December 14, 2012

Student’s degree is ‘icing on the cake of a miracle’

by Andrea Hahn

Tim Anderson

CARBONDALE, Ill., -- Each of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale students who walk across the stage to receive their degrees at the SIU Arena on Saturday, Dec. 15, has a unique story to tell.

When Timothy Anderson receives his bachelor’s degree in automotive technology, for his parents, Lylas and Patrick Anderson, the thought will be, “How can you have icing on the cake of a miracle?”

“It’s very rewarding,” Lylas Anderson said.  “It’s watching somebody achieve his dream.”

For Tim, 24, of Deerfield, the challenge began Jan. 23, 2009, on a curve along Spillway Road, east of Carbondale.  For the family, including Timothy’s twin brother, Brian, and older brother, Michael, the realization of the struggles ahead came a few hours later when doctors in an Evansville, Ind., hospital told the family there was no medical reason that Timothy should be alive.

Tim, then a sophomore, was returning to Carbondale from classes on the Carterville campus when the crash put his degree, but not his determination and spirit, temporarily on hold.

“Overall, I only missed one semester of college,” he said.  “I never doubted I would come back to finish my degree here.”

Tim remembers being with other students and friends driving toward Carbondale.  His vehicle, the last of the four in the group, failed to make a curve near the intersection of Spillway Road and Morning Glory Road, and flipped several times, taking out several trees before coming to a rest.  Tim was alone in his vehicle.  His friends, meanwhile, quickly realizing Tim was not following them, turned around, and found him.  Their quick actions might have made a difference between life and death.

Tim spent about three months in the hospital before returning home in April 2009, and beginning the rigors of rehabilitation.   It was, he recalls, “the longest nightmare ever.”  He cannot recall events from two weeks before the crash to about two-and-half months after the accident.

Lylas Anderson, then a math tutor and substitute teacher, immediately began helping her son’s recovery.  She drove him to appointments, and worked with him at home to help her son recover some of the basic skills he had lost, including speaking.  Tim’s mouth was wired shut for six weeks because of a broken jaw on both sides of his mouth.

He also had to re-learn how to walk, grasp things and pick things up, and strengthen his body.  The perseverance “pulled the family together,” Lylas Anderson said.

“We were focused on helping do whatever we needed to do to help Tim,” she said.  “We followed in his footsteps. He was the leader and we were just going to help him do whatever he wanted.  I teased him I was his worst nightmare. He would go to the different therapies and I would watch them, and make him do them all over again that same day.  It was like the poor kid didn’t have any time off.”

Now, she said, “If you didn’t know Tim, if you didn’t know his whole story, you would never realize what he has gone through.”

Tim agrees the accident brought the family closer together. Older brother Michael had been considering becoming a nurse or physician’s assistant and is now a charge nurse at Highland Park Hospital.

His twin brother, Brian, meanwhile, earned his aviation management degree from SIU Carbondale in May 2011. He experienced a chest pain at about the time of his brother’s accident, only to learn of the crash a short time later from a mutual friend.  Brian first went to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, and then headed to Evansville, Ind., after determining the description of a person taken from a crash scene by helicopter to Evansville, Ind., was likely his brother.

Brian arrived at the hospital two hours after the crash; their parents, seven hours after the crash.  Brian held his brother’s hand during that time, urging him to breath.

“You go 20 years of your life having your brother wherever you’ve gone,” he said.  “I’ve made it a point every time we’ve had a birthday to be together.”

Wanting to complete his education, Tim told his parents he wanted to return to school and graduate.  He fulfilled many of his basic graduation requirements at College of Lake County before returning to SIU Carbondale.

Before his accident, he says he was a typical student, focused on the present.  Now, he thinks more about his future, and how he can achieve his goals. 

Tim utilized services provided by Disability Support Services.  His short-term memory hasn’t fully returned.  He utilized a note-taker, and DSS helped in recording his lectures. He received a little bit of extra time to take tests.

“Tim has overcome a great deal to get to the point of graduating this fall,” said Tracey Logeman, academic adviser in the automotive technology program.  “After a very horrific accident that left him unable to do simple tasks and severe problems speaking, he always had the goal of finishing his automotive degree. He worked tirelessly with his parents, therapist and tutors to get to his final goal.

“Although he has progressed tremendously it has been a long road with a lot of hard work and extra hours,” she said.  “It would have been very easy for him to give up and say, ‘I have problems and I can't do it.’ No one would have begrudged him this. But Tim has shown great strength of character persevering through it all. Not to disregard Tim's academic knowledge and accomplishments, but his strength of character alone makes me proud to say that he is a graduate of the Automotive Technology program.”