EVENING SHADE, Ark. (AP) — Matt Melton knew he was getting to come home from Arkansas Children's Hospital Wednesday afternoon. He just didn't know he'd be coming home to more than 50 family, friends, neighbors and classmates waiting in his driveway. Stepping out of the burgundy Ford pickup, wearing a denim shirt, Wrangler jeans, boots and a black cowboy hat, 15-year-old Melton walked toward the crowd of people who had traveled by car, truck and school bus for the welcome home surprise complete with banners, balloons and cake.
"Good to see y'all," he said, taken aback by all the familiar faces, applauding and cheering for him, after shutting the truck door behind him. "I tell ya' what, this is the most people I've ever seen in my yard," he told some of the group with a laugh. "Looks to me like we're having a party. …" Reaching out to shake his hand or give him a hug, many made sure that Melton knew they were glad to have him home.
"Good to be home?" asked one friend, reaching out his hand.
"You bet," said the Melbourne High sophomore with a grin.
Home, however, was a place doctors didn't expect Melton to return to for several more months, after arriving at the Little Rock hospital Aug. 29 with internal head trauma following an accident in a saddle bronc competition at Sidney.
Melton sustained injuries when he hung his foot in a stirrup during the rodeo competition. When his foot hung on the left stirrup it pulled him down and under the horse, which then fell on him.
His parents Gary and Dianna Melton feared the worst. Doctors' hopes of a positive prognosis for Melton were hindered because he was not able to breathe on his own and his brain had become swollen. To relieve pressure doctors placed a screw in his brain and kept him sedated in order to help prevent more shock or trauma.
While he was aware of his surroundings and could open his eyes from time to time, doctors remained honest with the Meltons. Their son might not be able to speak, and if he did, chances are, it might not be for another three to six months. However, Gary and Dianna, as well as relatives, family, friends and even those who knew of him from the social-networking site Facebook, prayed and remained hopeful. Every day seemed to bring improvement.
Despite having a high fever, Melton soon began breathing on his own and doctors soon removed the screw. Three and a half weeks after his accident, Melton defied what doctors had said might take months to happen.
While in therapy one morning, Dianna began talking to her son, telling him she loved him and he said "love you."
He asked where his dad was and she told him. She told him all his friends had been there and wanted to know if he knew that. He said "no, what friends?" and Dianna started naming names, which he remembered along with what some were wearing. Doctors, Gary said, consider Melton and his progress "a miracle. That's all they can say … and I have to agree with that."
"We've really done well for ourselves — God's done really well for us," he said, adding that it's a blessing and "it's a whole lot better to be blessed than lucky, I think."
The turnout of so many from Evening Shade, Cave City and Melbourne, however, was overwhelming, Gary admits, because the support, love, prayers and kindness mean more than his family can put into words, he said. "To be sincere I don't know where to start. … It never ceases to amaze me how sweet people really are," he said, smiling, looking over the crowd gathered in his front yard.
"We've looked forward to this day for a long time." For Melton, who will turn 16 on Nov. 8, pulling into the driveway to find current classmates, former classmates, basketball teammates and others, including his younger brother Grayson, waiting for him with balloons, banners and cake was "unreal" and "hard to believe," he said later.Sitting in a chair surrounded by many of them, in a slow drawl, Melton quipped, "Too many darn people here I tell ya', but that's alright," he said, smiling graciously and shaking his head. "I've heard about doing a lot (for other s), but this is too much.".