WALKER — Brantly Williams smiled and let out the tiniest of squeals when he realized it was all for him.
The 2-year-old returned to his Walker-area home Friday to cheers from family members and a group of volunteers who had spent hours in the heat building a ramp to make his family’s home wheelchair-accessible.
It was the first time Brantly had been home since a devastating four-wheeler accident on Mother’s Day that left him with a traumatic brain injury, greatly diminished eyesight and months, if not years, of recovery ahead of him.
“They’re a miracle to come out and do this for us,” Brantly’s mother, Brittany McAlister, said of the volunteers from Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge and Turner Industries who built the ramp. “It will help us out a whole lot.”
McAlister calls Brantly her “miracle baby.” The doctors were quiet in the first few days after the accident, stepdad Joseph Wainwright said. They weren’t sure Brantly was going to make it.
Brantly had ridden on four-wheelers before, with Wainwright or other adults. But it was Wainwright’s 5-year-old nephew who was in the driver’s seat on Mother’s Day.
Wainwright, McAlister and Brantly were visiting Wainwright’s mother in north Denham Springs on May 10, when Brantly went out back to play with his cousins while Wainwright took a phone call on the front porch.
“My brother lets his little ones ride,” Wainwright said. “They hit a tree head-on, and the four-wheeler flipped up on them.”
The crash cracked Brantly’s skull from front to back and broke his jaw and left arm, Wainwright said. Pressure from the brain swelling blew out, or overdilated, his left pupil, resulting in blindness, and severely disrupted vision in his right eye.
First responders wanted to airlift the boy immediately, but there was nowhere nearby for a helicopter to land, Wainwright said. They raced Brantly by ambulance to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
“We were so afraid he wasn’t going to make it,” Wainwright said. “And I had to call his daddy in Mississippi and tell him what happened.”
Brantly stayed in intensive care at Our Lady of the Lake for about a month before moving to a regular room for a week. He was then transferred to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, where he remained until Friday — three months and 11 days after the accident.
Brantly has made a lot of progress in that time, his mother said.
He is regaining vision in his right eye. He can crawl and has taken a few assisted steps. He has spoken a few words.
He smiles. He laughs.
“He’ll probably be disabled to some extent for the rest of his life,” Wainwright said. “But Children’s has given us real hope for his recovery.”
Before Brantly’s release, the hospital taught McAlister and Wainwright how to perform CPR, how to handle Brantly’s feeding tube — which he no longer uses for eating but will keep for another couple months — and how to equip Brantly with the helmet and leg braces he will wear as he learns to walk again.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals’ Early Steps program will provide in-home therapy for Brantly twice a week, Wainwright said. The family also plans to take him to other specialists in Baton Rouge, as well as scheduling appointments with his primary care physician and dentist.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but we’re trying to stay optimistic,” Wainwright said.
Wainwright said he has talked to his brother “off and on” since the accident, but the conversations have not been easy.
“I wish he wouldn’t have let the 5-year-old take (Brantly) on the four-wheeler,” Wainwright said. “We could be burying him today instead of bringing him home.”
Michelle Hardy, a marketing assistant with Turner Industries and board member for Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge, said Brantly’s story touched the hearts of her colleagues in both organizations.
A social worker from Children’s Hospital reached out to Rebuilding Together about the ramp project, and Turner Industries stepped up to provide the crew and materials, Hardy said.
“Our crew builds four to five wheelchair ramps a year for our employees in need or others in the community,” Hardy said. “It’s just what we do. We’re a part of the community.”
Jimmy Walters, RTBR’s project manager, said the group handles dozens of similar projects each year for “good, well-meaning people who just don’t have the funds.”
“When you do one of these projects, you just can’t walk away not feeling good,” Walters said. “They’re pretty humbling.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.