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For The Lancaster News
Chandler Lenard is no different from any other excited teenager who just graduated from high school. The Lancaster High School graduate has plans to enjoy the summer with his family, and plans to attend the University of South Carolina Lancaster in the fall. With a cheerful demeanor and a ready smile, it’s hard to imagine that 11 years ago, a horrible accident nearly cost him his life.
Lenard’s mom, Sabrina, said March 21, 2001, started off as a very ordinary day when 8-year-old Chandler offered to go across the highway to check the mail, because she wasn’t feeling well, due to diabetes. The Lenards live on S.C. 5, a busy road at any given time.
“My son, in fact, all of my children, have always been really good about looking both ways before crossing the road,” she said. “But especially Chandler. He would always look each way twice before crossing. But this day, he was focused on a truck coming from Bowater, and didn’t look the other way the second time. I was standing outside, watching him, and I watched him run across the road, and I saw there was a car already coming around the curve from the other direction. I blew the horn in our car, and he ran a little faster, but he hadn’t made it quite to the yellow line yet before the car was there.”
What happened next would be any parent’s nightmare. The car clipped Chandler, sending him flying through the air with a force that knocked him out of his shoes. He tumbled nearly 90 feet before landing on the pavement.
“At first I was afraid that something from his neck to his waist was damaged, something internal that we couldn’t see,” she said. “He did have a bump on his head that came out, and all of the paramedics said that was a good thing, because the swelling wasn’t staying inside.”
He was airlifted from the scene to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, and Sabrina Lenard and the rest of the family got in the car to meet Chandler at the hospital. But the family beat the helicopter to the hospital.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but they had to resuscitate him twice and make sure he was stable before the helicopter could take off,” she said. “We waited and waited and waited for what seemed like forever. But I think it was about three hours later that we finally got to see him.”
The family learned that Chandler had sustained a traumatic brain injury and had a shunt put in his brain to relieve the pressure. He also had what is known as a “floating knee,” caused by all of the bones in his left leg, top and bottom, being broken, causing the kneecap to float freely inside.
“He shouldn’t have made it through that first night, or so they said at some point,” she said. “The first 48 hours were going to be very critical, because of that brain injury. I remember sitting on his right side, and telling him to squeeze my hand if he could hear me. And he squeezed. The doctors told me that was an involuntary reaction, though, because they had put him in an induced coma.”
Two weeks later to the day, the Lenards were told that Chandler was not coming out of the coma, even after the medicine keeping him in the coma was taken away. And if he did come around at any point, the pressure in his head would increase, causing brain damage. The Lenards were told that Chandler would basically return home an invalid.
“As a mother, I just could not accept that,” she said. “Here was this little 8-year-old boy and they were telling me this is what he was going to be. Chandler was always my strongest child, so afterward, whenever they would tell me something like that, I would just say OK, but I didn’t believe a word of it.”
Sabrina Lenard said she left the hospital and called some friends and family to tell them she was going to church to pray. After an extended prayer session, and some fasting that she shouldn’t have been doing because of her diabetes, something miraculous happened.
Another neurologist decided to do a different type of brain scan and found the results were not as grave as doctors first thought. Two days after that, Chandler opened his eyes. A week later, with a feeding tube in place, Chandler was taken to rehab.
“They took the shunt out, and surgically fixed the bones in his leg,” she said. “When we got to rehab, he had no use of his muscles whatsoever. But we went through it all, and 14 weeks to the day, almost to the hour, we have pictures of Chandler walking out of the rehab department of CMC.”
Before Chandler left the hospital, he had already started to eat solid foods. His progress continued steadily and by the time a new school year came around, Chandler was ready to go back. His brain began to catch up rapidly, but he was afraid other kids would make fun of him when he returned to school.
Another concern was how much knowledge had been lost, and how quickly he could mentally return to the third-grade level he was at when the accident happened.
“From the day he started kindergarten, to the day of the accident, the child had not missed one day of school,” she said. “He had been tested and had qualified for the Eagles program in Lancaster, and we were still tossing around what to do as far as that was concerned, should we go forward with that in his studies or just let him be a kid. But we really didn’t get to decide, because then the accident happened.”
Learning again and speaking again weren’t the only challenges Chandler had to deal with. Because of the injury to his leg, he underwent several surgeries and procedures, one of which involved putting a pin in one leg to keep it from growing until the other one could catch up. But after the last surgery, the orthopaedic surgeon told the Lenards that it looked like the leg had never been broken.
Chandler said his biggest challenge with school was learning to write again. Before the accident, he was right handed, but can now only write two letters with his left hand. To get through school, Chandler had an assistant who went to classes with him, and would write for him when necessary.
The child who was supposed to be an invalid graduated on May 18 with a 3.7 grade point average and was ranked 62 out of a graduating class of more than 350 students.
He has earned his Life Scholarship to use at USCL in the fall. He will be 20 years old on June 19 and says he wants to go into sports management after graduating college.
He enjoys country and contemporary Christian music, and although because of his injury he will likely never drive a car or have a driver’s license, he was able to take a few turns on the track at NASCAR Speedpark in Myrtle Beach during a recent family vacation. He has an older sister and brother, one younger brother, and the family has two dogs.
“He’s my miracle child,” Sabrina Lenard said. “As for his graduation day, well, right after the accident I wasn’t sure that day would ever come.
“But he proved all the doctors wrong, those who thought he couldn’t recover, and I am so proud of him and all he has accomplished. He is living proof that no obstacle is too big to be overcome.”