On July 27, 2006, Brian Anderson and several of his friends headed down to Lake Gaston, N.C. to begin a summer vacation that had become a yearly tradition for the group since graduating from McLean High School in 2002. That night, Brian Anderson decided to take a late-night swim, never imagining it would change his life forever.
When Ryan Hoover first saw Brian Anderson lying face down in the water of Lake Gaston, he assumed that his friend of 10 years was just messing around. It was 1 a.m., and Hoover, Brian Anderson and couple of their friends were hanging out on the docks of the lake house they had rented for this summer's trip. Hoover was standing on the upper dock talking, but Brian Anderson had been on the dock below, jumping in and out of the water.
"I said, hey Brian, this isn't funny — it's late," said Hoover, 22.
When Hoover did not get a response, he headed down to the lower dock. As he got closer, he noticed that his friend's body was convulsing.
"It was awful," said Hoover.
Hoover jumped into the water and swam over to Brian Anderson, who remained unresponsive.
"The water wasn't very deep — probably about 3 1/2 or 4-feet," said Hoover.
Hoover and another friend slowly rolled Brian Anderson over and gently pushed him toward the shore. Noticing that his breathing was extremely fast and irregular, the group immediately called 911. Since they were in a small, rural North Carolina town, it took a while for the ambulance to arrive.
"It seemed like forever," said Hoover. "It was really chaotic because people were crying and freaking out. It was really emotional."
HOOVER RODE in the ambulance with Brian Anderson, and their friends followed in their car. At the local clinic, the doctor took one look at his patient and said that he needed to be taken to a specialist right away because it looked like a neck injury. Brian Anderson was taken to a hospital in Greenville, N.C. via helicopter. Hoover and the rest of the group drove there to meet him, and also called Andrew Carr, a longtime friend of Brian Anderson's who attends East Carolina University in Greenville. Andrew Carr had been planning to meet up with his friends at the lake house the following day.
"They called me at 3 a.m. and told me to meet them at the hospital," said Andrew Carr, 22.
Andrew Carr and his twin brother Jon Carr grew up in the same neighborhood as Brian Anderson, and the three boys have been friends since the age of 3.
Brian Anderson's parents arrived in Greenville at 8 a.m. on the morning of July 28. His father, Michael Anderson, emerged from a meeting with the doctors and informed his son's friends that Brian had fractured his C6 vertebra and was paralyzed from the chest down. His 23-year-old son would never walk again.
"We all just lost it," said Hoover. "Up until that point, we were still trying to be optimistic because sometimes you can break your neck and regain full function, but when his dad said 'he's probably never going to walk again,' that's when it just hit us like a ton of bricks."
BRIAN ANDERSON had to stay at the hospital in Greenville for two and a half months before doctors deemed him stable enough to be moved. His parents stayed in a Greenville hotel the entire time, and Andrew Carr made frequent visits to the hospital. Andrew Carr said that initially Brian Anderson was heavily medicated and subsequently unaware of what was going on. When he finally learned the extent of his injuries, he was devastated.
"Obviously, he didn't take it very well when they explained what had happened to him," said Andrew Carr.
In October, he was flown to Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md. Andrew Carr and two paramedics accompanied Brian Anderson on the tiny aircraft, and Andrew Carr said that his friend was upset by the fact that he could not move without the help of others.
"He's a big guy and I had to help with transporting and moving him everywhere, and he didn't like the fact that I was moving him," said Andrew Carr. "He got pretty upset about that."
Brian Anderson is still at Good Samaritan Hospital, and he began physical therapy two weeks ago. He is dependent on a respirator, but Michael Anderson said his son is determined to make some headway on his condition.
"He's really making great advances," said Michael Anderson. "Yesterday he was off his ventilator for seven hours ... it's hard on him to do this, but he's really working hard because he desperately wants rehabilitation and to get off this ventilator."
UNFORTUNATELY, the Andersons are facing a new challenge. Shortly after Brian Anderson began his physical therapy, his parents were informed that his insurance company wanted to drop him as his doctors had not given him a very good prognosis. In fact, the doctors recommended that he be placed in a nursing home.
"They're trying to push him into a nursing home, and are telling us that he's graduating to the next step," said Michael Anderson. "We understand why a doctor would tell you the worst case of what's going to happen — these guys live in fear of being sued — but when these negative things start affecting the level of care, as far as telling the insurance company there's nothing we can do with him, we just can't believe it."
The Andersons recently hired an attorney and plan to fight the hospital's prognosis.
Brian Anderson's accident has put a huge financial strain on his parents. In addition to his medical expenses, the Andersons have the added costs brought by their lengthy stay in Greenville, costly changes to their home in order to make it handicap accessible, and now, attorney fees. His friends decided that something needed to be done.
"Everyone wanted to do something to help, so we were like what can we do to channel all this effort and energy into something positive?" said Hoover. "We talked about it and kicked around a few different ideas, but ultimately decided to put on a 5K."
ON SATURDAY, DEC. 2, the first annual "Brian's 5K Run/Walk" will be held at 8:30 a.m. at McLean High School. There will be t-shirts, awards and post-race refreshments, and all proceeds from the event will go toward Brian Anderson's medical expenses.
"We've enlisted the support of a ton of different groups, and our parents are really helping out a lot," said Hoover.
McLean High School has made announcements about the race at all of its football games, and all McLean High School football players are currently sporting #72 — which was Brian Anderson's number — stickers on their helmets. Brian Anderson's older brother Mike Anderson, 25, is a West Point graduate currently serving in Iraq. However, he is expected to return home in time for the 5K event.
"He's actually supposed to be leaving Iraq this week," said Michael Anderson of his eldest son. "He's been there a year ... and all that trouble that's been going on in Baghdad, he and his men have been right there in the middle of it."
Ryan Hoover said that he was struck by a recent e-mail that was sent out to all of the Anderson's friends and family from Michael Anderson. In the message, he detailed the problems they were having with the insurance company, but said that "on a lighter note," his other son would soon be leaving Iraq and returning home.
"When your lighter note is that your son is going to be home from Iraq, you've obviously got some pretty heavy stuff on your docket," said Hoover.
Michael Anderson said that he has been overwhelmed by the support he and his family have gotten from the community.
"The way people have been reaching out to us ... is nothing short of amazing," he said. "As difficult a situation as this is, that's the bright light out there, that people genuinely want to help."
Andrew Carr's twin brother Jon Carr is part of the group responsible for putting on Brian's 5K Run/Walk.
"It's actually been surprisingly easy to organize because we've gotten so much support," said Jon Carr. "It's amazing how many families in McLean have come together."
He added that he believes such support is crucial to Brian Anderson's health.
"Honestly, he's like a brother to both me and my brother, and right now Brian needs all the inspiration he can get," said Jon Carr. "He needs to know that all of his friends are behind him and rooting for him."