Caleb Brown Meets Jeff Foxworthy; Uses Sign Language

Sunday, November 14, 2010
Caleb Brown and parents, Tim and Tiffany, with Jeff Foxworthy
Caleb Brown and parents, Tim and Tiffany, with Jeff Foxworthy

Caleb Brown, the two-year-old Nashville boy who was hit in the head with a rock at Fall Creek Falls, has now met Jeff Foxworthy and has used sign language for the first time.

After leaving T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital, he is in therapy at the Scottish Rite facility in Atlanta.

This is his father's latest account:

How fitting it was to begin this day in joyful song. We woke up a little relaxed as today’s schedule was much more low key, and designed to not be as intense. We started Caleb’s therapy with music time where a young woman (who reminded me a lot of Lisa Loeb in her style) sang numerous children’s tunes on her guitar, while personalizing and singing the songs directly to the kids that were in the room. Caleb absolutely loved music time. And the entire time we were in the room being entertained by the music, they mixed in a combination of both occupational and physical therapy has they would have one person holding Caleb up in a stand up position while also letting Caleb have the opportunity to play along, holding an instrument. It was so sweet to see Caleb’s bright little face, and with how much he was swaying, the therapist wondered if Caleb might have even been dancing a little. We are not sure, but we do know that he loved his music therapy class today.

After music time we left and went over across the hall to the main gym for Caleb’s physical therapy. While the therapist was working his arms and legs and engaging him in various play activities that were aimed at getting him to focus on object and build strength, she enlightened is about a lot of Caleb’s movements. When Caleb is sitting up in his wheelchair he moves his head from side to side constantly. The therapist explained that the movements could be indicative of brain injury, but she also said that the most likely reason is because with his eyesight being bad, when Caleb is sitting upright, the only way he knows how to interact with his surroundings (and to even know if there is something near him) is to move side to side, to see if he bumps into anything. When she laid him down on the mat to work with him, he stopped moving, relaxed, and began to comply with the play activities. She explained that when he is on the floor, he feels the mat on one side of him and feels much more secure. This makes sense because for the first 3 days whenever we would move him from the bed to his chair, or vice versa, he would cry. We at first thought that he might be hurting. We have now come to believe that it is because of his eyesight. He was simply getting scared when he was getting picked up because he didn’t know who had him, or where he was going, or if he was safe or not.

The good news is that the therapist mentioned that the movement from side to side can be part of the healing process, and that the limitations that Caleb has with his vision is not necessarily indicative of what he will have in the future. We believe that to be the case because in just 2 weeks time we have gone from Caleb seeing nearly nothing, not reacting to light, etc. to now fixing his eyes on us, moving his eyes sometimes when we move, and seeing shadows and/or shapes.

Since this is the weekend, and since the therapists do not plan a hectic schedule for Saturday and Sunday, we had the next 3 hours open until our afternoon session. I thought it would be the perfect time to reinforce some of the things that we had been learning over the last 3 days. So I had the idea of doing a little therapy with water. The therapists had told Tiffany and I to do whatever we can think of to stimulate his body, especially his right side, as more stimulation will work the neuro connections of the part of the brain that was injured and help facilitate recovery, even of his sight. So knowing that Caleb was a big fan of playing in the water, I left Caleb in his wheelchair, got a wash tub and some water, and also got an empty water bottle and filled it with water. I placed the wash tub at Caleb’s lap, and then placed Caleb’s hands in it. You could see the joy on his face as he felt the familiar feeling of water running through his fingers. He moved his hands playfully through the water, sometimes moving his right hand (the hand that he tends to favor right now) up to his face, and then rubbing the water on his face. He then moved his hand back to the water and moved it back up to his mouth, getting himself a little drink. His movements were often uncontrolled, but there were moments where they became more calm and more purposeful. Like learning how to ride a bike again after many years, the familiarity was there for him, and happiness quickly ensued.

After the time with the water play, it was time for a nap. Mommy cuddled up next to Caleb and read him a few books, and off they went to sleep.

