Lisa Laws could tell by the tone of the voice on the phone that something had happened to her son.
It was 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 1 when Laws picked up her cell phone and recognized the voice of Brittany Lumpkin, one of her son’s close high school friends.
Lumpkin didn’t sound like herself.
“I said, ‘Hello’ and she didn’t say anything,” Laws explained. “My heart dropped. I was like, ‘Brittany, is Nate OK?’ And she said, ‘Well, he’s OK…but.’ I said, ‘What happened to Nathan?’ She said crying and she said, ‘He was hit by a car.’ I said, ‘Hit by a car?’”
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That call began a six-week odyssey that has sent Lisa Laws and her ex-husband, Greg Ellen, from their Middletown homes to a hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and a rehabilitation center in Virginia. Every day, one of them, or both, have been at the bedside of their 26-year-old son, Nate Ellen, a corporal in the Marines.
About eight hours before the call, Ellen, visiting family friends in Alabama and picking up a puppy to take back to Virginia, was struck by a car while he was walking near a bowling alley in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Ten minutes after the accident, Ellen, a 2010 Monroe High School graduate, was rushed into the emergency room at DCH Regional Medical Center. Lisa and Greg, accompanied by relatives, drove nine hours to Tuscaloosa in separate cars, not knowing if their son would be alive.
“It was as if you couldn’t get there,” his father said.
There was a pause on the phone: “It was the worst drive ever. I was praying to get there in time to say goodbye.”
His mother added: “The worst, longest drive of my life. The thoughts that were going through my head.”
Lisa later was told by emergency medical technicians that her son was dead in the road when they arrived. But he survived.
“He is a complete miracle,” she said.
He suffered traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, collapsed lungs, lacerated liver, facial injuries and a torn ACL in the accident. He’s held together by metal rods, pins, and hope.
There were times, his mother said, when she walked out of the hospital room and found a quiet place to pray.
‘I was begging, ‘God please spare his life,’” she said. “I can’t imagine what a family goes through losing a child.”
He was in the Alabama hospital for 37 days, then was transferred to Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Virginia. On Wednesday, for the first time since the accident, Ellen walked while being held up by a strap by a physical therapist. He walked 180 feet.
His father called watching those first steps “a breath of fresh air” and “a big step today.”
“That was amazing to see,” his mother said after watching the video.
She has been told that he may make a full recover.
“It will be a long journey,” she said. She understands progress will be slow and may takes months or years.
“It’s been a crazy journey to say the least,” she said. “When I say that to people, they say, ‘It’s gonna be such a long journey.’ I say, ‘But at least we have a journey. And that to us is what’s so important. I still have my son.’”
After graduating from Monroe, Ellen attended Ohio State University for two years, then transferred to University of Cincinnati. He was searching for what he wanted to do with his life. He enlisted in the Marines, following in his father’s footsteps. He was two months short of his five-year commitment to the Marines when he was injured. He then planned to finish college and hopefully get a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.
Instead, because of the accident, those plans have been delayed.
But also, that accident changed his parents’ perspective.
“We take so much for granted,” his mother said. “One of the things I’ve learned through this journey is to not hold grudges against people. It’s not worth it. You don’t know when it will be the last time seeing somebody. Life is unpredictable.
“Today I appreciate life more. You don’t want a day to go by that you don’t embrace your children,” she said.