He threw up at least 10 times a day because that was part of his injury. He puked so much, he only wore a diaper. It was horrific."
Over time, nothing really changed. He slowly began to get a little looser, the vomiting subsided, and he has been undergoing therapy — physical, occupational, speech and feeding — regularly.
"At first, (therapy) seemed like a waste of time," Stacy says. "The only goal was to keep him awake. There was no progress. But I used that time to sleep. I was just so, so tired. We were up every three hours to make sure he didn't get bed sores and to give him medicines."
Thankfully, Bill's job was "awesome," giving him at least one month off to help.
"He's a very devoted husband and father," his wife says.
A year after the accident, Tripp was allowed to attend special-needs preschool, just to get him out of the house a little. He still had no reaction, but Stacy believe he enjoyed it.
Where does Tripp, who recently underwent his 20th surgery, stand today?
"It's inconsistent," Stacy says. "He really has no motor skills. No reaching, no kicking. But his personality definitely came back. He smiles, laughs and giggles. But he pouts, cries and gets upset. He's still in a diaper and has a feeding tube. We physically take care of his needs . but the fact that he can show emotion is all we ever prayed for."
Tripp will have two more surgeries: one to fix his skull, which was shattered, and another to straighten out his spine, which became curved from his body going into a fetal position so often.
What's Tripp's prognosis?
"We have zero expectations for recovery," Stacy says. "He could continually get better and heal, or this is the best you will ever see him."
As bleak as it may seem to some, the Halsteads count their blessings.
"Every parent wants their child to be happy, to have a quality of life. I think he has a great one - that little booger goes everywhere!"
Why has the world taken such an interest in this family, following their Facebook updates on a daily basis? Stacy credits her honesty and real-life perspective.
"I don't sugar-coat, but I don't post any negativity," she says. "I talk about everything — even my PMS, weight loss. I got my whole family involved, and we feel like we're part of their lives. Everyone recognizes us - we have never met an evil person."
The Halsteads say this ordeal heightened their awareness of the world around them. There are two charities in particular that hold a special place in their hearts.
The first is "Ride to Give," started for Tripp by Kaete Nazaroff. She followed his story and wanted to raise money for the family, since Stacy could no longer work.
Kaete asked her husband to ride his bike from New York to Georgia, stopping to collect funds along the way. They mapped a route and had people come out, holding signs and showing support. They had a goal of $35,000, Stacy's annual salary, so that she could stay home with her son for a year. In that week, almost $200,000 was raised.
"Ride to Give" has now become an international charity, and a different child is supported each month. Learn more about it at www.ridetogive.com.
The Halsteads also stand behind "Sunshine on a Ranney Day," an organization dedicated to giving room makeovers to ill children. When the Halsteads were approached, they initially declined, as Bill had just made a "big-boy room" for Tripp 10 days before the accident.
But that's when reality set in. Tripp was not getting better, and they needed a new house that could accommodate his needs. The couple found a foreclosure home, in rough condition, but with a perfect floor plan. "Sunshine on a Ranney Day" was set to design Tripp's new bedroom, but once word got out that it was the Halstead family, everyone wanted to be a part of it.
"We got a pool, deck — everything you could imagine," Stacy says. The whole house was redone from the ground up. We got sheets, plates, towels. They wanted us to be able to walk in and just live there.
Learn more about "Sunshine on a Ranney Day" at www.sunshineonaranneyday.com.
It's been 5 years since the Halsteads world was turned upside down. What have they taken away from this tragic, yet uplifting, experience?
When it comes to parents facing similar situations, Stacy says don't try to do it alone.
"It takes a village," she explains. "So many of us try to do it alone, and that's noble, but you're gonna die. Use Google for resources, find help. You can be the strongest person, but you're gonna break without back-up."
How do they get through the hard moments?
"I pray a lot," Stacy says. "I believe Tripp will be perfect one day, and that this is only temporary during our time here. I still wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach. It's those few minutes getting ready to start your day that are the hardest. But once I see his little face, I know it's gonna be OK. He makes everything better, that's for sure."
Stacy stresses the importance of enjoying the moment, something she reminds herself to do.
"Sometimes I have to leave the laundry, dishes, and hold my baby," she says. "Make quality time with your baby, so he knows how much he is loved. I think that's helping his progress. We're just so glad he's here.
To learn more about Tripp's story or to send the Halsteads some love, visit www.teamboom4tripp.com.
Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com