Life has changed in many ways for the Thames family over the past year.
Pierson Thames, a kicker on the 2018 St. James football team, suffered major injuries in a September 2018 car accident, leaving him with a long recovery to return to normalcy.
Nearly a year later, the 6-foot-2 Pierson is back in the halls of St. James High School on the mend from a brain injury that cost him much of his senior year.
“A lot of stuff has slowed down,” Pierson said on Wednesday, sitting in an office at the school. “Taking a shower is very difficult because it’s a two-person job and it takes (about 30 to 45 minutes) . . . I can’t kick like I used to.”
For his mother, Katie, seeing Pierson mobile and out of the hospital counts as a miracle. There were points in his time at Duke University Hospital where doctor’s weren’t sure if he would recover some functionality.
“He can’t use the left side as well as he can use the right side, he has some tremors,” Katie said. “When they first told us that he had a brain injury, they were pretty certain that it was in a place that would make communication difficult. They weren’t sure that his personality would be the same. All of that is back; he’s back and he hasn’t changed. Physically, it has messed with his mobility. He can’t swim. We’re going to have to relearn how to swim because he sinks like a rock. For a lifeguard, that’s tough.”
Returning to the water is one of Pierson’s next milestones in his recovery. He has spent time in a pool, working to regain the muscle tone that made him an invaluable member of the Sharks’ football team in years past.
“The next milestone would be for me to be able to swim and get back on my paddleboard,” he said. “Once I can do that, then it’ll be going to archeology camp.”
For the rest of the family, Pierson’s recovery has been a shining example of strength and perseverance.
“From the very beginning, it was open your eyes and then some form of communication,” Katie said of Pierson’s recovery milestones. “It was a long time before he could answer a question or give us a thumbs up. (Then) sitting up, then once they were able to sit him up and get him in a wheelchair, he still had to be strapped (to the chair). Once he could support his head, that was a huge (milestone).
Little things that you don’t think about have become huge. Standing, walking, talking – the first time he was able to say something, everybody went crazy. The things that you think of when you have a newborn baby – walking and talking – we’ve watched him do again.”
Now, Pierson is back in school and has physical therapy three times a week, which is helping him regain some of his independence. He has attended a football game at St. James, where he received a standing ovation from the home crowd. He is working with school officials to spend more time around his teammates and perhaps on the football field.
“I feel very overjoyed. This school is probably the best thing that’s happened to me,” Pierson said. “The people here have been very supportive. . . . I was used to standing out on the field and now I’m used to sitting in the stands and watching. That was never the case before. I wish I could go back in time and be a part of the team.”
On Wednesday, Pierson took his first steps back onto a football field, standing on the St. James field amid the sounds of a football practice. He called the experience “weird,” but reveled in some of the moments that he had while in uniform.
The biggest change for the Thames family in Pierson’s recovery is the amount of time tasks take to complete. From eating to homework, everything has doubled in the amount of time it takes, but each day things become a little bit more routine.
For Katie, the single biggest moment of Pierson’s recovery came after his discharge from the hospital, while they were resting following an appointment.
“One night he said ‘Mom, I wish that this hadn’t happened to me. God could have stopped it, but there’s got to be a purpose for this.’ That may have been the biggest milestone, for me, just knowing where he was,” she said. “He understood this was a bad thing, but there’s a reason. There’s going to be something that comes from this. We don’t know when it will be, but something good will come from this.”
As Pierson continues working his way back from his injuries, he has received great marks in school and has his sights set on his dream college – Samford University. The son of a pastor, Campbell, Pierson hopes to become a biblical archeologist.
“We’ll get there, one small goal at a time,” Katie said.
“Yes we will,” Pierson responded.
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