The Halstead family. (Courtesy Bill Halstead)
JEFFERSON, Ga. -- The birds chirp as the sun rises over Jefferson.
Inside the home of Stacy Halstead's parents, Tripp lays on the floor, moaning. "I'm sorry you had such a terrible night."
Tripp Halstead is in pain, but his mom Stacy can't figure out why.
She calls the doctor. Looking at the box with the name of her son's prescription she says, "And that could be making him sick so that's what we need to know."
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She worries it's one of Tripp's medicines, too many medicines to list. But Stacy can. She begins to tick off the names as she fills the syringes with a bit of each, "Neurontin, Baclifin, Klonipin, Enderol, fish oil, prevacid, Atavan, Culturelle, melatonin."
Each medicine is a tiny piece of a puzzle, one that is supposed to help put this boy back together. Or at least make him better -- better than he is now.
Stacy picks Tripp off the floor, hoping he'll relax in his arms. His body doesn't bend as she lifts him, a result of the trauma to his brain. "He's just so hard to hold because he's just so stiff."
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Seven months ago, Tripp was a typical two year old. It's painful for Stacy and Bill to see the videos of their little boy, happily slurping his ice cream, telling Mommy he loves her.
"He loved attention and he loved making contact with people. If you weren't looking at him, he would do something to get your attention and he always smiled. As my husband says it was just something ever since he was little, there was just something extremely magnetic about him. Everywhere we go people would stop and talk to him."
Stacy and Bill spent two years trying to have a baby. "From the day I decided to get pregnant, every single thing was on Facebook."
Then Tripp came. And overwhelmed their lives with love and joy and fearlessness. So when a tree limb fell on him on the playground of his daycare on October 29th, causing profound brain damage, his parents kept sharing,like they always had.
"They tell us over and over again that he shouldn't be here with so much brain damage, that he shouldn't have survived, but he did."
Tripp's injury, his story, connected with people -- today 630,00 people follow every Tripp update on Facebook. Stacy says, "Now, every thought that comes to my head, I just put down. I could care less if it's good or bad or appropriate. It's my page."
Despite her daily posts, Stacy says some people think Tripp is doing better than he really is. "So we'll be like 'Yeah he's good, and they're like 'What has he said?' Well he doesn't talk. And somebody else will be like 'Oh is he out playing with his cousins?' And we're like 'He can't hold his head up.'"
He is with his cousins, MJ and Tory Beth. But the reality is that Tripp is a shadow of the boy he used to be.
"If he makes eye contact with you, it's a great day. We are so excited. If he moves his hand to touch you, it's a great day."
Tripp's grandmother Mimi leans over him in the lazyboy. Doctors have told them to get Tripp to mimic them. Mimi says to Tripp, "Do you want to practice following Mimi? Listen Tripp, listen to Mimi." She takes a deep breath in and exhales. A few seconds later Tripp does the same thing. She is thrilled. "Good job buddy! Good job."
On this day, one that begins with meds, then the arrival of the nurse, Tripp takes a bath. Stacy carries him from the living room to the bath, that has a reclining chair for him.
She gently lowers him into the tub. "Here we go Trippadoodle, you like that water?" Stacy says it's one of the few places he will relax, in the warmth of the water.
After the bath, it's off to therapy. She has half a dozen bags packed with medicine and food and diapers and oxygen.
It's a 30 minute drive to Athens and when they get there it is a struggle to get him to bend so they can buckle him into his wheelchair.
Stacy presses on his tiny middle, encouraging him. "Tripp, you gotta bend a little bit. You gotta bend." Three hours later Tripp is home. Exhausted.
From upstairs Stacy yells, "Mom, he's throwing up." It's not a cause for panic. It is something that happens so often no one is surprised. "You're okay buddy you're okay. You're okay," Stacey says as they clean him up.
The setbacks and struggles seem endless."It will wear you out," Stacy says, and then she breaks down. "I'm just exhausted."
But Stacy believes what she and her family are doing is making a difference. "When I'm around him, his heart rate goes up when he hears me talk. And a lot of times he'll relax in my arms before he will anybody else's. It could be my imagination but I want to believe that knows I'm mom."
But Stacy and her husband Bill live with the memories of who Tripp used to be. Bill walks in the door from his job just after 6:00 that night. Stacy kisses him hello and begins to fill him in. "Dad I've had a rough afternoon. Pretty much a rough day."
Away from Tripp, she shares her fear. "Personality, that was our big thing because Tripp is just such a good kid, just so sweet and so funny. And they don't know what of that will come back. Some say he may walk and talk. Others say it's never going to happen." When asked which doctors she believes, she answers, "Whoever has the best news is who you believe." She laughs. "Just like anything else, the best news. They have been so sweet and honest and every time they're like 'We don't know. We don't know.'"
What they do know is that they will work every day all day, to make sure Tripp knows he's loved, work to try to bring him back to their world, his world. And they will try to remain grateful in the face of an uncertain future.
Sitting around the dinner table, holding hands, Stacy's brother-in-law says the prayer. "Thank you for every day you give us. Thank you for all the time we get to spend with Tripp and thank you for letting us watch him get better everyday. We look so forward to the day when he gets to run around and play with us again. We have faith in you that that is going to happen again one day."
Tripp sits next to the dinner table in his wheelchair, staring. The prayer concludes. "We pray all this in Jesus' name, Amen."
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