It was after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night last August when Priscilla and Randy Whirley got the call. Their 19-year-old son, Daryl, had been out riding his ATV with friends in rural Virginia and had been in a horrific crash.
A medical team airlifted Daryl to a Richmond hospital, where he arrived with collapsed lungs, broken ribs, a bruised pancreas and three spinal fractures that paralyzed his legs.
“At that point, we weren’t sure he was going to make it,” said Priscilla, a communications specialist at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Chase City, Virginia. “I lost my first husband, Daryl’s father, in a motorcycle accident when Daryl was six, and when I thought I was going to lose Daryl too, I didn’t think that I could make it. But God’s been with us.”
Daryl survived his injuries and four surgeries before being flown to Atlanta in November for intensive rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center. Priscilla stayed with Daryl, working when she could from a computer at the hospital. Randy, a right-of-way coordinator at Mecklenburg, traveled back and forth between Virginia and Georgia whenever he wasn’t working.
Through it all, the Whirleys’ co-op co-workers—about 90 in all—tried to come up with ways to make things a little easier for the family. They sent countless care packages to the hospital filled with food, puzzle books, toiletries and decorations for Daryl’s room. They also raised money to help the family pay bills and bought them gift cards for meals and gas.
“It was obviously devastating news for all of us when we heard about Daryl’s accident,” said John Lee, the co-op’s president and CEO. “It rocked the co-op. Everybody knew Daryl. We’re a small family here and everybody knows everybody else’s kids. We just tried to figure out what we could do to help. This is a group of folks that wants to be doing something to make a difference.”
Five months after the accident, the co-op’s employees got the chance to do something big for Daryl when it was time for him to come home. Randy and a few friends had been scrambling to make the family’s Charlotte County house wheelchair accessible. The home, which had been gutted for renovations before Daryl’s accident, had to quickly be made habitable again, but with major changes to create a first-floor bedroom and bathroom for Daryl. The family also needed a wheelchair ramp and wider first-floor doorways for Daryl to navigate his way into and around the house.
“The guys at work had talked about building a handicap ramp from day one, so finally one morning I went in and said, ‘Daryl’s coming home. We need a ramp,’” Randy said. “The very next Saturday, we probably had 15 guys show up at our house and the ramp was done by dark. Some of the co-op guys came inside and ended up helping there as well … Everything we needed, they were there.”
When Daryl came home on Feb. 1, he was amazed, Randy said.
“He’s enjoying it,” he said. “The ramp works well for him. He rolls down the ramp and hangs out with me and the dogs. He doesn’t have to worry about being stuck in the house. Anytime he wants to come out, he’s ready to roll.”
Just recently, Daryl was able to start driving again in a car fitted with hand controls, Priscilla said.
“God’s working miracles every day,” she said. “Our co-op family has been a blessing through it all. I don’t know what I would do without them. I don’t think we’ll ever, ever be able to tell them how much we appreciate it.”
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.