17 years after hospital pep talk, son returns favor for dad
Published: Monday, August 13, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 13, 2012 at 5:19 p.m.
Father and son have been here before.
Back in the spring of 1995, Tyrone Baker was a Florida Gator football player. One day during practice, he blew out his knee — suffering severe ligament damage.
He would need surgery and was out until the following year at least. The professional football career he had dreamed of was no longer a sure thing.
He wanted to give up, he said. He lay in bed with tears in his eyes and sought strength from the one man he looked up to most in the world.
Emanuel Baker looked down at his son in that hospital bed and refused to let him give up.
"He told me, ‘Keep going, don't quit,' " Tyrone Baker said. "He kept pushing me."
Tyrone Baker fought back and was a member of the Gators' 1996 national championship team, where he played defensive cornerback. He gave his championship ring to his Dad, and when asked why in a 2003 interview, he told The Sun: "He's my father, that's why."
Now, the roles are reversed.
On July 2, Emanuel Baker suffered a freak accident that broke his neck and nearly cost him his life. Doctors say he'll be a paraplegic for the rest of his life, but family members say he's moving his shoulders and gaining some movement in his legs and upper extremities.
Tyrone Baker, who works as a bail bondsman in Gainesville, knows this is his chance to be strong for the man who was so strong for him.
He looks down at his father in a hospital bed and tells him, "Dad, one day you'll walk again."
The sun was almost down that July 2 night, and Emanuel Baker and a co-worker were in Micanopy wrestling with a tree that had fallen during a storm and taken out some power lines along County Road 234.
The Alachua County Public Works employees needed to clear it before the lines could be fixed. Nearby, Alachua County sheriff's deputies directed traffic around the repair scene.
Baker and his co-worker, George Rountree, attached pull-straps to the big tree to snatch it free. Rountree got in the truck to pull, but something went wrong. One of the tree's limbs caught on a power line. Baker yelled to Rountree, but Rountree couldn't hear him over the roar of the engine.
Baker ran, but he couldn't escape in time. The pole the lines were attached to snapped, and one falling chunk caught Baker as he ran, knocking him unconscious.
Deputy James Hardy and Sgt. Matthew Strang ran to Baker, who was bleeding from the nose and mouth. His dentures blocked his airway, they said. He didn't have a pulse.
"We were thinking, ‘We have to save him.' " Strang told The Sun later. "A couple people were saying prayers on scene."
Using an automated external defibrillator and CPR, they brought him back, and rescue workers transported Baker to Shands at the University of Florida, where he was unconscious for several days.
Those three days before Emanuel Baker regained consciousness were the worst for the family — Emanuel Baker's wife, Jessie, and Tyrone Baker's two brothers and a sister.
The prognosis wasn't good. Doctors gave the family the option of disconnecting the 58-year-old Baker from life support. There was no living will, the son said. They'd never talked about what to do if he were incapacitated.
"We decided to give him a chance," Tyrone Baker said.
When Baker woke up, he couldn't speak. He could only mouth words, his son said.
"He doesn't remember the accident, but his brain is fine," Tyrone Baker said. "No permanent damage."
There were surgeries, and so much uncertainty. Two weeks passed. Baker held on. Finally, he could respond.
The doctors told him what he was up against. They told him his condition was irreversible and that his quality of life would be poor.
"Do you understand me?" one doctor asked. Yes, he said.
"Do you want to live?" the doctor asked. Yes, he said.
He was transported to the Shepherd Center, a rehab in Atlanta that specializes in treating spinal cord injuries, where he remains, for now.
That's when Tyrone Baker said he knew it was his time to step up.
There were moments, he said, when his father wanted to give up. Moments when he didn't know if he could do it.
He told his Dad: "Remember when I was hurt? And I thought I couldn't play? Did you let me quit? No. You didn't. Well, I'm not going to let you do it, either."
"You're right," father told son.
"We're going to walk out of here," Tyrone Baker said.
"I see it coming," his father said.
The road will not be easy, Tyrone Baker said. This is going to be a long process. But the family is optimistic, he said, and everything so far has been miraculous. Even the deputies said it was a miracle he survived.
And Tyrone Baker will be there to help his father find his footing again.
"This is very difficult. Here's a guy who through my whole life even, and through my injuries at Florida when a doctor said I'd never play again, kept pushing me to keep going," he said.
"I came out of it and finished my career. I want to see him walk through those doors."