LEXINGTON, Ky. – An eastern Kentucky family will be able to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, thanks to a Lexington elementary school and a lot of soda pop tabs.
It was a cold Sunday this past February when Whitesburg, Kentucky residents Tammy Brock and her young son Dalton were driving through east Tennessee. They encountered a car full of young people playing what Tammy calls road games. Her SUV hit a bridge head-on, flipped several times, and plunged some 35 feet into the freezing Holston River.
"They life-flighted me and Dalton both to Johnson City, Tennessee and there they told us that Dalton wasn't going to make it, that he had too many bleeds in his head," Tammy recalls. "His skull was fractured in two places and [doctors said] it was impossible that he lived."
Dalton was in a coma with serious brain injuries. If he did survive, he wouldn't be the vibrant little boy he once was. But one doctor didn't want to give up on Dalton, and he eventually accepted at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington.
"Someday I'll be walking without the walker," Dalton says.
Dalton wants to walk with just his own two feet, and he's well on his way to re-learning how to do that. He spends four hours a day, four days a week at Cardinal Hill.
To keep up with what's expected to be a two-year rehab and surgery process, the Brocks moved into the Lexington Ronald McDonald House. It's a non-profit group the family was familiar with because of its soda-pop tab charity program. Tammy is battling bone cancer, and the Brocks started collecting the aluminum tabs a few years ago to raise money for a Letcher County girl suffering from Leukemia.
"Dalton really enjoys collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House. It's a special thing to him. There's no way we could ever repay them for what they have done for us and our family," Tammy says.
The money raised by the soda-pop tabs goes to a family emergency fund. It allows families like the Brocks to buy food and have gas money for weekend trips back home.
Because Dalton will be living in Lexington for an extended period of time, he enrolled at Glendover Elementary School.
"My teachers is very nice to me and the kids is very nice to me," Dalton says.
And Dalton has been good for Glendover. For the past year, the school has been involved in its own soda-pop tab collection drive to benefit Ronald McDonald House. School registrar Tina Olsen says it started as a math lesson for kids to see what one million of something actually looks like.
The little pieces of aluminum started piling up, but when Dalton started classes in September, his classmates got an understanding of what all their hard work was really for.
"The kids can see Oh, we know Dalton, we've seen him around, and he is benefiting from the Ronald McDonald House' and they can see we're really helping families out here," Olsen says.
The tabs were gathered into a display case in the school's front hallway, and Ronald McDonald himself stopped by for a school celebration on Monday. Glendover fell short of its goal -- a recent count put the collection at 325,000 -- but reaching one million tabs isn't really the point. The effort showed students they can make a difference, and it gave Dalton and Tammy Brock some hope.
"My kids are very special, but I thank God that this Thanksgiving I've still got Dalton with me, and that he's come from where he is, and that he'll able to sit at a table and eat with us, and not be in a hospital and have to give him something through a tube. It's just been a miracle road with him and the Ronald McDonald House."