A week before Thanksgiving, Gary and Ginger Richardson's son maneuvered his wheelchair past friends, family and welcome signs, and into their Evans home.
They were thankful.
Thankful that a Sept. 8 car crash didn't take John Paul Richardson's life.
"It has been a blessing," Gary Richardson said. "It has been miracle after miracle through the whole thing."
John Paul, 19, returned to his Windmill Lane home more than 10 weeks after being critically injured in a single-car wreck near Statesboro, Ga.
After initial treatment in Savannah, the 2008 Greenbrier High School graduate spent more than a month at The Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation facility in Atlanta.
"Thanksgiving is going to be real good this year," John Paul said, adding he'll especially enjoy the home-cooked meal. "I'm very thankful."
John Paul had spent just three weeks at Armstrong Atlantic State University when, police say, he fell asleep at the wheel of his Ford F-150 on Georgia Highway 25 between Millen and Statesboro.
Police say the truck flipped into trees after he over-corrected and swerved across two lanes and into a ditch. John Paul, who was wearing his seat belt, was extricated and airlifted to a Savannah hospital.
Gary Richardson said a Georgia State Patrol officer informed him of the accident but could not tell him how badly his son was injured.
"My heart sank," he said.
John Paul was paralyzed from the waist down. He had cuts on his head, two broken shoulder blades, several broken ribs, and six fractured vertebrae.
"We got the two phone calls that every parent dreads," Ginger Richardson said.
The second call came from John Paul's doctors when his condition worsened.
John Paul doesn't remember the wreck and has only vague memories of the ambulance ride. He remembers driving along the highway, then having a friend visit him in Savannah three weeks later.
Doctors have said they don't know whether John Paul's paralysis will be permanent. His body could need up to two years to heal.
Despite the uncertainty, John Paul is determined to get back on his feet. He spent four hours a day in physical therapy at The Shepherd Center and will continue working at home until he begins outpatient therapy in January, Ginger Richardson said.
"It is not going to be (permanent)," John Paul said. "That is me saying that -- the doctors can't tell you -- but I believe that God is going to get me through it. ... Either way, I'm still here. I'm alive. That is a blessing in itself."
The Richardsons renovated their home to make it more accessible for John Paul. They widened three door frames for his wheelchair, replaced carpet with hardwood floors, added a few interior ramps and renovated a bathroom. Members of their church, Wesley United Methodist, constructed an entry ramp in the garage.
Ginger Richardson said the community has rallied around her family.
"We couldn't have made it through without their support," she said, adding that her son is still the lively and independent teen he was before the wreck.
"He was the only one who didn't have tears in his eyes when we came home."
John Paul was greeted by a houseful of friends and family, with more friends arriving after classes at Greenbrier High School ended.
He planned to attend the Greenbrier basketball game against Lakeside High on Friday night as a kind of reintroduction to his friends.
"It is Lakeside," John Paul said. "You've got to go."
John Paul said he will work hard to walk again, and his family shares his optimism.
"What we believe and we are holding onto is that the Lord has been in it the whole time," Gary Richardson said. "We had faith that he would make it, and that is what we are holding onto today -- the faith that the Lord is going to take him out of that chair in his time. And we believe it with all our heart."
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