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Jon & Candace Dewalt – Live Deeply

We’re Jon and Candace Dewalt, and this is how we’re living deeply.

Candace: “As we were walking, we heard a crack and then a bigger crack. It was me, my 17-year-old son Cooper and two other parents -friends of our family- hiking together on the Hen Wallow Falls trail in the Smokies. I turned around and looked, and this gigantic tree was coming right at us. We all thought it was going to crush us because there was nowhere to go. As soon as it landed, I asked, ‘Is everyone okay?’ and Cooper said, ‘I broke my arm.’ But it was much worse and more involved than that. The doctor who eventually treated Cooper said it was like someone had gotten a hammer and just crushed the bones in his hand. A lady who happened to be a nurse came around the corner. She tied a belt like a tourniquet on his arm. I got a shirt and tied it around Cooper’s hand. The younger kids in our group of families, high school down to middle school, had gone through that same section a minute before we did. They heard the noise up the trail and came back. I told my daughter Emma, who has run track forever, ‘Run. Go get Daddy as fast as you can.’ So she and two other girls ran to get my husband, Jon, back at the campsite. Meanwhile, one of the other girls had a phone and was able to call 911. While the fellow mom told 911 what was happening, Cooper, myself, and the dad who was with us started heading back down the trail. It was super wet from the previous day’s rain and it was covered with roots, but we somehow made it down as fast as we could; to within about half a mile of the trailhead, where Jon met up with us. An ambulance was waiting at the end of the trail. One of the EMTs assessed Cooper and said, ‘We need to do Lifestar medical helicopter. He needs to get to the hospital. Life Star can be here in 12 minutes.’ So they took Cooper and me down to Cosby Elementary School where the helicopter picked us up. They feared Compartment syndrome, a serious and painful condition caused by buildup from swelling, and the possibility of Cooper losing his arm.”

Jon: “I had stayed back at the campsite with a couple boys who didn’t want to hike. Emma had to run up a steep incline to get to where she could see me. She was screaming, ‘Cooper broke his arm! Cooper broke his arm!’ And I’m thinking, ‘I guess we’re going to the hospital.’ I expected that we’d go to the ER, get a cast, and be back roasting marshmallows in a few hours. But when I reached Cooper a half mile up the trail, I realized the seriousness of it. What was so hard was hearing Cooper say, ‘Dad, I thought I was going to die.’ He was clearly in shock and terrible pain, confused and scared. That was really scary. Our friend was under Cooper’s right arm and Candace had been holding his left arm up to elevate it the whole hike back. When we got to the ambulance and the EMTs said they needed to call Lifestar, I asked why. They said, ‘Well, he could lose his arm.’ And we said, ‘Get the helicopter!’”

Candace: “At the hospital, Cooper had his first surgery to place an X-fix and keep the bones in place. Then, after a second surgery the doctor said he had never seen anything like it. Cooper needed 10 pins in his hand and a screw in his thumb. He was in the hospital nine days, and the day before he went home, they had to perform a skin graft. They took the skin from his thigh, leaving Cooper in more great pain in a new part of his body. They used that to replace skin on his hand and arm, which they’d had to open up because the swelling was so great. He ended up having five surgeries. Then he had a sixth surgery a few weeks later to remove the pins.”

Candace: “I felt helpless. Even when we came home, Cooper was in physical pain for so long. People from church, school and Bible study fed us for three months. At the hospital I read from Jeremiah and shared it with Cooper: a verse that talks about God having a plan for good for us. I just held on to that because I knew something bigger had to be going on. It was such a long recovery. We had never experienced trauma like that and didn’t know all the things that trauma brings up, like Cooper’s struggle with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The OCD complicated his ability to move beyond the accident and trauma. It may have also intensified some doubts he had about whether his faith was genuine. But I’m so glad that was brought up and he saw a Christian therapist because Cooper needed the help, and we didn’t know how to name it. Cooper would say he has faith now and he’s following Jesus. That part I’m very thankful for. Cooper even got to share his story and his faith at the 2020 West High School graduation. This all deepened my faith and trust in God, to know He does have a plan for everyone in our family.”

Jon: “It was such a traumatic event for us. Somebody from our CSPC small group came to our home the day after the accident and brought us a fruit basket. I opened the door and burst into tears. She must’ve thought I was crazy. But life was suddenly different and uncertain. One thing I experienced: When something big happens to someone, you just act. You don’t ask, ‘What can we do?’ Candace and I didn’t know what to do or what we needed. We were kind of paralyzed; in a fog. So people just took care of us. We left a cooler on our porch and every day there was food in it. A friend from CSPC mowed the lawn. People visited us at the hospital. It was all really meaningful. They showed up and loved us by taking care of us in so many ways. That’s a big part of our faith, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Candace: “Cooper also had a Bible study with boys from West every Wednesday morning his whole time through high school, and they came to have Bible study bedside with Cooper at the hospital. People just really loved on us when we needed it.”

Jon: “Going through something traumatic also adds a new perspective to your faith. This accident changed us. Just the day-to-day challenges: cutting Cooper’s pant legs off to protect the open wound on the skin graft, scheduling surgeries, carrying five pillows in the car to elevate his arm everywhere we went, and he was limping because of the physical pain. All the roots of our faith grew deeper for our whole family as we survived each day and ultimately found help and answers for Cooper. I hate to sound overly dramatic, but we were in survival mode.”

Candace: “Our younger son Patton gave his testimony at church and said watching Cooper go through this strengthened his faith. Our daughter Emma would say the same.”

Jon: “The fingerprints of God were all over this. When the accident happened, the way the tree fell, if they had been on the wrong side, it could’ve just wiped them right off the edge of the mountain down a huge ravine. If it had fallen six inches one way or the other, it could’ve landed on Cooper’s head and taken him out right on the spot. If it had fallen a minute earlier, it could’ve killed 10 kids. And when it happened, a nurse just happened to show up and put a tourniquet on his arm? It’s remarkable. Emma had been training for Cross Country and was the perfect person to run and get help. Candace was there, right beside Cooper, and knew what to do to help Cooper and get him down the trail. She was a former Park Ranger and had training and experience with injuries out on the trail.  The way God orchestrated it all, as we think back on it, has strengthened our trust in the Lord’s faithfulness. I was with Cooper recently and we were walking the dogs and talking. I told him, ‘I would’ve done anything to take that injury for you.’ But he said, ‘Dad, I wouldn’t trade it.’ It’s overwhelming. It’s shaped us all. October 11th, the date it happened in 2018, is now a day our family celebrates. After Cooper’s accident we have a new perspective. I have a friend who constantly says ‘The Lord’s got it’, and that’s how we feel. We trust more than ever in God’s faithfulness.”



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