Rymer overcomes odds, attends prom

Published 1:07 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

Matthew Rymer looked sharp in a tuxedo last Saturday night; it was indisputable, but the entourage of ladies getting him dressed had better plans for the next big night in his life.

“When you get married you are wearing blue jeans,” friend Suzie Byrd said, as family, other friends and even his date struggled with the details of his new sleek, formal look.

Rymer, nearly 19, started planning for his senior prom during football season.

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The defensive lineman on the soon-to-be state championship football team asked a beautiful junior if she would be his date.

She said yes.

Matthew didn’t attend prom the year before, and he really doesn’t like to dance in front of a crowd, but senior prom is a memory everyone wants to make.

With a commitment from a good friend for a date, Matthew went on with his life, also known as football.

His team, the Trinity Episcopal Saints, went 12-3 and Matthew recorded a team-leading 104 tackles.

Then God began changing Matthew’s plans.

During the Christmas break, his friend and prom date found out she was moving to Florida before the start of the next semester.

Two days before she left, Matthew’s life changed forever.

He was the back seat passenger in a GMC pickup truck full of his friends when it smashed into a tree at the end of North Canal Street early on New Year’s Day.

Matthew spent the next 28 days at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

In the beginning his mother could only visit him for two hours a day.

“All I thought about was him making it through,” Matthew’s mother Dorene Fos said. “The doctors told us he’ll never have any use of anything, and he’ll be on a ventilator for the rest of his life.”

But Matthew began debunking that prognosis even before leaving Our Lady. He came off the ventilator the day before he was transferred to Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.

After a setback and a surgery in early February it was back to rehab where Matthew had regained significant arm mobility by mid-February.

And on March 17, he was home.

But with prom exactly a month away, Matthew’s life certainly wasn’t where he’d expected.

His prom date, Erin O’Quinn, had called a few times while Matthew was in rehab.

“She called just to talk, but I didn’t say much,” he said.

“I didn’t know if Erin still wanted to go to prom.”

And Matthew didn’t even know if attending prom was possibility.

Getting on with life

Matthew wakes up every day and tries to move his legs.

Arm movement came back suddenly, he said, and he’s hoping his legs will work again, too.

Medically speaking, the break in Matthew’s spine is incomplete, meaning there is hope. Mobility and feeling could come back at any time in the next two and a half to three years, his doctors tell him.

Right now, Matthew has feeling down to his nipple line and has good movement in his arms, though they are still weak.

He has six hours of therapy a week, half physical and half occupational.

Current goals are to build up enough arm strength so Matthew can transfer himself from his electric wheelchair to the car or bed.

“He’s got a lot of will and want in life that is going to get him where he wants to be,” Dorene said.

His mother, a home health sitter by trade, has been his constant nurse, including getting up every two hours each night to rotate her oldest son in his bed.

“She’s been a great mom,” Matthew said. “She’s been with me ever since the wreck, and she’s sacrificed a lot for me.”

Four months into constant care and Dorene won’t admit to being tired.

“It’s your child,” Dorene said. “You do what you’ve got to do for them.

“I didn’t sleep when he was running the roads with his friends, and I don’t sleep now.”

In fact sleep routines are different for much of the Rymer-Fos household now.

Fifteen-year-old Austin moved into his brother’s room after the accident and serves as Matthew’s midnight legs at least two or three times a night, Matthew said, sometimes after a brotherly threat or two.

Deborah, 11, plays nurse, too.

“I get him whatever he needs,” she said. “I remember feeding him ice cream.”

Though teasing continues, Matthew admits that Austin is now the strongest.

“I don’t beat him up anymore,” Matthew said.

Austin and Deborah are now protective of Matthew, Dorene said, and when they are apart, like on prom night, everyone is thinking about Matthew.

Prom night

Erin O’Quinn drove six and a half hours to go to prom with Matthew.

And though self-doubt left Matthew worried she wouldn’t come, Erin never questioned it.

“I was committed to it, and I love Matthew,” she said.

The duo isn’t boyfriend and girlfriend, just friends, they said, but Saturday night they stuck together.

Erin traveled in style most of the night — in Matthew’s lap. Their limo wasn’t long and black, but was special all the same.

William Austin, a former Natchez Police officer paralyzed in a fall, loaned his wheelchair-accessible van to the couple for the night.

With mom as driver and devoted friends along to ensure safe transport, the prom-mobile made three stops Saturday.

First up, Matthew and date visited his dad Charles Rymer, who was working at Fred’s Pharmacy.

Next on the agenda was a special prom night dinner for seniors, and finally, the dance and the end of the mom escort.

“It’ll be a good memory,” said Matthew, who was crowned prom king.

But, to an outsider anyway, the night bore its scars.

Matthew’s teammate Deacon Newman has a deep scar in his forehead.

Classmate Jennifer Scudiero has the tiniest imperfection on her otherwise gorgeous face and is awaiting plastic surgery.

Matthew looked nothing like the 225-pound lineman who pounded opponents to the ground just six months ago.

And Dylan Pressgrove, who also suffered a spinal injury and remains partially paralyzed, wasn’t there.

All four, along with Cody Strickland, who has recovered fully from a concussion, were in the Jan. 1 accident.

And, as parents attending the prom night dinner said, all are lucky to be alive.

Matthew stayed at prom until midnight, then spent the next three hours watching movies with Erin at his house.

“This is the closest thing he’s had to normal in months,” friend Suzie Byrd said. “He’s had doctors’ appointments and opinions; we thought, this is what he needs, the laughing coming from that room.”

A familiar path

Paralysis is nothing new for Matthew’s family.

His uncle, Barney Rymer, spent nearly all of his life in a wheelchair as a result of childhood polio. He was further injured later in life by a fallen tree limb. He died four years ago.

“I always knew he had a tough life, but he kept going,” Matthew said. “He never quit, he just kept going.”

Matthew has that same drive, his mother said, but it may be his perspective on life that takes him the farthest.

“God has a plan for everybody,” Matthew said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not.

“I try to forget about (the paralysis) and move on with life. You have to be the best you can be. When I think about it, it does bother me, but I got over it. I had a lot of time to think about it (at the hospital) in Baton Rouge.”

Matthew doesn’t know what the days ahead will bring, and he admits he dreams every day about running on the football field.

“I wish I could have one more year to play high school football,” he said. “That was the most fun thing I’ve done in my life.

“I was going to Co-Lin in Wesson next year to play football.”

Now Matthew is considering classes at Co-Lin in Natchez. He hasn’t decided on a field of study, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do after college.

“I wanted to go work offshore, but I can’t do that now.”

Instead, Matthew and his family are focusing on the immediate goals — therapy and graduation.

As a senior, Matthew has earned most of his needed credits already. He worked on his math and English in rehab and has continued to work from home. He plans to graduate in May.

He has been back to school for a few days and is starting full-time this week with the help of an aide. His chosen aide is his cousin, who cared for their paralyzed uncle for years. She’ll spend 40 hours a week with him.

God’s plan for Matthew isn’t an easy road, but his family and friends know Matthew has the strength and the sense of humor to keep going.

“He just likes to do new things,” little sister Deborah said. “He likes to learn how to work his hands better. But he still teases me.”