Drew comes home

More than three months after a gymnastics accident left him a quadriplegic, Salpointe student returns to Tucson — and a rousing welcome from his friends
2006-08-31T00:00:00Z 2012-05-12T21:03:21Z Drew comes homeBy Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 31, 2006 12:00 am  • 

Two hundred yards and a row of metal detectors away from the throng, Fran Donnellan tried to reassemble her son's wheelchair.

Drew Donnellan was growing impatient.

"Mom, let's go! C'mon!" he said. "Why can't you do that?"

Fran admits she was "pretty antsy" putting together the chair after it had been checked onto the flight from Colorado.

"I think I lost a few of the parts," she said.

She had reason to be excited. For the first time in more than three months, she and Drew were home.

On May 12, the 16-year-old Salpointe Catholic High School student overrotated on a gymnastics flip and landed on his head. He was diagnosed with quadriplegia, a weakening of all four extremities.

Eleven days after the accident, Drew was flown to Craig Hospital, a world-renowned spinal-cord treatment facility in Englewood, Colo.

He landed at Tucson International Airport on Wednesday night, two hours before seeing his home for the first time since his mom picked him up to go to gymnastics practice the day of the accident.

But first, the throng awaited.

Drew used a joystick to push his motorized chair down the ramp toward baggage claim. He caught a glimpse of the 50 or so friends and family members waiting for him, the children holding balloons and adults holding back tears.

Drew told his mom he didn't want all the attention when he landed. He hates things like this.

But it didn't matter.

"Him not here, it's been weird," said Ryan King, a gymnastics friend. "I think it will make him smile."

Drew's friends erupted when they saw him.

"Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!" they chanted.

They gathered around Drew, who rotated his chair in circles, talking to many friends for the first time since May.

Drew's eyed sparkled, his smile beamed.

"It's really exciting," said Yoichi Tomita, Drew's gymnastics coach. "It's almost like he went to do a job. He really did the job, then he came back. He's already made tremendous progress."

Drew has enough movement in his arms now that he hopes to be able to use a manual chair soon.

"From Day 1, he wanted to come home," Tomita said. "This is almost a dream come true for him."

Drew took the elevator down toward baggage claim. His best friend, Alex Muniz, charged up to him.

Coming straight from Salpointe football practice, Alex still had on pads underneath his maroon game pants.

"This is amazing," Alex said. "The way he looks ... I'm just amazed.

"It makes me smile, just looking at him. I guess it's the first step, seeing all his friends all over again. Letting his friends get used to him and seeing him all over again."

For months, volunteers have worked on making his house disabled-accessible. They have installed a new shower and toilet and paved a ramp to the front door. They've turned his band's former practice room into his new bedroom.

His new room is covered with posters made by friends from gymnastics and church. Even Drew's dogs Pepper, Lilly and Wickett painted a sign for him.

Drew's aunt and uncle left his favorite foods on his new hospital-style bed — chocolate chip cookies, Skittles and cashews.

A bottle of wine waited in the refrigerator for Fran.

"I think they just want to be home," said Fran's sister, Paddy. "Last week they started counting the seconds."

Drew will return to Salpointe once he gets comfortable back in Tucson, but no one's sure how long that will take. Alex has already transferred into the third-period American Studies class Drew is scheduled to join.

Wednesday night, Alex volunteered to pick up a burrito for Drew and meet back at his house. They decided they'd do it tonight instead. Or tomorrow night.

"It's just really good to be back," Drew said.

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