After naptime came Caleb’s favorite…speech therapy, which for him right now means eating time! We again repeated the steps of the previous day, first giving him spoonfuls of water, then spoonfuls of apple juice, and then quickly onto to the current meal favorite—tiny bites of yogurt! With each spoonful Caleb was able to move his mouth appropriately over the spoon to get his treat. He really enjoyed the tastes of yogurt. He has become (which he always was) very motivated by food. His swallowing was perfect, and he is gaining more mouth and tongue control

After speech, we were done for the day as far as our structured classes were concerned. Tiffany and I then planned out the rest of the day and how we might stimulate Caleb and give him new experiences that would help shape and reinforce the therapy he had received throughout the latter part of the week. We decided that we would go down to a place called “The Zone” which is a basement activity center that leads out to a mini park and beautiful fish filled pond and water fall.

As we began to go down to the elevators we caught word that Jeff Foxworthy was in the hospital at The Zone! He was there doing a fun version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader for people in the hospital. We went on down to the activity area to see if he was still there, as he was about to leave. And sure enough when we got off the elevator, there he was, greeting the final people who were leaving the room! He came up to us, shook our hand and immediately began speaking to Caleb, asking about him, how he had been injured, and about his recovery. He reached into his bag and pulled out a copy of a recent children’s book he had authored and signed it for Caleb and gave it to him. We took a picture and chatted some more. It was real neat to meet Jeff Foxworthy…he is quite the average guy, and definitely one with a big heart and love of children.

We went on to the outside area of The Zone and spent some good quality time at the pond. Caleb could no doubt hear the sound of the rushing waters in front of him. I tried to get him to see the large goldfish in the pond, though I am not sure if he was able to see them or not. His vision seemed to be less sharp today. We made up for it in laughs though, as we hugged him, kissed him, and played with him to the point he was uncontrollably giggling and laughing out loud. After a few minutes we went over to a nearby bench and I took him out of his wheelchair and sat him on my lap. Again Tiffany and I enjoyed each and every single moment as we took it all in, the beautiful autumn colors, the beauty of the park, the orchestral like sound of the waters, and the majestic beauty of our son, who not just a week ago was barely ablse to smile. And here he was, sitting on my lap, happy as ever, smiling as ever, and even wanting to get down off my lap, to play no doubt. I accommodated his wishes and took a queue from the physical therapist—positioning my hand under his bottom and securing his upper body by wrapping my arm securely around his chest. I then lowered his feet to the ground and gave him the feeling of standing up, and walking. He loved it. He smiled and so wanted to walk. He still doesn’t have the strength or the coordination to walk, but he sure does have the heart and the determination!

After we came back in, Tiffany again read some books to Caleb, and about that time, Tiffany was leaving to go to a few stores to get toys. As I mentioned before the therapists told us that the kids of toys that can really benefit him are toys that light up, make sounds/music, and toys that vibrate. So a local sister in Christ here in Atlanta volunteered to drive Tiffany to Wal Mart and Toys R Us to get some of these toys. That left me and little man for a whole evening alone of playtime on the floor man!

Our tradition at home usually goes as follows: when I get from work I am customarily greeted by Colby, who comes running and bouncing through the hallway grabbing my waist hugging me, or else doing the sit on the foot thing, where you have to drag him along in order to move (he loves that). I am then greeted my a much higher pitch hello from a just as excited Caleb who throws his arms up asking me to hold him. The motive is the same, and the request is the same. They both shout to me a resounding “Play with me daddy!” That’s when I usually have to say, “Hold on guys, let daddy put down my stuff first.” J We normally play a minute, then eat dinner, and then hit the living room floor for a few hours of serious play time.

Once we got here the first thing I asked for was a mat so we could continue that serious play time! Only this time the play was going to be aimed at reinforcing the things that we had been doing and learning in therapy, while all along making it super fun, and giving it a super duper play time with daddy flair! And we covered all the bases, everything from muscle strength to motor skills, to vision and hearing, etc. I think we covered all of it. I was most excited to see Caleb’s interest again in walking. He really pressed hard with his feet to get himself to stand upright. He did this 2 or 3 times.

It is almost with tears that I write this last part, because tonight for the first time, it felt like I was playing with my son again, the way it was before the accident. I realize that we have a long way to go, but the looks on his face when we were playing with the toys, the smiles and giggles as I would poke at him and tickle him, the queues that he would pick up on as I would use familiar old jokes with him—all of it made me come away with the joy of seeing Caleb really act more like himself than ever before.

