It’s the little things that are taken for granted—like picking up a fork or scratching a nose.
Now, it might be possible for Tyler Head, left a quadriplegic after a wrestling accident, to take those simple actions for granted again.
Not any time soon, but someday.
Tyler, 19, and his mother, Debra Head, of Covington, are set to fly to Lucerne, Switzerland, for stem cell therapy, a procedure that is not FDA approved but has had great success in patients with spinal injuries.
The cost of the trip and the procedure, Debra estimates, will be $25,000.
On July 25, a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Celtic Tavern, 918 Commercial St., Olde Towne Conyers, to raise money to send Tyler and Debra to Switzerland in late August. The fundraiser features silent auctions, live music, face painting and rubber duck racing. The quilting group of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Conyers has donated a quilt and Cowan Ace Hardware has donated a Yeti cooler, which will both be raffled.
Debra said Celtic Tavern will be donating a portion of the food and drink sales to the fund, and other Olde Towne Conyers businesses will be staying open late for the occasion.
To say the family is overwhelmed by the generosity of the community is an understatement.
“I really appreciate all the help the community has given,” Tyler said. “When people help you, you want to help back.”
Tyler’s parents share his feelings.
“Our whole lives changed,” Debra said. “It made us appreciate things in a whole different way. We’d taken so much for granted. I couldn’t work ... Our church, Crossroads UMC in Conyers, was so supportive. We’d get gas cards in the mail from members ...”
“And people we didn’t know in the community, sent us gifts,” said Archie Head, Tyler’s father.
Tyler, who was a junior at Newton High School at the time, was injured during a wrestling match against Rockdale High School on Dec. 29, 2012. At first, Debra said, it looked innocent enough, like “he’d fallen back and knocked the wind out of himself, until I saw he couldn’t get up.”
He’d sustained two broken vertebrae, C-5 and C-6, losing all feeling and movement from his neck down. Treated first at Atlanta Medical, he was released to Shepherd’s Center for Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Rehabilitation. He spent two-and-
a-half months there, with Debra driving downtown every day.
During that time, Debra said, her main concern was Archie.
“He worked nights and I was worried he’d only eat fast foods,” she said. “When people from the church asked how they could help, I told them about my worries. They donated meals .”
“I’d come out [to the front porch] and there would be more food then I could eat in a week,” Archie said.
By the time Tyler was able to come home, community organizations like the Rotary and others had helped made the Head’s tract house accessible—widening doorways and a shower, installing ramps, and converting two bedrooms into one.
Despite the challenges, Tyler has worked hard over the last two-and-a-half years. Not only has he strengthened muscles and gained movement in his arms, he’s learned to drive and managed to graduate on time with his class.
He’s just about finished with his general education credits at Georgia Perimeter College, and hopes to go on to the University of Georgia to major in broadcast journalism.
But first, he is scheduled for stem cell therapy in Lucerne on Aug. 27.
The family first learned about Cells4Health (http://www.cells4health.com/) in Lucerne through a network of supporters who have family members dealing with the same injuries. The therapy uses Tyler’s own stem cells, harvested from bone marrow in his hip and injected into his lumbar region.
“The stem cells help regenerate damaged nerves,” Tyler said. “[It] is a neutral cell that can theoretically be plugged in anywhere in the body and neighboring cells reshape it.”
And while the doctors won’t guarantee an outcome, Debra said Cells4Life clinic “has been doing it successfully for eight years, with over 500 spinal cord injuries.”
“I’m not really approaching this with any set goal,” Tyler said. “I’ll take whatever it can give me. It could give me a little, it could give me a lot.”
“We did research other types of treatments,” said his mother. “Others were embryonic and there’s a chance of rejection with a lot of risk. He’s said, ‘if I don’t’ go, it won’t work’.”
The outpatient procedure isn’t as daunting as the flight, both Debra and Tyler said. Neither has been on a plane before, and say the airline has been nothing but supportive, showing them how they will help Tyler board and deplane.
Tyler and Debra will leave Aug. 24, arriving in Zurich on Aug. 25. The clinic is making arrangements for Tyler to be transported to Lucerne.
“His first appointment is Aug. 26,” Debra said. “On Aug. 27, the procedure will be done. We’ll stay at the hotel and they’ll send someone from the clinic to check on him.”
The Heads will return to the States on Aug. 31.
“It’s a no brainer,” Debra said. “We’ve got to do it.”