By Stephanie Sundheimer, Mary Free Bed writer
Landon Whitaker has a lot to be happy about. He recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. where President Obama congratulated the boy for his courage, willpower, and determination.
But meeting the president is likely second on Landon’s list of things to be happy about.
Landon, just 12 years old, was the victim of an accidental gunshot wound. Nine months ago, Landon’s best friend found an unsecured, loaded handgun and accidentally shot Landon in the face.
Lori Thompson-Heinze, Landon’s mother, recalls arriving to pick up Landon when his friend came outside and told her what had happened.
Landon, completely coherent at the time, was rushed to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing where he was put into an induced coma. A day later he underwent his first of three surgeries since the accident.
From Sparrow, Landon was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. He stayed the better part of two months. But according to Lori, it wasn’t just the hospital that helped Landon to come as far has he has.
“It’s the people [at Mary Free Bed] that really make the difference,” she said. Lori went on to explain that in addition to the doctors and therapists, Mary Free Bed’s nurses gave her and her son the hope they needed.
It’s the support of everyone at Mary Free Bed that helped her to stay positive, Lori said. “From the first time you walk through the door you feel like you have hope.”
After leaving Mary Free Bed last November, Landon has continued therapy three times a week. A retired school teacher works with him at home, helping him relearn everything from spelling to multiplication tables. While he still has a long road of recovery ahead, he has made more progress than anyone could have hoped for.
Recently, in recognition for the courage and perseverance Landon has shown in his recovery, he was named Michigan’s 2010 Champion Child by Children’s Miracle Network.
As a champion child, Landon was flown to Washington DC where he met the president and a number of celebrities. In the fall, Landon has the opportunity to travel to Walt Disney World with his fellow champion children and their families.
According to Lori, one of the best parts of the experience has been getting to know others who are experiencing similar tragedies. She said being able to bond with the other families has been great for her and Landon because “people don’t understand what you are going through unless they have gone through it themselves.”
While Lori and Landon have learned a lot, she says above all she has taken away one thing: Don’t lose hope.
“My son recovered because he saw his mom having hope,” she said, “and that has made all the difference.”