Will's room is reflection of community for Estabrooks

By Robert Wilson
For Blount Today

SEYMOUR - It was October of 2000 when little Will Estabrook’s life was altered forever. At this point, more than six years later, it’s still impossible to know what it was that seized the toddler’s attention and lured him across a heavily traveled road in front of his house. Maybe the brilliance of the trees on the mountainside in the fading light of late afternoon caught his young eye. Maybe a bird or animal darting across the way.

Whatever it was, it changed everything for the Estabrook family on Jeffries Hollow Road. Will’s story is one of tragedy, but it also is one of love and familial ties; of courage, devotion, and of a community’s desire to express its humanity and support for neighbors who were hurting and needed help.

On that October 25, the Estabrook family was about to leave their Seymour home for a Wednesday prayer meeting at Praise Temple Assembly of God in Alcoa.

Mike and Tammy Estabrook and their four children, Joan, Jimmy, Debbie and Will, were in that final chaotic stage every family of six gets into just before they go anywhere altogether.

The three older children had gone outside their small house in preparation for departure. Unseen by anyone, Will, then 2 1/2, followed his older siblings outside. But instead of staying with them, he crossed the two-lane Jeffries Hollow Road, which is one of a couple of prime arteries between Maryville and Sevierville.

Tammy Estabrook said the older children saw Will across the road and alerted their father. Mike Estabrook tried to persuade his young son to stay on the other side until Mike could get to him.

But Will "put his head down," his mother said, as if he knew he was in trouble and stepped back out into the roadway. He may never have seen the pickup truck that was coming down the hill.

Tammy Estabrook said officers told her that from evidence of the skid marks, the truck seemed to be going about the speed limit, 45 mph. "It was weird," she said.

As many have related it in times of extreme stress, she said "everything was in slow motion. You knew what was going to happen, and there was nothing you could do to stop it."

Standing straight up, Will would barely have risen above the truck’s front bumper. Tammy said the impact sent her baby child tumbling 25 or 30 feet down the asphalt. She witnessed the whole horrible occurrence, as did all members of the family except the oldest child, Joan.

Externally the injuries were not serious, she said. But inside Will’s head, connections were irretrievably broken. There were short-circuits everywhere, and almost all the progress he had made in his first 30 months of life was reversed in a
heartbeat.

What followed for Will were five weeks in a University of Tennessee Medical Center intensive care unit, three of those in a drug-induced coma. Then came five months at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.

Will is 8 now and at home with his family in the house on Jeffries Hollow Road. Tammy says he responds to them and smiles and "knows who we are."

He is, she said, a "spastic quadriplegic," meaning he can move his arms and legs, but has limited control over them. "No function," she said.

Will can say "Mom" and "no" and expresses his love of trains with a whistle-sounding "Woo-hoo."

He has a floor-level chair in front of the TV and a device he can be strapped into in order to stand. Another device allows him some mobility, but he tires easily, his mother said.

The modest nature of the Estabrook home and the difficulty in maneuvering Will’s equipment within it was on the mind of Tammy’s friend, Flower Hulihan. At the time of the accident, Hulihan was an intern at WIVK radio. She met Tammy when her own son was hospitalized at UT at the same time as Will.

Hulihan’s son is about Will’s age and also was an accident victim She told WIVK personality Colleen Addair about the Estabrooks, and Addair took on Will’s case as a Christmas Wish promotion at the station last year.

Hulihan said, "I was impressed with Tammy’s faith and grace and how happy she was even with what she had to deal with."

Visiting the Estabrook home, Addair asked them what the family would want if they could have anything. The unanimous answer was "a room for Will."

"It touched my heart," Addair said. "There was an element of love in that home that I had never seen before. I expected to meet people who were angry at the world over what had happened, but that’s not what I got.

"They are a joyful family who made me want to do this."

Hulihan also was the contact point for Patch Ministries of Blount County, a "full-time Christian help and housing ministry that serve believers and non-believers through the repair of houses and hearts," according to its mission statements.

Patch is led by Jeff Hutchison. He said Patch Ministries tries to bring together donated funding, resources and volunteers to coordinate projects "to serve the community."

And that is what he did on the Estabrook project, gathering materials, workers, everything that was needed to focus the effort on building a 300-square-foot addition on the home to accommodate Will’s special needs. A hardwood floor facilitates his rolling devices, and there is room for him to move and exercise.

This month, there is a Christmas tree in there, and on the floor beneath it is a "choo-choo" train.

The expansion was made possible partly through a $50-a-ticket benefit concert Addair organized at Seymour’s Karaoke Café by country music performers Aaron and Thea Tippin. That effort raised as much as $11,000. Other donations brought the total to nearly $20,000.

The construction was coordinated through Patch Ministries. Construction on what has come to be known as "the therapy room." They began in August and finished around Thanksgiving, Tammy said.

The room has lots of windows and a raised ceiling, so there is a bright and open feeling to it. The walls are painted a blue that is slightly lighter than an East Tennessee sky in autumn. The Estabrooks are thankful. "We got a lot of support from the first day," Tammy said.

Mike and Tammy Estabrook met while Mike was still in the U.S. Air Force in New York. They had lived in the Adirondack Mountain community of Plattsburgh, N.Y. Tammy Estabrook’s northeastern background is betrayed in her not-so-East-Tennessee accent, but one has to listen closely to catch it. "I don’t talk much, she said.

The Estabrooks used to vacation in East Tennessee and "fell in love with it," she said.

"We got sick of the cold" in New York, she said, and in 1998 they moved to Maryville. The young family moved into their current home in April 1999.

Mike is carrying a full load at Knoxville’s National College of Business and Technology while working full-time in maintenance at Heritage High School. He is studying to be a medical assistant.

At the time of Will’s accident, Tammy was working in the preschool Sonrise program at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Maryville. The Estabrooks currently attend Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, which is nearer their home.

The home addition will be dedicated Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Estabrook home, where those responsible for the project - WIVK, Patch Ministries, construction workers and possibly the Tippins - will gather to celebrate.

When Will was hurt, Tammy said, "you feel all alone. But you’re not alone. People do care.

"This was done in love from the community. That makes it special."

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