Community rallies to aid injured teen-ager Diving accident leaves Carroll youth quadriplegic

November 17, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Late in the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 26, Derek D. Taylor stood on the lifeguard stand at the pool of a Gaithersburg apartment complex where he had a summer job, about a 30-minute drive from his home near Mount Airy.

That morning, he had registered for fall classes at Carroll Community College, planning to study engineering. Voted the most spirited boy in South Carroll High School's Class of 1996, he loved street hockey and track, camping and whitewater canoeing, in-line skating and caving. It was his second summer as a lifeguard.

Nobody was in the pool when Taylor made a routine practice dive from the stand, a dive he'd done thousands of times. But this time, his body didn't arc to enter the water.

He didn't lose consciousness when his head hit the bottom of the pool. Arms flailing, he surfaced and grabbed a breath of air.

Lifeguard Kevin Taylor looked over and saw Derek in trouble. The two are not related, but have been friends for 13 years, back to when they were small enough to crawl under the pews at the Mount Airy Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kevin is 19, Derek, 18.

"Derek's messing around," Kevin thought. Then he saw blood in the water.

To Shock Trauma

"We dive off cliffs and bridges and I didn't even give it a thought that he might be [seriously] hurt," Kevin said.

In the days that followed, Maryland Shock Trauma Center physicians gave Derek steroids to reduce the spinal cord injury and dopamine to stimulate blood flow through the bruised area of the cord, and waited to determine the extent of damage. The Taylor family and neighbors pulled together.

Friends brought in meals and helped with the younger children -- Derek is the third of six children -- so Howard Taylor, a retired Navy commander and vice president of a computer consulting firm, and his wife, Sherry, could be with Derek.

Drew Taylor, 22, their eldest son, quit his job in Utah and came home. Daughter Audry Taylor, 20, gave up an internship at Walt Disney World to take care of Chad, 13, Clarke, 10, and Alex, 7.

The accident left Derek a quadriplegic. He has movement in his arms but not in his hands, and feeling in his upper chest, shoulders and head but only a tingling sensation from the chest down. After two weeks at Shock Trauma, Derek was sent for rehabilitation to Kernan Hospital in Woodlawn.

Community pulls together

In Mount Airy, people came together to help.

Laurie Lewis, a friend who had gone to the Shock Trauma Center the night of the accident to be with the family, and Jim Justice, a retired engineer who had returned to Mount Airy after a year in Florida, started talking about what would be needed when Derek came home. The Taylor house is not wheelchair-accessible.

Howard and Sherry Taylor "were just kind of living day to day," Justice said. He and his wife, Cec, and Laurie Lewis and her husband, Tom, decided to help make the house accessible.

Jim Justice would design an addition to the house; Tom Lewis, who has worked in construction, would supervise the job; Laurie Lewis, a lab assistant at South Carroll High School, would make calls and coordinate donations; and Cec Justice would organize a fund-raising yard sale.

The community responded. People came to the yard sale and gave $20 for an item priced at $2. Larry Van Sant, president of the 51-year-old Van Sant Plumbing & Heating Co., got a manufacturer to donate a $2,000 roll-in shower that accommodates a wheelchair. His company will donate and install a disabled-accessible toilet, lavatory and faucets. Mark Balls, a construction superintendent for Seawright Corp. and a leader of Derek's Boy Scout troop, volunteered as a contractor for the job.

The junior varsity football team at South Carroll High School, where Derek was a quarterback and wide receiver until a neck injury sidelined him in his sophomore year, raised $350. Friends brought homecoming to the rehab unit at Kernan, decorating Derek's room with a grass-fringed "Aloha" sign.

Blue Ridge Truss Co. donated roof trusses. Genstar donated stone. Mike Uzzo, president of Lion Landscaping and Concrete Inc., came to pour footers on Election Day and brought his son Michael, 12, and Michael's friends Stephen and Michael Grant, 12-year-old twins, to help. "I run by there [the Taylor house] all the time, but I hadn't met him," Uzzo said. "Someone that young, that's a tragedy."

Other volunteers will lay block and frame the 25-by-36-foot wing on the house. The garage will have a lift to allow Derek to reach the upper level. It will include a bedroom, bathroom and family room. And it will have access to the kitchen and the deck.

Derek is still learning to get in and out of his wheelchair without help, tighten his back muscles so he won't slouch, and use his wrist to fashion a handgrip because he has lost use of his fingers.

He will return home after his therapists and physician decide he has made as much progress as possible.

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