Smith presented the Whitten family the sizable donation at LaFayette High School, with LHS principal Mike Culberson looking on. Smith said he was impressed with how residents have “gotten together” to help the injured teen.
"I'm proud of Brian, and Austin, this community, this school; what they've done for him," Smith said, choked with emotion. The LaFayette chapter of Modern Woodmen raised about $2,500 during a singing and dinner on June 13, and $2,500 in matching funds through the Woodmen’s national matching fund program.
Fifteen-year-old Austin, a rising sophomore and three-sport athlete, injured his neck and spine in a swimming accident in early June. The LHS student is paralyzed from the chest down and is going through intensive rehabilitation at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. Brian Whitten said his son is learning to bathe and dress himself, and to shift himself from a hospital bed to a wheel chair using pulleys.
Whitten seemed hopeful about his son’s recovery and expressed his gratitude for the community’s generous support. Whitten said Austin has recently regained some mild feeling in his left big toe “that wasn’t there before,” has more movement of his arms and strength in his hands and no longer has to sleep with a neck brace.
“Austin is in good spirits,” his father said. “Austin keeps telling us he will walk again. I think it is possible.”
Whitten said his son has set a January 2013 date to accomplish his lofty goal, with the grace of God.
“I told Austin, ‘if you walk, I’ll praise Him. If you roll, I’ll praise Him.’ And Austin said, ‘I will too,’” Whitten said.
His son has an estimated dismissal date of Aug. 8 from the spinal center, Whitten said. He added Austin wants to be present in uniform when his team plays the first football game of the season.
Community-wide benefit singing
Why: To help (sick or injured residents) Austin Whitten, Brandon Lowe, Paige Roberts and Hannah Jackson
When: 6-8:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 5
Where: LaFayette High School gym
Singers: Include Chris McDaniel, Got Mercy, Mercy Call, Second Baptist Choir and Vince Stalling
Cost: Admission is free, love offering will be taken
Sponsored by Second Baptist Church, 500 W. Main Street, LaFayette