(Patrick Tehan / Mercury News)
Timmy Hatch sits in a reclined wheelchair, one eye partially open, listening to his mother tell a story filled with both tragedy and perseverance.
She explains the freak accident that left Hatch severely disabled with a debilitating brain injury. The lengths the family has gone to take care of him on their own. Then, the cruel September house fire: Hatch was rescued from approaching flames by his brother, but the blaze left them temporarily homeless.
"Some days I do wonder, 'Can't anything go right? What else now?'" Dawn King said. "But then I'll start talking to Timmy and he'll laugh and respond to my voice, and that makes it all worthwhile."
Hatch looks up and smiles.
"Just like that," said King, her eyes moistening.
She apologizes for the tears. We aren't emotional people, King said of her family, and feeling sorry for ourselves accomplishes nothing.
"Timmy didn't ask for this to happen," King added. "But we're going to be there for him. It's all we can do."
Hatch, now 27, was one of five kids raised by King a sweet-natured boy who would make sure the house was clean before mom got home after a long day at work and didn't get into the normal mischief that her other sons did. When his life changed forever, on Memorial Day weekend in 2009, he was married with a young son and working as a plumber.
Timmy Hatch undergoes physical therapy with the help of his brother, Isaac, right, and therapist Ross McCormick as Timmy's son, Colin, 4, and mother, Dawn King, look on at Dominican Health & Rehab in Santa Cruz.
(Patrick Tehan / Mercury News)
During a family barbecue at his rental home in the Santa Cruz Mountains community of Boulder Creek, Hatch was playing baseball when struck by an errant ball on his left temple.
After picking himself off the ground, Hatch assured everyone he was OK. Only he wasn't. Hours later he was rushed to the hospital. An artery had been cut, perhaps by a small fragment of his fractured skull, causing a slow bleed.
The prognosis was grim. Doctors initially didn't think he would survive the night. When he did, they warned he might never be able to breathe on his own again or have any cognitive brain function.
But Hatch kept proving them wrong. King said she knew her son "was still in there" one night in the hospital intensive care unit when she turned the television to a San Francisco Giants game.
"They said he was in a vegetative state, but he opened both eyes wide and stayed awake the entire game," she said of Hatch, a rabid Giants fan. "Since then I've had three doctors tell me that he's a miracle."
A few months after the accident, Hatch was moved to an acute nursing facility in Los Altos, where he stayed until January of this year. But the family finally couldn't stand the idea of him being so far away, alone, wondering where they were.
They decided to bring him home to live with his mother and younger sister, Jessica. His brother Isaac, a 29-year-old Army veteran, stopped working at the post office to serve as a caregiver. That allowed King to keep her job registering patients at the Dominican Hospital emergency room in Santa Cruz.
They have witnessed small victories for Hatch, who goes to rehabilitation several times a week. He relearned how to say "mom," can open and close his left hand and has made small movements on the right side of his body. But he remains virtually incapacitated, and that made what happened on the afternoon of Sept. 1 so terrifying.
Isaac Hatch was dozing in a chair next to Timmy's bed when he awoke to the sight of flames on the outside of the two-unit structure. Unable to put out the rapidly spreading fire, Isaac focused on Timmy.
Because the wheelchair was near the fire, Isaac had to douse it with water to cool it down his handprint, seared into the plastic armrest, still is visible on Timmy's chair before getting his brother out of bed. Because the wheelchair lift was at the side of the house that was burning, he rolled Timmy down the front steps with the help of a passerby.
"He's my brother," Isaac Hatch said. "Anybody would have done the same thing. It wasn't that dangerous."
Boulder Creek Fire Chief Kevin McClish disagreed.
"To me, that was a pretty heroic thing," McClish said.
The origin of the fire was never determined. Most of the family's household possessions, including the furniture, couldn't be salvaged. Also ruined was a baseball autographed by Giants ace Tim Lincecum when the team had invited Hatch to attend a game at AT&T Park.
Hatch, his sister Jessica and King had to move into the two-bedroom home of Isaac, his wife and their two children.
"Their spirit is just so amazing," said Linda Lovelace of the Valley Churches United Missions of the family. "After the fire, they all were just so calm. They weren't freaking out. They just handled it. All I could say was, 'Wow.' But that fire also has left them tapped out."
King is thankful that, with the help of Valley Churches United, they recently could move into a new place in Boulder Creek. But the rent is much higher and they must replace items lost in the fire. Also, the 1994 Dodge Caravan they bought to transport Hatch has numerous mechanical issues, including a problem with the chair lift.
Donations from Wish Book readers will go toward buying gift cards to help them replace items they lost, and will help create a fund to help with other expenses such as repairs on the aging van.
King said she believes Hatch understands everything that has happened. He knows when his son, Colin, now 4, visits each week. (His wife is not an active part of Hatch's daily life.) And he laughs constantly.
"But that's also his personality," King said. "He was never in a bad mood. But if he has to live like this, it's good that he's happy instead of sad."
That attitude is a family motto.
"Nothing has been easy for us," she said. "But after what happened to Timmy, anything else that happens can't be as bad."
For more information on Valley Churches United Mission, go to www.vcum.org
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