"There's no way to repay everybody's kindness and thank everybody for what they've done, except to put out one big mass thank you because there's too many people to thank personally. ... I used to think that stuff like this doesn't happen to us," said Smither, who suffered a crushed hip in the accident. "It's stuff you see on TV. It's not something that's ever going to happen to you and in a split second it was us. We were the ones on TV.
"We were the ones that were broken and needed help. ... It can happen to anyone and it's not easy to go through. Living Way [Foursquare Church] has been by my side from day one. They came to the hospital the night of the accident and they've never left my side. Adairsville Baptist got involved about half way through it and they've never left my side. They've been there for my family through the whole thing. Without [them], I don't know what I would have done because they have taken care of us in more ways than I can name."
The Smithers' journey began in September when their vehicle was hit head on, injuring the Adairsville couple and their 15-year-old son, William. As the driver, Sean took the brunt of the impact and had to undergo about nine surgeries afterward. In addition to breaking or crushing 14 major bones, including three vertebrae, he also suffered two strokes and frontal lobe brain injury from the impact. Originally air lifted to Erlanger Medical Center in Tennessee, he now is being cared for at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
"When it first happened, they didn't even know if he was going to live," Smither said, adding her husband had to relearn how to talk and eat following the accident. "So we've gone from not knowing if he was going to live, to he's going to live but we're not sure what his quality of life is going to be, to OK, his quality of life could be good but it's going to take a lot of work here at the Shepherd Center to see him get back his speech, to get back a little bit of independence, being able to answer questions on his own, take a little bit more control of his body. It's overwhelming how much he's actually gone through and it's hard to express the feelings that you go through. It's definitely emotional.
"You go through those five stages of grief and you go through them more than once. And occasionally he'll say something or do something that kind of brings it all back home too. He's not going to be the same person he was and you have to accept that. There will be limitations and sometimes that's brought back into clarity for you with just certain statements he makes or when he tries to do something, he'll say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and you've got to correct him or help him so it brings it all back home. So you go through those stages several times of where you get excited when he makes small steps -- and the small steps are huge steps -- but then something will happen then it kind of brings it all back down again. And then you get built back up and then you get taken back down. It is a very long journey."
For Tina Spellman, senior pastor of Living Way Foursquare Church in Adairsville, providing assistance to the Smithers was a "no-brainer." Even though the family does not attend the church, Spellman is very acquainted with the Smithers since Sabrina teaches at, and William attends Living Way Foursquare's Christian Academy. Over the past four months, the church's members have met a variety of the family's needs, from providing emotional support to helping clear debris when a tornado uprooted numerous trees on the Smithers' property Dec. 22.
"When family's in need, you help them," Spellman said. "When anybody's in need, according to the mandate of Christ, we help them. So that's really our motivation -- just the love of Christ compels us and our love for the Smither family compels us. Our help started with the accident.
"So we've just been there for financial support, food, transportation, emotional support -- that's been huge -- and, of course, helping to take care of William with his schooling and continuing to support them even when she couldn't work, continuing to try to pay that salary and various things like that. Several of our members [also helped clear tornado debris]. We are a Foursquare Church, which is the denomination we are part of, so our church and then two other churches that we've planted out of our church were also there as well -- The Living Room Church and Life Touch Church."
With Sean scheduled to enter the Shepherd Center's Pathways program in the near future, he will receive a more intense regimen of physical, speech, occupational and neuropsychology therapy. Through this part of his recovery, Sabrina still will be able to stay by his side, with her parents currently taking care of their home and children.
"At the time of the accident, we were told he'd probably never walk again," Smither said, adding his injuries also have left him without the use of his left hand and forearm. "So many of the bones were broken and crushed and the stroke took the mobility from the left side. Shepherd has just been amazing. They have worked tirelessly to get him to where he's at, where he's talking. He's functional. His brain reaction is so much better. Where he's at today is due to him being here at the Shepherd Center. ... From what I'm being told from Shepherd, most of the patient's recovery happens at Pathways. It really gives them an idea of how their progression is going to be over the course of the next year to year and a half.
"We've been told with the type of injuries he has, it can take anywhere from a year to two years for his brain to even start to recover from the trauma it's had. But it is recoverable. Most [of] it's going to be determination on his part and how much work he's willing to put in to learning how to walk because his brain is going to have to be re-taught how to do that because that neuropath is dead from the stroke. So it's going to take a lot of work on his part to do that but he has set a goal to walk in the next year on his own. He will do Pathways four to six weeks and then will be evaluated to the next step, which would either be a day program or physical therapy closer to home and hopefully by then the house will be ready for him to come home and we can move back home."
With the Smithers' story receiving statewide coverage by 11Alive News, several organizations have joined together to help remodel their home. Spearheaded locally by Adairsville Baptist Church, contractors are in the process of making their residence wheelchair accessible, with supplies provided by Cartersville's Home Depot. Along with widening doorways, the volunteers also are installing exterior ramps and renovating the bathroom.
"Our music minister is the band director at Gordon Central High School and their daughter is a member of the band," said the Rev. Richard Webster with Adairsville Baptist Church. "So we knew them from that angle. And he had been keeping our church informed and helping us keep aware of their prayer needs. The wreck had actually happened in one of our church member's yards.
"So we knew of the situation and I basically had heard a lot about what was going on and was praying, 'Lord if you want us to get involved as a church, show me some way to know what we need to do.' And a few minutes later our music minister sent me an email that Sabrina had sent out, just basically [asking], 'Is there any help anybody can do?' ... [So I] called them and set up a meeting with them and basically looked at their situation and just felt led that she's got enough stuff to worry about that our church would take on the remodeling project of trying to get everything done in their house."
With the remodeling under way, the expenses that still remain for the family are a wheelchair lift and handicap-modified vehicle, which Sabrina said can cost about $15,000 and at least $40,000 respectively. To donate, individuals can visit the family's blog at http://seansmitherfighttowalk.blogspot.com or mail a check to Adairsville Baptist Church, P.O. Box 301, Adairsville, GA 30103.
"There's no way to repay their generosity," Smither said, adding her husband is on long-term disability from Komatsu, where he was the manager of technical communications. "There's no way to repay them for their kindness. Their love and support through this whole tragedy from the accident to the storm has just been overwhelming. Living Way really has rallied around my family and taken care of us this whole time. And Adairsville Baptist has taken us under their wing.
"The two churches together, the love that the entire congregations have shown to us has just been overwhelming. There's no other way to say we would not have made it through this without both churches working together and giving us the help that we need that we could not provide for ourselves."