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Originally published: 2012-12-10 15:14:40
Last modified: 2012-12-10 15:14:40

Your View: Boone offers the kindness of strangers

I recently went through the absolute worst time of my life in Boone and I wanted to share it with the residents of Watauga County. My family lives in Hope Mills, just outside of Fayetteville, where we spent a wonderful Thanksgiving together. Beside myself, there was my wife, Blayne, our sons Jacob and Seth, and Noah, a freshman at Appalachian State University. On Nov. 25, we all said our goodbyes, and Blayne drove Noah back to ASU.

On Monday afternoon, we got a call from Noah: he was sick and was about to go to the ASU clinic. That evening, Blayne tried calling him, but his roommate, Matthew, answered, and said Noah had been admitted at the Watauga Medical Center emergency room. We went back and forth on what to do, and finally agreed that my wife would drive to Boone with Jacob just to be with Noah. On Tuesday morning, I was pulling in to work at Fort Bragg and Blayne called. The ER personnel had called in Dr. Matt Brown and he had made an initial diagnosis of meningitis.  We didn't really know much about meningitis other than it could be pretty bad -- a huge understatement as we would quickly learn. I decided to head to Boone myself, thinking Jacob could drive home once I got there.  

About halfway to Boone, Blayne called and said words no parent should ever have to hear, "Hurry, they don't know if he is going to make it." I can't begin to explain how terrifying and heartbreaking those few words were. I quickly called back to my unit at Fort Bragg and got in touch with our medical personnel. I was in denial and wanted my doctors to talk to Dr. Brown, hoping communications were garbled and Noah was OK. They called me back shortly and kept saying, "This is very, very serious." It was bacterial meningitis, the most deadly kind. I asked if we should get Seth out of school at the University of Georgia and to Boone. They said. "Yes, your entire family needs to get there quickly." Thankfully I'd pulled over to take the call as my world completely came apart at that moment.After I got to the medical center, we met with Dr. Brown and he told us that while they were doing everything they could, Noah was in God's hands. 

Thankfully, Dr. Brown is a strong Christian and he led us in prayer that helped us focus on what we could do. We prayed as hard as we have ever prayed, and reached out to prayer warriors across the globe we've come to know in my military assignments. 

Blayne is a first-grade assistant teacher at a Christian school, and as word spread (a positive side of the speed of social media), teachers, students, parents and former classmates of our boys began to pray, as well. 

Noah was in the intensive care unit, and it was overwhelming to see this young man, who three days earlier had been so full of life, but now might die. I cannot say enough about the ICU nurses. They took us in as if we were their own family and continually prayed with us -- I told our pastor that you can't turn around here without someone wanting to pray with you, it was awesome -- counseled us, and cried with us.  I don't want to list names because I might unintentionally miss someone. Hopefully, they will read this because they are our heroes and we want them to know we truly love them.  

Tuesday night was the darkest night I've ever experienced. ICU nurses had arranged for us to have a private family room instead of sitting in the main ICU waiting area. We were so grateful, but we fully understood what that room was and also knew that there had been countless hearts broken there. We spent the night in prayer, as did many others, and about 2 a.m. I physically felt something change. I knew, without doubt. Noah was going to make it. The next morning, Dr. Brown came in smiling, shaking his head, and said, as best I can remember, "Prayer works. I have never seen a worse case of meningitis and the way Noah is progressing is nothing short of a miracle."

In the interest of space, I won't give all the amazing details of the following week, but suffice it to say every hour Noah made small improvements ... moving his limbs, opening his eyes, asking the nurses if they were his mama -- it was blessing after blessing.  Throughout it all, the people of Boone were phenomenal. I've already spoken of Dr. Brown and the ICU nurses, but the entire medical staff was fantastic. The ER professionals, the physical therapist, the ICMU Doctors and nurses and the cardiology experts all provided first class care.

The care and help wasn't limited to the medical personnel. J.J. Brown, dean of students at ASU, was outstanding. He came to the hospital at least four times to meet with us and to check on Noah. Each time he came by, I asked myself how many other major universities would do the same? Likewise, Dr. Robert Ellison, director of student health services, stayed in constant contact with us as he also worked to make sure Noah's classmates were educated and where prudent, inoculated. And I have to mention Noah's roommate, Matthew, and friends, who made the crucial decision to get Noah to the ER when they did. Without them starting the process, Noah would not be here today.

The list goes on. After a couple of days in Boone, I got a call from my sergeant major back at Fort Bragg. He happens to be an ASU graduate, and has deep roots with the Boone community.  He told me to go see Stacey at the Fairfield Inn, and after talking to her, make sure to see Murray Broome at The Peddler restaurant.  

I met with Stacey and she had us set up for a free room in the hotel. I pressed her for a name about who was covering this, but she held firm, finally saying, "You have friends here in Boone." She eventually gave up the name Kenneth Wilcox. I still don't fully understand his role in this incredible generosity, but I know I owe him my thanks. As for The Peddler, Murray treated us to dinner, and it was the best steak I've ever had. More importantly, that was the first night Blayne and I had to sit down and reflect on what was going on and what we would need to do in the future. At first, we were really reluctant to leave the hospital at the same time, but in hindsight it was another godsend. We needed that break and the genuine care and hospitality from Murray was so kind.  

A couple of other vignettes to show how amazing a town Boone is. Since we had only packed for a couple of days, Blayne went to a local Laundromat to wash our clothes. While there, she was talking to a lady who after hearing our story, offered up her spare bedroom ... yet another example of the generosity of your community. At Walmart, a cashier was talking to Blayne and after hearing we had a very ill son at the Medical Center, his eyes teared up as he said he had read about him in the Watauga Democrat and had been praying for him.  

I've gone on much too long, but believe me, there are many other individual examples of what wonderful people reside in Watauga County. In my first paragraph I said I had gone through the worst time of my life in Boone. The other side of that is I also experienced the most spiritually and emotionally uplifting time of my life in Boone. It was truly humbling, and for all the people of Boone, please know that for the rest of my days I will work very hard to pay it forward.  Thanks to all of you. You have something special going on there, don't be in a hurry to move elsewhere. 

We brought Noah home the evening of Dec. 6, and while he has a long road ahead to full recovery, we expect him to be back at App State in the fall of 2013. As for us, you've already made us feel like family, so don't be surprised if someday we are your neighbors. I've been all over the world and I have never seen anything like the citizens of Boone. From my entire family, thank you.

By Tim Toomey.
Toomey and his family live in Hope Mills.