Doolin: Out of tragedy, life-affirming renewal
By John Doolin Guest Columnist September 3, 2012 4:44PM
John Doolin is an Oak Forest resident and the South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:09AM
We have all heard it before — never underestimate the power of women, especially a mother. I spent some time with Lisa Fitzgerald and her son Alex in mid-June, and never has that statement been so true.
Alex was critically injured April 20 when he was hit by a car while crossing 151st Street outside of Jack Hille Middle School in Oak Forest after an evening school event. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and fractures to his face, head, collarbone and leg and was in a coma for nearly three weeks.
Eight weeks to the day after the accident, Alex stood at the site where his life was forever changed.
As I looked at Alex — minus the helmet to protect his still-healing head, and a little weight loss — you would never know that the past eight weeks were spent clinging to life in hospitals, working hard at rehabilitation centers and visiting doctors’ offices.
His mom, a nurse at Palos Community Hospital, was working that night and heard in the break room of a car-pedestrian accident at Hille Middle School. She knew the school’s annual play was that night and that a large number of parents, students and residents would attend it, including Alex, but she wasn’t too worried until learning that a student has been seriously injured.
Her worst fear was soon confirmed. It was her son who had been struck by a car after the play, suffering life-threatening injuries. She said she kept asking herself if “this was real.”
Because of her occupation, she knew the questions to ask regarding Alex’s injuries and what the doctors were saying. The information was not encouraging. She knew it was very serious but had to remain positive in every conversation with friends and family, including her husband Paul.
When asked what surprised her most during the ordeal, Lisa said the “outpouring of support from people she didn’t even know. The communities, what can you say? Blue bows, signs, cards, T-shirts, fundraisers. How could we ever thank them all, and begin to repay that?”
As a parent I asked the question — “how did you get through it?” As quick as I could ask, Lisa responded, “the power of prayer. I absolutely believe in it. It’s the only thing explainable that would have us here today. I would have anticipated six, eight, 12 weeks in hospitals, and here Alex and I are standing at the very site, not wanting to go to day therapy.
“I kept telling myself, just bring him back to me at 90 percent, 80 percent, in a wheelchair, I don’t care. Just bring him back to me with the ability to be who he was before this all happened,” she said. “I can, he can and we will get through the broken bones, surgeries and all the rest so he can be the student and the kid he was.”
It’s clear that this tragic event has changed Lisa’s life. She found strength she didn’t know she had. How? “I’m his mom,” she simply said.
She thinks there will be a “pay it forward moment,” for her, but she’s not sure when, only that it will be coming. She also believes that “everything happens for a reason” though what that is remains to be seen.
“Alex has defied all the odds, and talking with first responders, you don’t often see or hear about happy endings in these situations,” Lisa said, adding that it was a “higher power” that brought them to this day. “... Bills, eating, sleeping, none of that mattered. What mattered was getting Alex back to me.”
She has reflected many times about the day of the accident and the everyday conversation she had with Alex before she went to work — never in a million years thinking anything like what happened could ever occur to her family.
Alex Fitzgerald underwent successful surgery to replace his skull plate on Aug. 14. Eight days later, he returned to Hille Middle School for the first day of eighth grade.
Never underestimate the power of a mother, of a father, of prayer and unconditional love.
I urged Alex in a prior column to stay strong and fight hard because the Oak Forest community was eager for his triumphant return.
You did it “Fitz,” you are back. Welcome home.
John Doolin is an Oak Forest resident and South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.