ONE BAD DECISION
Adam hit the brakes too hard, causing the car to swerve out of control and turn over on that lone, quiet stretch of Gainesville highway. Mike was thrown from the backseat, landing 60 feet behind the<
By Laura Dayton
Published: Spring 2002
Like millions of other teens, Mike Dayton, Jr. had to deal with the pressures and difficulties of a broken family. From his California birthplace Mike traveled with his mother to Florida when he was just six years old. His father and namesake, who was separated from him by a continent, is a former Mr. America and world-class strongman. The latest chapter in Mike's life has provided the ultimate test for a young man who inherited his dad's will to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
After high school Mike moved away from his mother in Miami to enroll in Gainesville Junior College, a college town ruled by the University of Florida with more dorms than apartments. After a year in school he was settled into his new life, making new acquaintances and stretching his mental muscle. He was living on his own, working and attending classes with the hope of transferring to the University soon.
It was November 2000, when at 19 years old Mike made the decision to go out and party with his friends. Although the car belonged to another boy, Adam, Mike was the designated driver. That situation lasted throughout several visits to assorted keg parties before Adam, now visibly drunk, demanded the car keys. Mike and the two other occupants of the car resisted, but Adam demanded the keys and the kids gave in. Mike got into the backseat.
Adam's driving became increasingly erratic. The more the three boys told him to slow down and pull over, the faster he went. Coming up behind a truck, the boys screamed and Adam hit the brakes too hard, causing the car to swerve out of control and turn over on that lone, quiet stretch of Gainesville highway. Mike was thrown from the backseat, landing 60 feet behind the vehicle. The other boys remained safe inside.
Lying crumpled in the road, with gravel and grass imbedded in his skull, Mike told the first person who came to his rescue, "I can't move." He had broken his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae in the middle of his neck. He was paralyzed from the neck down.
Although we all pray for a cure, a broken neck is a life sentence. After months in the hospital, Mike was not much better. In addition to losing the use of his limbs, his esophageal muscles barely function, making him prone to coughing fits. With little diaphragm strength, his voice is more of a whisper. He requires a feeding tube because his digestive muscles don't work. He wears a diaper and must be catheterized every four hours. He did not sustain any head injuries, and in that regard he is the exact same boy who went into the accident. But that's all that remains the same. Mike spends his day in a convalescent facility, requiring 24-hour professional care.
It's been a year since the accident, but Mike's spirit has never been stronger. Doctors warned the family that the risk of suicide is very high among patients like Mike. The family has never worried about that, because of Mike's indomitable will to survive and overcome. He has fought hard, with his father at his side helping his rehab. Although nothing in his physical condition has changed much, he continues to hope and he lives on.
Mike is my nephew. As I interviewed Coach Seale about the Soroco High School story, my nephew kept coming to mind. When Seale was talking about how one decision can change a life, I shared with him Mike's story. Indeed, Mike's bad decision did change his life forever.
When he's asked if he would do it all over, you can bet my nephew says he never should have let a drunk into the driver's seat. He never should have gone out that night. Today, he would make the decisions of an 11.
To send letters of encourage-ment to Mike, contact Laura Dayton at 4412 Rockwood Ave., Napa, CA 94558. To learn more about spinal research please visit www.californiansforcure.com
Dr. Greg Shepard’s thoughts: Our heart goes out to Mike. We thank Mike for allowing us to share his story. Many of you are familiar with the BFS Three Rules for Success. Mike’s story illustrates the “Dream Stealers.” Mike was in a Dream Stealer Place: A party with excessive drinking. He was with Dream Stealer People: Adam, by driving drunk, stole Mike’s dream. The group was involved with a Dream Stealer Thing: Alcohol. Refuse to associate with anyone, any place or anything that will steal your dream.