YAKIMA, Wash. — “I’m 2!” he declares loudly.
With a little guidance, he pushes a toy plastic shopping cart across a room.
He works puzzles, looks intently at picture books and loves juggling pots and pans around a play kitchen.
That’s some of what he can do.
He can’t yet stand by himself or walk, ride down a slide at the park or eat candy.
But that’s OK, his parents say.
Ezra Wells is alive. and he’s getting better every day.
In late February, Ezra, son of Amy and David Wells of Yakima, was attempting to climb a dresser when a 27-inch box television fell on top of his head. the cerebellum, the part of the brain in the back of his skull, took the brunt of the impact from the nearly 70-pound TV.
In critical condition, Ezra was rushed to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Ten days later, he was transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Seattle surgeons, pediatricians, ophthalmologists, therapists, neurologists and rehabilitation specialists worked not only to decrease the swelling in Ezra’s brain but also to assess how much damage the organ had sustained.
“Because of the direct impact, in layman terms, lots of things got disconnected,” Amy explains.
Finally, after nine weeks and six surgeries, Ezra was released from the hospital in late April.
As soon as the family walked back in their house, Ezra said, “Yakima!” and everyone knew he was on the road to recovery.
But it wasn’t always so. In fact, Amy, 26, and David, 27, who is associate pastor at Terrace Heights Baptist Church, weren’t even sure their son would live through the first night after suffering the traumatic brain injury.
But, slowly, Ezra returned.
“God has given us our boy back!” Amy wrote on Facebook in April.
At first, glimmers of hope were few and far between — “It was overwhelming and devastating,” says his mother. but then Ezra began to recognize his family. next, he responded to simple commands.
Seven weeks after the accident, he smiled, then began to talk.
When he first got home, he couldn’t sit up. Two days later he could. a week after that he was crawling.
“It was wonderful,” Amy recalls.
They say Ezra’s speech has returned almost to normal; it’s just slower, and he sometimes drops the first consonant of a word. His parents report that he’s cognitively back to where he was before the injury: he uses the same phrases he always did, counts to 20, knows his shapes and colors and can sing his favorite song, “Jesus loves Me.”
Mostly, he’s the Ezra he always was, just with a long scar on his skull. “Personality-wise he’s the same — sweet and affectionate,” says his dad.
His balance isn’t back yet, and Amy and David noticed his hand/eye coordination is still a little off. He has also lost all hearing in his left ear.
However, that deficit was countered by good news with his eye. an ophthalmologist originally determined that the toddler’s optic nerve had suffered damage. Two weeks later, though, he and another eye surgeon examined Ezra again and concluded there was no damage after all.
The Wells attribute that to divine intervention. about two months ago, Amy logged onto “Praying for Ezra,” a Facebook web site that nearly 1,700 people from around the world have joined, asking people to pray that Ezra’s optic nerve wasn’t damaged.
“I’m not trying to push faith,” says David, “but a couple of weeks after Amy posted that, the doctor looked and there was no damage. People can chalk it up to coincidence but for us it was a very clear and distinct answer to prayer.”
David predicts it won’t be long before Ezra regains his balance and will be walking again. Having to scoot around on the floor is less frustrating to the boy than not being able to eat all the food he wants, such as M&M’s. Everything has to be soft, like yogurt and oatmeal. He gets liquids through a feeding tube in his abdomen.
Amy and David say that their son’s long-term prognosis is anyone’s guess. Since Ezra wasn’t expected to live after the accident, every improvement has been a gift.
“Different parts of the brain were affected, at least temporarily,” David explains. “We’ll see what God has planned.”
More clear-cut is what comes next surgically. Ezra goes back to Children’s Hospital in July for a seven-hour procedure to repair the facial nerve on his left side.
Returning to the hospital may be uncomfortable deja vu, but it won’t be nearly as grim as those first days after the accident, waiting to see if Ezra would survive.
“It was unbearably hard at times,” confirms Amy. “It was long and unending, but we had to trust in God’s heart.”
David describes the whole ordeal as overwhelming and stressful, but he took solace in paying close attention to Ezra’s progress, “so we could be there for him and not be self-absorbed.”
In the midst of concern for their son and remembering to focus on their 3-year-old daughter, Olivia, too, the Wells graphically proved that life goes on, no matter what.
When the accident occurred, Amy was almost nine months pregnant. on March 22, she delivered a healthy baby girl, Everleigh, in Seattle.
And, while it was a routine birth by caesarian section, if the Wells were expecting smooth sailing after all they’d been through, they were mistaken.
While in the operating room, Amy suffered a severe reaction to the anesthesia and went into heart failure.
“She coded on the table,” recalls David, who watched in horror as his wife stopped breathing and her heart ceased working.
Amy woke up to physicians performing chest compressions.
“They said it was a very rare reaction,” Amy explains. “The anesthesiologist had only seen two other cases in 35 years of practice.”
After a few seconds of terror, all turned out well.
“It was almost a point of comedy,” David says. “Amy died for a few seconds just to make our life more interesting.”
Not even counting Amy’s delivery, all the medical treatment Ezra has received comes with an enormous price tag. the Wells have medical insurance but assume, even though they haven’t seen all the bills yet, that not everything will be covered.
“We’re in the millions of dollars,” notes Amy, estimating that hospital bills alone, not counting surgeries, will be more than $600,000.
Even with their insurance, they say they wouldn’t have been able to pay for everything, including their nine-week stay in Seattle, without the help of friends, family and strangers.
“There’s nothing I could have done to financially take care of my family at this time,” says David. “People have been incredibly gracious. It’s humbling and intensely gratifying.”
Members of their church cleaned their home, brought dinners and started fundraising, opening an account at Yakima Federal Savings for donations. Contributions have poured in from around the world after word spread from church to church and on the web site.
“The church continued to pay my salary even when I wasn’t there, and we’re a small church,” says David.
The Rev. Luke Safford, senior pastor at the church, says the congregation, with an average attendance of 145 people, immediately rallied round the family.
“It really drew the church together in so many ways,” he says.
The family was understandably excited to attend church on their first Sunday back in the Valley. and although their appearance hit a rough spot, it did end well.
“It was a little hard,” David admits.
One of the kids didn’t quite make it to the bathroom on time, and another threw up all over Amy. After a quick dash home to change clothes, they reconvened in the sanctuary and addressed the congregation, thanking them for all the support.
So now things have settled down for the Wells — mostly. Ezra goes for occupational and physical therapy at Children’s Village several times a week and is visited at home by a speech therapist.
Physical therapist Katie Buck says she sees gains in Ezra every session.
“He works really hard,” she reports. one recent day, Buck noticed that Ezra was showing increased balance as he shifted from side to side on his feet.
“That’s really impressive,” she says.
Even after all the turmoil of the past three months, David is still philosophic about seeing a positive outcome from the accident.
“It’s a good thing if parents can be reminded to take more effective care for their child’s safety. I hope this does help others.”
He points out that stores sell straps to mount television sets safely to the wall.
Unsecured televisions caused 176 fatalities between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Sadly, in fact, just two months after Ezra’s injury, a 3-year-old Yakima girl died when a television fell from a dresser and struck her on the head.
The Wells know how fortunate they are to have Ezra home and for now are focussing on normalizing family life with a new baby, a healing toddler and a protective big sister.
And they’re continuing to marvel at the blessings of his recovery.
“He’s our miracle — in all ways,” Amy says.
* Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or email@example.com