Life with Gracie: Five years later, Tripp Halstead better than expected

11:23 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017 Local
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Stacy Halstead talks to her son, Tripp, at their home in Jefferson. Tripp, now 7, suffered a traumatic brain injury on Oct. 29, 2012, when a tree branch fell and struck him while he played outside his Winder day care center. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

Five years ago Oct. 29, Stacy and Bill Halstead’s only child was nearly killed when a tree limb fell on him while he played outside his Winder day care center.

And so every Oct. 29 since then, without even looking at the calendar, the stress of that day comes for a visit.

“I let myself cry for what happened to him, for all the suffering he went through,” Stacy Halstead said.

But by evening, her sadness dissolves once more into joy as family and friends arrive to celebrate, yes, celebrate the fact that Tripp is alive and improving.

No one expected that would happen. When that tree limb fell on the toddler, doctors told the Halsteads they doubted he’d survive surgery that day.

Even with the grace of five years, it’s hard to make peace with that. If you’re a parent, if you’ve ever come close to losing a child, you know what I’m talking about.

And you might even understand why, after all this time, that singular day is forever etched into the Halsteads’ lives. The wounds run deep.

“That day is the day that changed our lives,” Stacy Halstead said.

Sometime around 11 a.m. that day, Stacy Halstead got a call from the daycare center Tripp had attended since he was 6 weeks old.

“They told me Tripp had gotten hurt,” she said.

A tree limb fell on the boy, causing brain damage five years ago.

Halstead was enroute there, when she got a second call.

Meet us at Winder Barrow Hospital, the caller said. You need to hurry.

Halstead assumed Tripp had broken an arm or leg, nothing as serious as a brain injury.

Then she got a third call. The toddler was being airlifted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). Halstead telephoned her mother and husband. The three of them arrived just as they were about to load him into the aircraft.

Tripp was unconscious but he wasn’t bleeding. 

The Halsteads got in one car and headed to CHOA, scared but hopeful.

At the hospital, they got another look at their boy, surrounded now by a team of doctors and nurses.

Minutes later a surgeon pulled them aside. Tripp’s brain was so severely damaged, he might not survive the operation.

“That’s when we realized this was something extremely serious,” Halstead said.

They hugged Tripped once more, kissed him and told him everything would be OK. With that, Tripp was rolled into surgery.

Six hour later, it was over. The surgeon had decided to leave Tripp’s brain intact but removed the front part of his skull.

Five months and dozens of surgeries later, Tripp was released.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tripp Halstead is unable to walk or talk, but he’s begun to show emotions. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

That homecoming didn’t last. Just two days later, he was back at CHOA. Tripp’s liver enzymes were elevated.

That hospital stay was the beginning of many, the beginning of one roller coaster ride after another.

Up until his accident, the Halsteads lived a pretty ordinary life. Tripp, born on 9/11, loved his daycare and cars. Stacy Halstead was a teller at a local bank. Bill Halstead worked for Lowes in Athens. Nothing was more important to them than their little boy.

As Tripp slept peacefully in an easy chair at the Halsteads’ Jefferson home recently, Stacy Halstead remembered another time, when she envisioned a decidedly different future for her son.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tripp Halstead spent 5 months in the hospital following his accident. Now he attends school and undergoes occupational, physical, speech and feeding therapy. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

She is grateful for the progress he has made. He attends school at Jefferson Academy. Every Friday he receives occupational, physical, feeding and speech therapy. About three years ago he started showing emotions again. He smiles. He gets sad. He rolls his eyes. And when he doesn’t get his way, he gets mad.

No one can say if this is where his progress will end or if he’ll continue to improve.

He still can’t feed himself or walk or talk like other 7-year-olds. His head has to be supported like an infant.

Visitor’s to his Facebook page have criticized the Halsteads as attention seekers and accused the mother of being selfish for keeping her son alive. 

The negative comments bothered her at first, but she has weathered them much like she has her son’s condition. After all, far more people have offered their love and support to the family than not.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

“We have the best family and friends anyone can ask for,” Halstead said. “They all know how to take care of Tripp. How to feed him, give his meds, transport him so I get some much-needed down time. We go on dates. I try to be balanced so I don’t burn out. Most special needs moms don’t have that privilege. I try to never take it for granted.”

To show their appreciation, the Halsteads try to pay the kindnesses forward, helping raise money for charities, including Ride to Givethe Ronald McDonald House, and CHOA.

On every anniversary, she deliveres flowers and cookies to the staff at Tripp’s old day care center.

“They loved Tripp and he loved going there. They will always be part of our life,” she said.

Last Sunday, Stacy Halstead allowed herself to grieve once more and then, as she has done for the past five years, got on with life.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

View full experience