The 9-year-old had just gotten the phone as a gift for Christmas the day before, and less than 24 hours later, it would be the difference between 3-year-old Mason living or dying.
The boys were visiting their dad and stepfamily, playing outside on wide open acreage, and still riding the wave of excitement from all the new holiday gifts and toys. Mason climbed up into a side-by-side vehicle next to his older stepbrother, small giggles bursting out of him and a big smile stretching across his face as the engine started up.
The two rode around in the yard, laughing and bouncing over the rough terrain. Suddenly, the laughter abruptly stopped as the pair took a turn too fast and headed straight for a small tree. There was a crash, a loud crunching sound that cut through the air and left only silence behind. Hunter watched in horror as both boys were thrown from the vehicle, running as fast as he could to get to them.
He realized immediately that Mason was in trouble. The 1200-lb vehicle was on its side, trapping Mason underneath its weight.
Hunter reached for his new cell phone and, with shaking hands, pulled it out, desperately trying to find a signal. He moved around the yard, waiting for the service bars to light up before finally, miraculously, getting enough bars to make a call. Hunter took a breath and dialed the only number he could think of.
When his mom, Candice, answered the phone, all she heard was Hunter frantically screaming, begging her to come save Mason.
“Come save my brother, help save him, I can’t get the ATV off him!” he yelled.
“It was a mother’s literal worst nightmare,” Candice said. “He was just screaming on the phone, and I was frantic, trying to figure out what was going on.”
“He had found service, called me, then called his dad, and then 9-1-1. So you have this 9-year-old just managing everything while being terrified for his brother,” she explained. “None of them could lift the side-by-side - not his stepmom, not Hunter, not any of the other kids. It wasn’t until Hunter ran down the road to the neighbor that he found two adult men who ran back with him and were able to lift it off Mason.”
In that time, nearly 20 minutes had passed since the full weight of the ATV came crashing down on Mason’s toddler frame, depriving him of oxygen. When the ambulance finally arrived, he was immediately life-flighted to a critical care unit. While Mason was alive and still fighting (a miracle in itself), a new nightmare began.
Doctors did an MRI and came to the family to share the results.
“Mason was laying in the bed connected to all of these tubes and wires, eyes closed and unresponsive,” said Candice. “And the doctor came in and told us that Mason would never be anything more than what he was that day. But I was cuddled up there with him and just felt in my heart like they were wrong,” Candice told us. “I looked at the doctor and told him, ‘We’ll prove you wrong.’ And he said, ‘I hope you do.’”
That was December 26, 2019. Christmas is supposed to be one of the most wonderful times of the year. Entire songs are devoted to that thought.
For Candice, the holiday season - and particularly December 26 - became the worst day of the year, a reminder of how quickly things can change, how life can swoop in and pull the rug right out from under you.
By some horrible consequence, December 26 was already a day of significance in her life, long before Mason’s accident. When Candice was 9, she was shot point-blank with a bb gun and is now blind in one eye.
“When something tragic happens,” she said, “It takes a village to get through it. That was true then, and it’s true now.”
In the days following Mason’s accident, Candice, Hunter, and their family leaned on all the support they could get, including her mom, Beverly, who was there for whatever they needed. Their neighbors and community stepped up, too, dropping off meals, helping to feed their animals, and setting up small fundraisers to do anything to defray the mounting bills.
It all made a difference, and Mason continued to do what Candice felt in her heart that first day in the PICU – he proved them wrong.
It started with Lizzo. And yes, you read that right. Lizzo, the top-selling, Grammy-award-winning recording artist. Mason loved her music before his accident, but after, when doctors were lamenting about his traumatic brain injury and ability, he would hear one of his old favorite Lizzo songs and immediately light up.
It was the first sign to the family that he was in there, that he was still fighting. Then, his smile came back.
“Everybody talks about his smile,” Candice laughed. “It’ll make your whole day.”
When he’s not brightening the world with his smile or listening to Lizzo, Mason is probably surrounded by animals. He’s always loved them and is good buddies with his dog, Cooper, but ever since the accident, Candice noticed that animals seem especially drawn to him.
He’s also still incredibly close with his brother Hunter. “Even after the accident, Hunter continued to get straight A’s in school,” Candice told us. “He is just so strong, so resilient. And the two of them have such a great relationship despite all they’ve been through.”
In the three years since Mason’s accident, a lot has changed. But as Candice reminded us, it doesn’t have to be all bad – you can find some good in there, too.
“That’s one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned,” she told us. “You have to be able to keep going. The accident doesn’t define our family or us, and we can only take things day by day.”
“There’s no roadmap for Mason. He’s still healing, still changing. We still have a long road to go, but I will not give up hope for his recovery, whatever that may look like.”
They’re pretty relentless in getting him whatever he needs whenever they can. Mason attends physical, occupational, vision, music, and many other therapies. “I work full-time and take care of Mason and his older brother, but there are just always so many things that he needs that we alone cannot afford,” Candice said.
One of those things might seem really small, maybe even inconsequential - but trust us, it’s not.
Mason and his family have a long, unpaved driveway that leads to their house. It’s essentially a dirt road with little rocks and some major potholes. Now that Mason requires a wheelchair, it’s gotten harder to get him from their vehicle into the house, and they push him through the dirt (or mud when it rains), which coats the wheels of the chair and then drags it all through their house.
“It seems silly,” Candice explained, “But our highest need right now is a better driveway.”
After looking for organizations that might be able to help their family, Candice found Chive Charities. Thanks to the support of our incredible donors - so many of you reading this story - we were able to fund the cost of a driveway repair for this amazing family for a total impact of $5,000.
We knew reliable power is also a big need for Mason, so we asked our friends and partners at DuroMax if they might be able to help with that, and they generously donated a generator to the family at no cost. Thanks so much to Michael and the rest of the DuroMax team!
At the end of our call with Candice, she stopped us and said, “I want to thank you for helping families like ours. It might seem small, but this is huge because it changes how we do things and how we function day to day – and that changes our lives. I can think of a lot of people in our life that will benefit from this gift, including our family, nurses, and aides. It can seem small…but it’s not.”
To everyone who made this possible, we echo Candice. Thank you. Thank you for filling the gaps, looking out for the underdogs, and supporting those who need it most. Your $5 and $10 donations can seem small…but they’re not. Sometimes it takes a village. Those monthly donations add up and truly change lives. Join our movement and be part of making the world 10% happier. DONATE HERE.