Seaford teen recovers from injuries suffered after being struck by truck

By Lynn R. Parks

When M.J. Butler was 20 months old, he was a passenger in a car that was involved in an accident. He suffered a severe head injury.

The toddler recovered from that trauma. "Everything with M.J. was fine," said his grandfather, Arnold Davis. "I never thought that we'd have to go through something like that again."

Now 18, M.J. is a patient at Christiana Hospital near Newark. He has been there nearly continuously since mid-October, when he was struck by a truck while riding his bicycle. Among the injuries from which he is recovering is brain trauma.

"Right now, he can't talk," said Davis, sitting at the family dining room table in their home west of Seaford. "He wants to say something but he can't get it out. He can't make the sound. Doctors say that his speech will come back, that it's part of the brain trauma that he went through."

M.J. is a junior at Seaford High School, where he was active in the Naval Jr. ROTC program. At Friday evening's Christmas tree lighting in downtown Seaford, Jr. ROTC instructor Gunner Greg Norman asked people there to remember M.J. in their prayers. "He is a remarkable young man," Norman said.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, M.J. and a group of his friends were playing football at the West Seaford Elementary School playground. The game broke up in the late afternoon and M.J. headed home on his bicycle.

M.J.'s mother, Kesha Davis, died at age 35 of breast cancer. M.J., who was about 12-years-old at the time of his mother's death, has been in the care of his grandparents since.

The family lives on Woodpecker Road, about 5 miles from the playground and nearly to the Maryland state line. But this was a trip that M.J. had made many times before, Davis said.

"M.J. loved to ride his bike," he said. In fact, the teen had just bought a new bicycle, light green with bright blue tires. "I told him that it was the ugliest bike that I'd ever seen," Davis said, smiling.

According to state police, sometime around 7 that evening M.J.'s bike was hit from behind as he was pedaling south on Woodpecker Road, approaching Old Carriage Road. The vehicle that struck the bike was also traveling south and the force of the hit knocked M.J. off his bike and into a nearby cornfield.

Davis said that the bike did have lights on it. M.J. has a helmet, but that evening, he wasn't wearing it.

The police report says that the vehicle that hit M.J. "fled the scene after the collision." Sometime later, a passerby noticed one of the blue tires in the roadway, as well as a shoe. He stopped to check the area and when he discovered M.J. in the field, he called 911.

M.J. was taken by state police helicopter directly from the scene of the accident to Christiana, where he was listed in critical condition.

"When we got there, the doctors told us that the situation was very bleak," Davis said. "It was on and off whether he was going to make it."

Since the accident, M.J. has had numerous surgeries: To alleviate brain swelling, to put rods in his severely broken leg and to repair an injured gall bladder. He has also had skin grafts on his leg, where the swelling was so severe that his skin split.

He did reach the point that Christiana sent him to the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute, Baltimore. He was talking, his grandfather said, and even took a few steps.

However, his stay there ended when doctors discovered that his brain was still swollen. M.J. has spoken just a few words since the surgery at Christiana to alleviate that swelling. While his condition is stable, he is still in the intensive care unit.

Davis, who is a shipping clerk at Focal Point in Greenwood, visits M.J. nearly every day. His wife, Shellene Davis, is a nurse at Genesis Health Care in Seaford. She makes it up to see M.J. as much as she can.

Davis is cautiously optimistic about his grandson's condition. "M.J. is doing a lot better than doctors thought he would," he said. "They really didn't expect him to make it. Now, he is slowly making progress."

Even so, he said, there's a long road ahead. Except for the few steps that he took while in Baltimore, "he hasn't walked yet," Davis said. Doctors have to figure out the reason for his inability to talk. "Who knows how long he will be in the hospital?"

Davis has warm words of praise for the Seaford community and the support it has given his family. "We've gotten cards, people are praying for us, we've gotten money and people have given us gas cards," he said. "This community has been great. We couldn't live in a better place."

A lot of the credit for that reaction goes to M.J., Davis said. "I had no idea that he was in so many lives, and that he had touched so many lives," he added. "That has been quite an awakening for me."

Davis said that he wants the community to know that M.J. is in stable condition, but that he still has a long road to recovery. He also wants the community to understand that M.J. is strong, and that he is working hard to get better.

"He has done everything that he can to help himself," he said. To Help Arnold Davis visits his grandson at Christiana Hospital near Newark nearly every day. He said that gas cards that have been given him by members of the community have been very valuable in enabling him to continue those visits. Anyone who wants to help the family can send donations to their home, 3478 Woodpecker Road, Seaford DE 19973.

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