Young family relies on prayer, help in face on tragedy

Published 1:27 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Johnzela Patterson’s days are focused on her 3-year-old child Rickey Smoot who was injured in a traffic accident in 2008 that left him paralyzed with brain injuries.

NATCHEZ — The bedroom of a 3-year-old boy should be littered with toys, not medical equipment.

Still, Rickey “RJ” Smoot’s small bedroom is punctuated with the things we hope children will never know — tubes, monitors and medicine

But in addition to the beeping monitors and sterile equipment, healing scriptures line the wall above Smoot’s bed.

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“We want this to be an atmosphere of healing,” said Smoot’s mother, Johnzela Patterson. “We pray for him together. We’re asking God (to heal), but also at the same time going ahead and thanking God for it.”

Patterson plays with her 1-year-old son Darrius Jackson as licensed practical nurse Lakeisha Tuesno attends to Smoot’s needs. Patterson is thankful for Tuesno’s help so that she can attend to her other son.

Like most 10-month-old children, Smoot was just beginning to walk, talk and develop a personality when a traffic accident reversed everything.

Now at age 3, Smoot, is confined to a hospital bed at home — unable to communicate but garnering lots of love all the same.

Patterson, said her cousin was driving Smoot in October 2008 when the accident occurred. Patterson said Smoot was strapped into his seat, but the accident caused irreversible physical trauma.

Patterson said she was at home when the call came from the hospital.

“I was scared,” Patterson said. “I didn’t know what his condition was.”

At University Medical Center in Jackson, X-rays revealed that Smoot has sustained injuries to his spleen and liver, and was unresponsive with a swollen spinal cord and head trauma. Swelling on the brain and several strokes left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Smoot was in the ICU for two months before he was sent home with his mother, who had to be trained just to transport him from the hospital, not to mention the round-the-clock home care he would need.

The Copiah-Lincoln student said everything changed when she took on the responsibility of full-time care for her son.

“I had to drop out of school and I couldn’t work, so I quit my job at McDonalds,” Patterson said. “He was my total priority.”

Patterson said a Social Security insurance check helps her, Smoot and her youngest son, Darrius, to get by, but hardly.

Johnzela Patterson and LPN Lakeisha Tuesno lay their hands on 3-year-old Rickey Smoot as they say their evening prayers for healing before getting ready to retire for the night.

“It’s not enough,” Patterson said.

Patterson said there are many things the young family needs, like an emergency generator that could keep Smoot alive if they were to lose power. She said transportation is needed that will comfortably transport Smoot, his chair and the medical equipment he requires.

Patterson also said her little house on Lower Woodville Road lacks insulation, and because they only use space heaters in the winter, pneumonia keeps Smoot in the hospital for weeks on end.

Patterson said she would never dream of putting Smoot in a home. She wants to care for him herself.

“At 22, a lot of people say I’m strong because most people my age couldn’t handle the responsibility,” Patterson said.

Patterson’s days start at 6 or 7 a.m., when Smoot needs to be fed. But Patterson can’t just sit a spoon and dish in front of her son — Smoot is fed through a tube.

A full-time LPN, Lakeisha Tuesno, has taken a place as part of the family. She said Smoot is “her pumpkin.”

“(Patterson) does really well,” Tuesno said. “She is well-trained and looking out for the best interest of her child.”

Tueslo said she is also protective of Smoot.

“I treat him like I would treat my own,” Tueslo said, with tears in her eyes.

Patterson said doctors told her they didn’t expect Smoot to survive long after the accident.

“They didn’t expect him to be here right now,” Patterson said. “It’s a blessing that he is.”

Smoot’s father is incarcerated, and with Patterson unable to work, a Region’s Bank account was set up for the family.

Patterson said the experience has changed her life, even though she was already a young, busy mom.

“For one minute I was coming and going as I pleased,” Patterson said. “Now my kids — their needs — are my number one priority. I’m in my early 20s. I should be in college, no kids, having fun, but I can’t do that.”

Index cards inscribed with scripture passages that focus on healing are taped on the wall at the head of Rickey Smoot’s bed.

With Tuesno’s help, however, Patterson has been able to enroll in pre-nursing classes so she can securely support the small family.

Patterson said when she initially entered college, she was studying accounting and thought she would work at a bank. But after serving as a stay-at-home health care provider to her son, Patterson realized she has a knack for nursing.

“He’s the reason I want to go into the medical field,” Patterson said. “I feel like I have experience.”

Patterson said having Smoot home by herself the first night was a frightening experience.

“The first time I brought him home was January 2009,” Patterson said. “I woke up and knew he wasn’t the same — that something was wrong. His trache was clogged. No one was here and I started crying. I called the nurse, and she took me step by step. I had been trained for four weeks, but when that happened I forgot everything.”

Patterson said it hurts to watch her son’s condition deteriorate.

“Before his other strokes, he would shake his head no or uh-huh,” Patterson said. “He can only slightly move it now because of his strokes.”

Patterson said she does believe her son can hear her and comprehend her presence. She said he perks up and turns his head toward her when she is in his room.

Patterson said other parents with special needs children need to be strong.

“If you want your child here, you have to be dedicated and motivated to make sure the child is your number one priority,” Patterson said. “Always prepare for the worst, but expect the best.”

Patterson said Smoot likes popsicles, suckers and boy stuff.

“He used to like to watch Sponge Bob,” Patterson said. “Now he likes cars and stuff.”

Patterson said Smoot’s brother Darrius loves his big brother.

“He kisses him and hugs him all the time,” Patterson said.

Tuesno designed fliers that have been distributed to people and organizations across Adams County, beseeching help on the family’s behalf.

“My thing is, I consider them family,” Tuesno said. “They are a blessing to me, and I am to them. I have three kids, and I know how hard it is.”

Tuesno said since Patterson can go back to school, she can keep her mind on her studies to better the lives of the family while she provides constant medical care for Smoot.

“We met as complete strangers,” Tuesno said. “There is always someone worse off out there. God put us here to serve.”

Tuesno and Patterson said they appreciate the people who have stepped up to help, and for the supplies that have been donated.

For community members interested in assisting the family, a deposit can be made into the Regions Bank account called Johnzela Patterson for Rickey Smoot.