12/26/10 — Man's paralysis mobilizes friends

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Man's paralysis mobilizes friends

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 26, 2010 1:50 AM

Bryan Lewis

Bryan Lewis climbed behind the wheel of his car one October night, the teenager never suspecting that just two months later, he would be sitting in a very different seat: A wheelchair.

Lewis, 19, fell asleep while driving home from Greensboro with three friends. When the car started to veer off the road, he startled awake, overcorrected and hit an embankment, flipping the car four times.

The three passengers walked away from the crash, but Lewis was not so fortunate. He was airlifted to WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, where he underwent surgery to repair a crushed vertebrae.

Ever since then, Lewis and his family have struggled through the difficult process of getting on with life after the debilitating accident left the young man a quadriplegic - completely paralyzed from the waist down, and partially paralyzed in his upper body.

Lewis is living at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he is undergoing physical therapy and training that will allow him to come home. And when he comes home in January, his family's house will be ready for him, thanks to some special help from the many people who know and appreciate the young man who is facing tremendous challenges.

The neighbors in the Rosewood community where he grew up and the supportive coworkers at his job at Zaxby's in Goldsboro are conspiring to help the teen who impressed them all.

When Lewis comes home, he will find wider doors to accommodate his chair, a wheelchair lift to help him get around the house, a remodeled and enlarged bathroom and bedroom and other special modifications that will help in his daily life -- all courtesy of volunteers.

Lewis attended Rosewood High School, where he played basketball, participated in the band and was very active in dance, choir and other activities. He volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club, teaching dance classes for children, and has often sung in the choir at African-American Christian Center, the family's church.

The young man took a semester off from his studies at Wayne Community College to work, earning money to continue his education. That was when he took a job at Zaxby's, his mother, Patricia Lewis, said.

"When Bryan was hired, they were impressed with him because he had a shirt and tie on, and he got hired right away," she recalled.

Lewis started working at Zaxby's when it opened in Goldsboro, and stayed with the company until the day of the accident. He was driving home from the A&T homecoming to go to work that day, Zaxby's operating partner Lauren Gower said.

"He was one of the first people to work with us," she said. "We just got to know him, he was a super employee and just a super young man. Extremely talented."

When Lewis' co-workers found out about the accident, they immediately wanted to do whatever they could to help, Mrs. Gower said. Mrs. Gower and her husband, also a Zaxby's partner, and Atlanta-based partner Tom Little, joined in the effort.

"It hit us very hard. With the injuries he sustained, there's just so much that insurance doesn't cover. We wanted to help in any way that we could, and an area we found was to make his home handicapped accessible," she said.

That was what started the idea for what Mrs. Gower called a Goldsboro version of the "Extreme Home Makeover."

This week, a group of volunteers will descend on the Lewis home in a flurry of activity to give the family a belated, but very special Christmas present.

The labor is all local and volunteer, with people like local construction professionals Dave Robson and Tim Radford among the skilled workers donating their expertise to making sure the renovations go as planned.

Next-door neighbor Janet Pittman, a long-time friend of the family, is one of the many friends chipping in to help with the remodel.

"We're going to start on the 27th remodeling their house, so when Bryan comes home in mid-January, it will be ready," Mrs. Pittman said. "We've had plumbers donating their time and materials and people, anybody for anything we need, have been so generous."

The Lewis family's neighbors, after learning about Bryan's accident, quickly joined together to offer their assistance.

"That's what we're here for, is to help other people. And especially now it's a time of giving, and they're a wonderful family. We want to help," Mrs. Pittman said.

The extensive remodel will make the home accessible to Lewis, she said, and will include other necessary modifications such as reinforced flooring, a new shower instead of a tub, a lowered sink fixture and a ramp on the rear deck of the family's home. The volunteers will also paint the entire home. They hope to complete the renovations by Jan. 7, when Lewis is scheduled to come home to Wayne County.

The Lewises are extremely grateful for the help in bringing their son to a home where he can rest and recuperate from the accident.

"The whole community has pulled together, and you don't know how thankful we are as parents. Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do it ourselves," Mrs. Lewis said.

Lewis knows about the renovations going on at his home. The young man is in pretty good spirits, and very thankful, she reported, but he doesn't know all the details yet -- there are a few good surprises still in store for him, Mrs. Lewis said.

And no matter what the challenges Lewis has to face in the coming months, those who know him best say he'll handle them with the strength and grace he has always had, on the dance floor and in the workplace.

"Despite his injuries, he's just an outstanding young man, and I know he will be someone who makes the most of what he's given. And I think he'll be an inspiration to a lot of people," Mrs. Gower said.

The group has set up a fund to help pay for the project, and the remaining money will go into a scholarship fund so Lewis can continue his studies in the future. The fund is at the Little Bank. Donations can be dropped off at the bank or mailed to 204 Andrea Drive, Goldsboro, N.C., 27530. To volunteer on the project, contact Mrs. Gower at 706-247-5934.