“It’s hard being a mom to a child who can’t communicate his love to me verbally or physically, yet the joy in that kid—it changes me.”
Life can change without warning. Both the tragic and fortuitous can reshape a life, and yet it is in these moments that traits such as love and hope are forged. For Robin Foutz, a moment such as this was ushered in by a seemingly innocuous tap on her door.
A warm and waning afternoon in 2012 played itself out much like any other. As dusk approached, brothers Josh and Elisha set out for a quick joy ride on their bikes as their mom Robin pulled together stories for Bible Pictionary. Foutz quickly wrote down stories such as Adam and Eve, Moses, and Noah but when she arrived at Abraham and Isaac something impressed upon her to delve further into the story. She describes the simple synopsis that resulted from her Google search, saying, “Abraham [had] unwavering and unshakable faith that God would raise up his son.” This description left an impression on her thoughts, which were disrupted by a knock on the door—an interruption bringing the news that would change the Foutzes forever—Elisha, only age 12, had been struck by a car.
Foutz recounts, “Nate got there before I did…He was kneeling over Elisha, who had been lying in his own blood. It was surreal…”
Nate Foutz had the foresight to instruct his new wife not to come any closer in an attempt to protect her from his fear that Elisha would not survive the encounter.
Robin continues, “I don’t know why I listened; I’m his mommy… but I turned around, looked at the sky, and said, ‘God, I trust you!’”
Elisha did survive those first frenzied moments and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Upon arrival, the healthcare team worked feverishly to save him. Foutz remembers, “I still couldn’t bring myself to…look at him, but I stayed nearby and prayed constantly…” Somewhere in the blur of time that followed came word that Elisha was stable but in critical condition; he would require treatment from a more specialized hospital.
Robin whispered loving affection into Elisha’s ear just before the doors closed and his helicopter ascended. Robin and her family would be following by car; she explains, “As I sat there, in the car, driving, I felt I needed to remind God of His word [the Bible]…but it was more that I needed to be reminded. I just kept saying, ‘You’re a God of redemption and healing… I trust you.’” Robin describes that at that moment something supernatural overcame her, “A blanket of comfort came over me, and I remembered the story of Abraham that I had just been reading: ‘…God would raise up his son’.” As she approached the Pediatric ICU, she encountered Nate and immediately shared with him her newfound confidence. To both of their surprise, Nate had also been filled with the same inexplicable sense that Elisha would not only live but be healed.
Robin laughs as she describes the next part of their journey: “God had prepared us in advance, giving us peace and confidence… [and] day in and day out, we just had to hold on to it.” Arriving at UVA that evening would only be the beginning of Elisha’s journey. The shaken family would fight constantly against doubt in times that seemed all but hopeless, and they would cling to their resolve during the seemingly endless silence from Elisha, who had yet to open his eyes.
Because of the shearing his brain had endured, Elisha would face ever increasing intracranial pressure that his treatment team fought desperately to control. This reality proved impossible without drastic interventions. Robin had to make an immediate decision for a craniotomy, meaning part of Elisha’s skull would be removed to relieve the mounting pressure. She explains that receiving this news initially stole her ability to think clearly and at that moment clung to the wall to keep from hitting the floor. However, after collecting her thoughts, she approached the waiting room with resolve and instructed her visitors, “I need you all to pull up your bootstraps, dig in and pray.”
While the surgery worked to correct the pressure, the injury his brain had received in the accident would keep Elisha in a coma. Silently, Elisha would face both of his lungs collapsing, bones being reset, a tracheotomy and life on a ventilator. Each new medical situation would draw from Robin a resilience that even she did not expect. “I felt like I was giving up every single time we said ‘Ok, do this; ok, do that.’…But in retrospect we see it was all part of the journey.”
Weeks and then months passed, but Elisha still hadn’t responded in a way that everyone had hoped. On one particular morning, Robin and a nurse stood at Elisha’s bedside when a new resident approached. He explained to her that she would need to face reality and understand that her son wouldn’t get any better.
This news was disheartening for Foutz, but the nurse turned to her and adamantly explained, “… It isn’t our job to rob people of their hope….I don’t go to church but I see more of God here at the hospital than I’ve ever seen at church.”
Robin was reaffirmed in that moment and shortly after would receive encouragement from Elisha as well.
Later, as the nurse proceeded to brush Elisha’s teeth, she froze. Excitedly, she burst out, “Did you see that?” They had both seen it. For the first time, Elisha was turning his head in protest to having his teeth brushed. The nurse exclaimed this was Elisha’s defiant response to the doctor’s doomsday announcement.
But even these slight movements were not enough to convince Elisha’s treatment team that he had made significant progress.
Robin, newly invigorated with hope, boldly spoke these words: “I appreciate… everything you have done and will continue to do, but I have
faith, and it’s bigger than what you are saying… bigger than what I see. This little boy is going to baffle all of you.”
A few mornings later, Robin woke early to read what initially seemed like a random passage in her Bible.
It was a verse from 1 Corinthians that echoed Robin’s earlier comments to the treatment team: “I will baffle and render useless…the learning of the learned…” There, in those words, Foutz realized that her son was not a victim of fate but rather a beacon of hope.
Elisha would eventually be moved to a treatment facility to receive physical therapy and recover from more surgeries.
In time he would wean off the ventilator and weather “storming”—a dangerous and painful side effect of traumatic brain injuries. The seemingly never-ending battle testified to Elisha’s persistence towards not just survival, but healing. Robin explains that the next phase of healing was tedious, but Elisha eventually opened his eyes and even regained purposeful movement.
The day before Thanksgiving 2012, and nearly four months after the accident, Elisha returned home. Robin recounts, “That was the hardest decision for me.
I felt like [saying], ‘You’re giving up on my kid.’ I just didn’t understand…” Robin and Nate became Elisha’s medical team; they managed nearly 20 medications given around the clock, feedings, bathing and physical therapy. This task was in addition to reassuring and loving their other children, addressing the house that was threatening to fall down around them, and having been unable to work for some time. Ironically, Nate and Robin both laugh in the present as they recall this trying time of readjustment, not capriciously, but rather as two survivors who clearly see the obstacles they have overcome.
Today, Elisha is in a wheelchair and has cognitive injuries that leave him unable to speak, but his emotions and reactions are beautifully intact. Robin smiles as she explains how he giggles endlessly at slapstick comedy and enjoys his family, “He is just so full of joy…and authentic… He is a rock star!” She continues, “I think when you have been in tragedy, it just changes you…. It can take you down a dark road, or it can take you down a good road.”
Robin, with tear-stained eyes and a smile across her face, concludes, “It’s hard being a mom to a child who can’t communicate his love to me verbally or physically, yet the joy in that kid—it changes me. It reaffirms to me that he is exactly where he is supposed to be…and I am exactly where I need to be… We won’t let tragedy strip us of our love and faith. It pulled it from us and brought us together stronger as a family.”
By Tiffany Lyttle
Photography by LaShonda Delivuk