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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Shattered

Before he was who he is now, Don Mathews was assured by his mom that he would need God someday. Before the attack, Don probably believed her – the Mathews family is devoutly religious, after all – but he never thought he would need God like this. He was well-liked, laid back, without enemies and he liked to party. Philosophical and religious questions weren’t things he gave much time to in September 1998. He was too busy enjoying life.
“I had a lot friends. I lived a little fast,” Don said, now a senior psychology major. “I think in some ways, God was trying to knock some sense into me. You know, trying to wake me up.”
The last time his mother, Regina Mathews, saw Don that night was at 10 p.m. at a Huntsville High School football game. Don, who was attending Sam Houston State University at the time, left the game to go to a party at a friend’s house to celebrate his 21st birthday.
Later that evening, a group of people from Madisonville, Texas showed up and assaulted several of the partygoers. They had been invited by another party guest and were unknown to most there. They were forced to leave and left angry.
“They started grabbing girls and no one knew who these guys were. When they told them to leave, a fight happened and they pretty much got their butts kicked,” said Huntsville police officer Everett Harrell.
Don was escorting his girlfriend, Anne Park, back to his car. They were alone and out of sight. Don had no idea of what was going on at the party, and he wouldn’t fully comprehend what happened for months.
“Grab the bitch!”
Don turned around. Everything went black. The uppercut the first assailant landed knocked him into a deep, helpless slumber. He didn’t feel the three attackers kicking him repeatedly. He didn’t feel them jump on his head. He didn’t feel the catastrophic damage being inflicted on his brain.
The assailants thought they had killed Don. At one of their trials, they said they thought he had “checked out.”
“They basically took their frustrations out on Don,” Harrel said.
Regina answered the phone. It was one of Don’s friends on the other end of the line. She couldn’t remember his name – Don had a lot of friends.
“You need to get to the hospital fast. It’s pretty bad.”
“What now?” she said to herself as she hung up and roused Don’s father, Don Mathews Sr., out of bed.
Dr. Darrel Wells grew up with Don’s father in Huntsville. They were good friends. Wells was the emergency room physician the night Don arrived at Huntsville Memorial Hospital in a private vehicle driven by his friends.
“Young white male, 18 to 20 years old.”
Wells didn’t recognize Don until the ER doctors checked his identification. He was in the middle of examining him when he realized who the patient was.
“Had he just walked into the emergency room, I would have recognized him, but his face was so beaten and distorted,” Wells said.
He could tell Don had been attacked. His face was lacerated and his head and face were both extremely swollen.
“It was probably the second-worst head trauma case I saw where the victim survived,” Wells said. “The worst involved a guy that was beaten in the head with a crowbar.”
He ran him through a CT scan. The results confirmed what Wells suspected: Don was going to need a neurosurgeon. The closest was at Herman Memorial Hospital in Houston.
“No, this has to be a mistake,” Regina said.
Parents are programmed to protect. They’ll deny physics, biology and reality if it will save their child. But this was no mistake.
“We went over to the gurney they had him laying on, and the person laying there was so beaten, it was not recognizable,” Regina said. “It was so bloodied, and the nose was broken and swollen and the lips were cut all to pieces … blood was coming out of his eyes, ears and mouth.”
Regina looked over the clothes the doctors had cut off him to administer treatment. His shirt, now bloodied and shredded, was a birthday present from the day before.
Don was stabilized, even though he still lie close to death, and was being readied for a two-hour ambulance ride to Houston because heavy fog had grounded Life Flight.
His prognosis was foreboding.
“He’s got a 50-50 chance. I’ve seen many [like him] not make it,” Wells said.
Regina could only think of one thing to do.
“I walked to a side room adjoining the ER and on the hard tile floor, I got on my knees and prayed, because I knew that was the only hope I had, but I knew it was all I’d need.”
Tom Petty’s buzz saw voice grinds in the background. It’s one of Don’s favorites. The nurses didn’t believe it was working at first. When the Petty is done, Regina flips the disc over and Mozart fills the Don’s headphones.
Tubes weave in and out of his body. They look like snakes hiding their heads in his mangled figure. Don is in a deep coma, and if he doesn’t wake up soon, the doctors could take him off life support.
Regina always told her sons they would need God someday. She bends down close to Don’s ear.
“Don, we’re here. That’s who you need right now, honey.”
For two weeks, Don’s condition doesn’t change and the doctors are telling Regina that she should take him off life support. One night, when she’s alone with Don, one of the doctors hands her a living will.
“I remember walking that hospital for hours, and a guard asking me why I was shaking,” Regina said.
“I couldn’t sign it. I just didn’t believe he was going to die.”
She didn’t sign the will, but the doctors removed life support a few days later. They didn’t expect him to survive.
But he kept breathing.
“I have good news and bad news.” It was Don’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Guy Clifton.
“It looks like he will live, but what you see is what you’ll get. He will probably be a vegetable for the rest of his life.”
Regina couldn’t hug him because of the tubes, but she could cry. She fell across his broken and quiet body and sobbed uncontrollably.
Suddenly, a moan escapes Don’s throat. It’s the first time he’s responded to the outside world.
Out of the coma, into the fireTomorrow, Don starts the long road back to recovery while struggling with his memory and identity, and narrowly avoids death when medical complications take control of his rehabilitation.

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