The last time Will Allen played baseball was Feb. 3. His father and coach, Tim Allen, pitched so Will, 7, and his Little League teammates could have some batting practice. What happened on the drive home may prevent Will from ever playing again.
Another car collided head-on with Tim’s truck. Tim pulled himself from the wreckage, but he immediately collapsed on the roadway. When he saw Will still trapped inside, Tim believed he’d lost his youngest child.
“The look on his face and eyes is something that I will never forget,” said Tim, 42, a banker who lives in Dripping Springs, Texas. “Then I heard him crying, so I knew he was alive.”
The worst didn’t happen, but Will sustained major spinal injuries and is now paralyzed below his chest. Will was hospitalized for two months and has been attending therapy since a week after the crash. His brain injuries appear to have completely healed, but his doctors give him only a slight chance of ever walking again. While Tim suffered less serious injuries, he still needed surgery and spent eight days in the hospital.
Paralysis has been an especially heartbreaking diagnosis for a little boy who loves baseball, gym class and riding dirt bikes with his big sister, Kyla, who is 8.
“There have been some moments ― very difficult moments ― where we’ve had real conversations with him. Life doesn’t prepare you to have real, adult-like conversations with your 7-year-old,” Tim said. “He’s had some moments where he will tell us that, ‘I want to walk again. I want to be upright. I miss playing baseball.’”
This is how the Allen family joined the thousands of Americans raising money via GoFundMe campaigns in order to alleviate the financial burden of lifesaving medical care. Will’s and Tim’s ambulance rescues, surgeries and hospital stays came at a high cost, the extent of which Tim doesn’t even know yet.
They will also need to pay for Will’s ongoing physical therapy, wheelchair and the other medical equipment he will need unless, against the odds, he regains the ability to walk.
But unlike other families in this situation, Tim and his wife Shara, 38, aren’t worried that the costs will overwhelm them. “I have a good job. I have what I feel like is decent insurance, so far,” he said. “We have an amazing network of family and friends and a community that has just been amazing.”
The GoFundMe campaign a family friend started for them has brought in more than $130,000 in donations, and fundraising events like a baseball tournament and a movie night at a local distillery have generated even more money.
“The GoFundMe just kind of blew up,” Tim said. He has strong personal connections in Austin and Houston, a city founded by his ancestors John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen, and both he and his father work in banking. They know a lot of people who can afford to contribute.
Shara had left her career as an accountant several months before the car crash, giving Will a full-time caregiver and eliminating the need to hire costly in-home assistance.
Thinking about his family’s comparative blessings gave Tim an idea: Use the leftover GoFundMe money to seed a charity to help children with spinal cord injuries whose families don’t have the same advantages. It’s a new endeavor that’s just getting started, but Tim has big plans for the future.
“We’re going to be able to provide financial assistance, whether it’s help paying medical bills, helping pay for therapy that they can’t afford, helping families that may not have insurance, helping families that have insurance but it’s not good insurance,” Tim said.
Tim hopes eventually to devote himself full time to the WillPower Community Foundation, which he says is now his calling. “God was not ready to take us. There’s things to done here on Earth,” Tim said.
“I truly feel like things happen for a reason,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense all the time why they happen, but I’ve been called to go help others through this horrible situation.”
Tim tries to emphasize the positive ― for himself, and for his son, as he learns how to adapt to his new situation. “We don’t stay in those negative spots very long,” he said. “We quickly redirect our focus to the positives in our lives.”
Will has become something of a local hero and even got to throw out the first pitch at a Round Rock Express baseball game, the Houston Astros farm club, on WillPower Night on May 31.
“His spirit, strength and determination is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever known in my life,” Tim said. “He’s inspiring so many through what he’s doing. It’s been tough at times but we’re very blessed to have him here, to have the functionality of his brain, his arms.”
The Facebook and Instagram pages for the WillPower Community Foundation are filled with photos and videos of the family, with Will smiling in almost all of them. Photos and clips of Will at physical therapy show how hard he’s working to strengthen his arms, neck and core muscles to help compensate for his paralysis and learn new skills like transferring from his wheelchair into bed and back again.
“The doctors say that Will is going to be self-sufficient. Walking or not walking, he’s going to go on to live a very self-sufficient life,” Tim said. “We are moving forward with the belief and hope that he will be upright some day, and that’s what we work toward daily.”