Pam Mason can still remember the moment she heard the familiar sound of laughter coming from her son, Greg, as he lay in his hospital bed. One of Bill Cosby’s original comedy sketches was playing in the background. The barely audible noises coming from the direction of the hospital bed represented sounds of hope and a future to Pam and her husband Tim.
Greg Mason was going to be okay.
You wouldn’t know it by his cheerful demeanor and charming sense of humor these days, but Greg has endured more challenges in his 34 years than most people experience in their lifetime.
The accident happened 16 years ago at the start of his freshmen year of college. He and four college friends were driving to a local coffee shop when their car was struck by another vehicle while going through an intersection.
Greg suffered an open-skull fracture, his lungs collapsed and his heart stopped on impact. He had third-degree burns and every bone in his face was broken, except for his jaw. This would have been the end of his story if it hadn’t been for an off-duty fireman and EMT worker who just happened to be nearby when the accident occurred. They helped save his life.
Once in the hospital, Greg underwent 23 surgeries over the course of five and a half months. He remained in a coma for 34 days. His parents could do nothing but wait.
It was those first sounds of Greg’s laughter in the hospital room which marked the starting point of a long road to recovery.
It wasn’t easy, but Greg and his parents worked tirelessly on his rehabilitation. They brought in physical therapists along with speech and occupational therapists to aide in progress. The accident had left him legally blind, with only half his hearing, and hooked up to feeding tubes. He had no muscle control and no use of the left side of his body.
Still, he pressed on.
The first thing his parents did when they were able to bring Greg home from the hospital was invite all his friends and family over to their house for a huge party. Staying social has served Greg well. So has keeping his sense of humor.
“One of our main goals was to get his speech back and then his clarity,” Pam said, while explaining Greg’s slow recovery. “We used the theme songs to cartoons as a tool to help with vocal definition. We also watched a lot of comedies. Humor has gotten us through everything.”
A little over a decade after the accident, Greg continued his therapy recovery at Brooks Rehabilitation Neuro Recovery Center. This was where he first met Alice Krauss, the program manager of the Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program right here in Jacksonville, Florida. The Program has grown over the years, and much like the other participants, Greg has benefited from having an active and social outlet.
“The great thing about this Program is the normalization. Greg feels comfortable in this environment, said Pam, adding, “Everybody has a story to share and they all get treated the same. It’s truly a fabulous program.”
Greg enjoys the weekly billiards and bowling nights along with other special events put on by the Adaptive Sports Program throughout the year.
“The Program allows its participants to pick and chose what activities they want to do, with no cost to them. Financially speaking, people’s lives are devastated by this kind of tragedy and they are often left with no money for these types of activities. This Program provides equality and is free of cost. That’s a very big deal,” said Pam.
Greg’s favorite event by far has been an adaptive horseback riding clinic he participated in this past year.
“Once the ‘Oh Crap!’ feeling passed, I realized I was on a horse and I was having fun. Not having a back or side rest like I constantly have in my wheelchair was so freeing,” he explained.
It is not uncommon for people who experience this type of life-changing disability as Greg did, to spiral into a daily routine of sadness and depression.
He never let himself go down that path. Instead, he continued to stay social and set goals. One of his goals was education. Greg went back to college following his accident to earn a degree in computer sciences and business from Furman University in SC.
Even though he achieved one of his goals, he still has more.
“I would still really like to go skydiving one day. It would be scary, but a big rush,” Greg said.
His second goal? To go on a date.
“I may be in a wheelchair, but I’m still charming,” he said with a grin.
Beyond goal setting, Greg also has some useful tips for staying positive despite what life throws at you. His humor and positive outlook on life have helped him see how truly lucky he and his family are.
“I don’t need to win the lottery,” Greg said recently, referring to his journey. “I already won the lottery.”
Greg’s Life Tips
1. Set Goals – they can be big or small, it doesn’t matter. Just decide on something you want to do and work towards that goal.
2. Stay Busy – the (Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation) Program keeps me occupied and I look forward to the activities and seeing my friends every week.
3. Don’t Stop – when things get tough, keep going. Try not to dwell on the negative stuff. Focus on the comedy in life and always laugh. Laughter is key.