Nearly three months to the day his pick-up truck rolled three times in a ditch near Balls Creek Road, Jackson Gilliam is looking forward to spring baseball season.
Gilliam, a 5-foot-11-.inch junior at Bandys, suffered damage to his vertebrae, right hip, shoulder blade and face, and suffered from a concussion, internal bleeding and a collapsed lung from the accident.
The outlook on his health was fair, at best.
“He wasn’t supposed to be released from anything for three months of the date of the accident,” said Jackson’s mother, Janet.
He was flown from the scene to Carolinas Medical Center, where he spent the next week and a half in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit (STICU).
Despite the obstacles he faced, the support for Gilliam and his family received strong support from all around Catawba County and the surrounding areas.
Around 220 visitors came to visit Jackson during his time in a hospital room.
“People from the school — coaches, parents and players — people from our church and people from other schools — the prayers and outpouring of support were just remarkable,” said Jeff, Jackson’s father.
After being moved to a regular room at Carolinas Medical Center for a few days, Gilliam started his rehabilitation at Levine Children’s Hospital.
He remained there for a week in no pain. Bedridden for weeks, Gilliam worked to regain his mobility.
“I was so excited to use a walker because I was standing up and moving,” Jackson said. “It got to where the walker was slowing me down, so I moved on to crutches.”
The accident did take a toll on Gilliam physically, causing him to lose 30 pounds — going from 195 to 165 pounds.
“I weighed less when I got out of the hospital than I did in my eighth-grade year,” Jackson said.
Initially looking at a two-week stay at Levine, Gilliam left after one week — continuing his rehab at Phoenix Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in Denver.
While his health steadily improved, Jackson had to catch up on school work.
Despite a heavy class load at Bandys High, including honors English and chemistry and AP statistics, Jackson caught up with all of the work he missed late last year with help from his teachers.
“So many people prayed for him to live,” Janet said. “Then they prayed he’d mentally be back. He has one more test to take and he will be completely caught up.”
Friends and neighbors left meals for the family to eat while they were still seeing Jackson in the hospital.
“Just the whole outpouring of support was overwhelming, whether it was people you knew or didn’t know,” Jeff said.
Gilliam said he is becoming stronger every day and getting ready for a season on the diamond with the Trojans, where he hopes to again play catcher for the team.
“The only restrictions I had with my body was it got real weak,” Jackson said. “There was no pain, but I was real weak. When I throw, pushing off that back leg and hip is so much weaker. I can tell a difference now from today compared to when I first got off the crutches. Just how fast it is healing up and how fast I’m regaining that strength is amazing.”
The prep baseball dream is something Jackson’s dad said he didn’t believe was possible.
“If someone had asked me a month ago about high school baseball season, I would have said it would be tough,” Jeff said. “I thought he might play in the second half of the season when it warms up a little bit. I think the fact that in a month from now he will be physically able to compete will be a shock to everyone. In everybody’s mind, he’s still injured in a car wreck.”
Janet said everything seemed to fall in line for Jackson to be as healthy as he is right now.
“Everything happened right to put him to where he is right here and back to himself,” Janet said. “When there was a decision to be made, the people that had to make that decision made the right one.”
With the same determination that got him through such a difficult time in his young life, Gilliam remains resolute about his plans this spring.
“I really want to catch,” Gilliam said. “I plan on catching. I don’t know how to do anything else.”