Bloom grad who lost leg after hit-and-run defines determination
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com May 31, 2012 10:10PM
Bloom High School guidance counselor Elizabeth Peterson places a graduation cap on Matthew Brown, 18, of Chicago Heights, as he attends the school’s recent graduation ceremony. Brown suffered multiple injuries and lost a leg during a hit-and-run incident.
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:57AM
Most students must work hard to get a diploma, but Matt Brown’s relentless push the past few weeks to be on stage for graduation Thursday night had to be unmatched among the 307 graduates in Bloom Township High School’s Class of 2012.
Brown lost his right leg to amputation about eight weeks ago, and pain, doubt and grueling physical rehabilitation became constants in his life. He was the victim in a March 17 hit-and-run accident in Chicago Heights in which he was struck by a vehicle, reportedly after pushing two younger relatives out of harm’s way.
With all the required academic credits under his belt, Brown’s biggest accomplishment was just being able to stand on stage with his fellow seniors Thursday night at Bloom.
A standing ovation accompanied his appearance, and Brown’s doctors and parents were on hand, Bloom athletic director Joe Reda said.
“It was a touching event,” Reda said. “He felt great to be here, and the kids enjoyed having him back. It was great for him.”
Brown had to return after the ceremony to Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. But earlier in the day, admitting he was a bit nervous, he said about the ceremony, “I can’t stop thinking about it. It means that God has been walking me through everything I have been through.”
Brown, 18, of Chicago Heights, arrived at Bloom via a minivan from the hospital, accompanied by Dr. Douglas Koltun, a pediatric specialist. Koltun was equally excited about Brown’s ability to participate in the ceremony.
“You only graduate high school once, and we realize that,” Koltun said.
While his fellow graduates may have been suffering from “senioritis,” Brown suffered a severely fractured femur, head and neck injuries, and broken ribs in the St. Patrick’s Day accident while he was crossing U.S. 30.
Despite multiple surgeries to save his right leg, it had to be amputated April 2.
At that point and even later, attending graduation “seemed like a pipe dream,” said Koltun, who leads the team involved in Brown’s rehabilitation. But the goal of his rehab team was to help Brown achieve his goals, one of which was to graduate with his friends.
“Just this past week, he realized this was possible,” Koltun said. “He was very motivated.”
His family, school and rehab team at Hope all have been “extremely supportive” of that goal, Koltun said, and that motivated Brown. There was physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and recreational therapy, Monday through Friday.
His physical therapy sessions specifically prepared him to be able to stand up, shake hands and accept his diploma.
“It was not easy for me at all. The hardest part was physical therapy. My leg hurt so bad. I had to calm down,” Brown said. “I had to stop saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ ”
When Koltun first saw Brown, the teen was unable to eat, talk or be mobile.
“Now he’s Mr. Chatterbox and is able to walk the length of the (hospital) hallway with a walker,” the doctor said. “His hard work has paid off.”
After more than two months in the hospital, Brown looked forward to seeing his friends and celebrating — if only briefly.
Bloom Principal Rhona Israel said Brown is an “excellent student.” During high school, he was active in the gospel choir and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
School officials visited him in the hospital, bringing him a yearbook and his royal blue cap and gown.
A ramp was added to the stage at Bloom to accommodate his wheelchair during Thursday’s ceremony.
“He is really a neat kid,” Israel said. “He still has quite an uphill battle.”
Brown was one of the first graduates to receive his diploma, before heading back to the hospital.
“He still has a lot of hard work ahead of him. We are still early on in his rehabilitation,” Koltun said.
Once his injury has healed, Brown will be fitted with a prosthetic leg.
In Kolton’s mind, Brown is a hero. On the afternoon of the accident — which Brown does not recall — he was crossing U.S. 30 near Wentworth Avenue with his younger brother and cousin. With the car approaching, Brown pushed them out of the way and took the brunt of the hit, according to Koltun.
“He heroically saved others,” the doctor said. “He’s battling back and making steady improvements.”
The high school graduate now has a goal of attending Prairie State College to pursue an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and later a bachelor’s degree, with dreams of becoming a crime scene investigator.
“I’m not scared of the future,” he said confidently.