By Chris McCarthy
Although it wasn’t the day he officially entered the world, John Butts celebrated another sort of birthday last Saturday (July 30) at Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden.
With over 200 family members, friends, colleagues and former and current students cheering him on, the former Etowah High and Gadsden State basketball coach walked one-tenth of a mile to kick off the You’ll Never Walk Alone SCI foundation.
Recently started by Butts and his wife Staci, the foundation provides rehabilitation equipment to persons who suffered spinal cord injuries.
Butts suffered broken neck and a pinched and compressed spinal cord on July 31, 2015. He gradually regained the used to of his arms but still requires a walker and wheelchair to get around. On Saturday, achieved his goal of walking (with the aid of a walker) the above-mentioned distance on a gravel surface. Butt’s previous longest distance was 460 feet on a smooth surface.
“I don’t think that I can do one single step without people being there for me,” said Butts. “And there are some people who don’t have this type of support, which is why Staci and I started this foundation. I saw that down at [UAB-Spain Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham], when I looked at some people and they were hopeless. So I walked into the workouts every day and said to myself, ‘Let them see Jesus in me.’ Like says in Jonah, God has given me this struggle and I’m not going to waste it.”
Butts’ accident initially left his paralyzed from the neck down. He did not suffer head trauma or brain damage. While being transported by helicopter to UAB, however, Butts had trouble breathing and experienced a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Including his two-week stay in ICU and his rehab therapy, Butts was in the hospital for over two months. He currently is undergoing workouts at Gadsden Health and Rehabilitation Center.
Butts now has movement and feeling throughout his body except for being unable to raise his right foot.
“We learned through John’s recovery proves that there’s a lot of stuff spinal cord patients need that insurance doesn’t play for,” said Staci. “There’s people out there that can’t afford those things, so that why we’re putting together this foundation.”
Butts shared that while he was still in ICU, God told him that he would walk again. After several minutes of prayer with her husband, Staci agreed.
“I never looked back after that,” he said. “From that point on, it was all about therapy and looking ahead. There were times when I felt that I couldn’t make it through the second of my two-a-day sessions, but somehow I did.”
A 1986 graduate of West End High School, Butts coached the Etowah High varsity girls basketball team for 10 years before moving to Gadsden State women’s basketball in 2011. Butts’ four-year run with the Lady Cardinals included an overall record of 78-31, a state runner-up finish in the 2013-14 Alabama Community College Conference Tournament and a berth in the ACCC Tournament semifinals in both 2014-15 and 2012-13.
Butts resigned from Gadsden State in May of 2015 to become girls basketball coach at Albertville High School. Amazingly, he was able to coach the Lady Aggie the entire 2015-16 season. Several of Butts’ current AHS players were on hand on Saturday to offer encouragement.
“I used to take some things for granted, but now, there isn’t anything that I take for granted,” said Butts. “The reason that I consider tomorrow (July 31) more as my birthday than my ‘birth’ birthday is that my life changed forever after that night. When you’re that close to death, you become alive. If this had to happen to somebody, I’m thankful that it happened to me, because I have the support system that so many other people don’t have.”
Butts expressed thanks to Staci, who he described as his “rock.”
“Staci is the strongest person that I know both mentally and physically, and I could not do anything without her. I’d also like to thank my in-laws and extended family that helped out every day in taking me to therapy, school, practice, workouts and whatever else. They’re always there to lend a hand, and I really appreciate that.”
Butts also thanked his own family, whom he noted had built a permanent wheelchair ramp at UAB-Spain Rehab.
“My Uncle David still stays with me every Wednesday, and I appreciate him for that,” said Butts.
Butts thanked his many therapists who pushed him toward recovery over the past year.
“I remember being at Spain and being only able to move my left toe and the thumb on my left hand,” he said. “From the first day I challenged my therapist, Reid, in wanting to be the last ones each day to the workout session, and we were. I knew that I could not do anything or go anywhere without someone pushing me, and Reid did that.
“At the start, Reid said that if I did that he told me to do and if my body responded, I would walk again. Staci and I begged the UAB doctors to tell me that and not one of them did. I also want to thank Lacy, Barb and David, Heather, Brian Haskins, Carrie Lassiter, Jenna McCoy and Michael Travers for all they’ve done for me.”
Last fall, Butts’ doctors informed him that when the swelling goes down, he should regain the use of all his limbs in approximately 12 to 24 months.
“I’d like to thank the people at my church, Harvestfield (in Rainbow City), especially Eric Reaves, Dave Bolin and Adam Swann. I really can’t thank them enough. I also want to thank the members of the Gadsden Runners Club, which is really more of a community than a club. I can’t tell you what running up here meant until you can’t do it anymore. Right now I’m in a walker, but one day I’ll be back doing those things.”
Swann and Angela Kay performed the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” prior to Butts’ journey.
“John set this goal several months ago, not knowing at the time if he could do it,” said Staci. “But he set his mind to it and he did it, and I’m very proud of him for that. It’s remarkable that at this time last year he could just move a toe.”
For updates on Butt’s recovery progress and information on the foundation, visit Prayers for John Butts on facebook.