Now here is the amazing part! As we were playing and as Caleb was laughing, he made a few extra noises as he was giggling away. They were like residual tones as he would stop laughing—extra noises that perhaps he was not even aware of that was reminiscent of a voice—a voice that I believe is there, but that he has simply forgotten how to use. The big news came a little later when after play time on the floor, when it was time for Caleb’s taste time with juice, I asked him if he wanted something to drink. Now to give you a little background, one of the things that has always been important to Tiffany and I is that we teach our kids sign language when they are little. Caleb was once very good at sign language before he began to talk and use the sign language less and less. From day one of being here, Tiffany started working with Caleb, reminding him of his signs that he had learned. I also reiterated the signs when we would do certain things with him, like getting him to make the sign for drink when he wants a drink, or the sign for more, when he wants more etc. So I took his hands and went through the motions with him, showing him the sign for drink. I would say, “Caleb, do you want a drink? Here…show me the sign for drink…” and then I would move his hands into the sign, and then give him a drink. Well this time when I brought the cup over and asked for a drink, I noticed his left hand moving a bit. I was curious, so I supported his elbow with my hand and moved his hand up to us head. Once his hand was at head level, he straightened out his hand, made the sign of a cup, and then signed 3 times that he wanted a drink!!!! I was so amazed!!! My son was communicating with me!!!! Words cannot describe the feelings that I had and am still having after seeing that. I am simply amazed and so hopeful of the days ahead.

After mommy got back from shopping and hearing her husband talk for another 30 minutes as giddy as a schoolboy, she got ready to do Caleb’s nighttime routine (books and night time prayer), and no sooner than she had gotten ready to get his books, we looked over at him and he was fast asleep. The little guy worked real hard today, and now he was tired! Off to sleepy town he went.

And so we close another day—a day that is yet better than the last. I have to tell you life has changed for us in so many ways, not the least of which is that it has really given us perspective on the things that matter most. I often think to myself now…back when I was so busy in all the hustle and bustle of life, I thought that I was being a pretty good dad by coming home, getting on the floor and spending good quality play time with my kids. And I am sure that in their book I am a pretty good dad for doing that. But what has really impacted me is how sometimes even in those most intimate of moments, we as parents can still be miles away even when we are in the same room as our kids. I can’t tell you of the times I would be playing with my kids while worrying about my bills, or thinking about doing this extra job to do this, or doing that extra job to do that. I remember right before the accident we were in serious debt pay off mode, where I was working 3 jobs, and I was going through the feeling that, if I sacrifice a little time now, work real hard, and pay off the debt, then we can get can out of the debt, do all the home repairs we want to do, get the minivan we were dreaming about, and go on the vacation that we had always hoped for—AND MOST OF ALL, what I had wanted, was to get into a better “place” where I could spend more time with my kids without worry.

And you know what I see more clearly now? The simple amazement and joy of my son’s eyelashes as he smiles. The sweet smell of his breath as you are so close to him, his lips touch your face as you are tickling every part of his face with your nose. The tiny little hands that are so small that you could fit two or three of his into your own hand. It’s the little things that truly do matter. There is nothing else that matters more on this earth than to love your family and love them with passion, and love every little thing about them—even their little fingers and toes! So my sermon for tonight (to no one but myself) is this: never let worldly pursuits cloud your vision of the most important part of life—even if the worldly pursuits have the intention and heart goal of helping to accomplish the most important thing. Enjoying the bountiful fruit of family can never be obtained by working really hard to get to a “place.” It is recognizing and daring to choose to live in the place you are in, being content, and enjoying what you already have. And even though these are lessons that my wife and I already know, they are lessons that have become ever more real to us in the last few weeks. And though now in our lives, we have the pain of being away from our home, away from our kids, with an uncertain future, and many worries and concerns over a child we nearly lost, I can certainly say that it is such a blessing to now be in a “place” where the “grass” has never been more green. Thank you God for the reminder of who you are in the midst of this, and the beauty of what it means to live in relationship and love in my family.

Caleb Brown
Caleb Brown

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