HAMP­TON IS MAK­ING THE ‘MAX’IMUM EF­FORT

Fundraiser to be held Feb. 29 at St. Patrick-St. Vin­cent High

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Richard Freed­man rfreed­[email protected]­al­don­line.com @rich­freed­man­vth on Twit­ter

He had, as the say­ing goes, the world on a string. Just shy of his 24th birth­day, Max Hamp­ton en­joyed his job and the travel that came with it, while pur­su­ing his pas­sion of vol­un­teer­ing with kids and re­main­ing ath­letic past his high school days at St. Patrick-St. Vin­cent.

Then it hap­pened. A short dive at Lake Co­manche near Stock­ton at a friend’s birth­day party. Though drown­ing ef­forts saved his life — and all brain func­tion — Hamp­ton was left par­a­lyzed from the chest down.

And, some­how, he’s re­mained up­beat.

“I’m do­ing al­right, man, I’m hang­ing in there,” Hamp­ton said from the fam­ily’s Vallejo home. “I stay pos­i­tive.”

Hamp­ton pa­tiently an­swered ques­tions re­cently with his mother, An­nette Hamp­ton, sit­ting close by. Though doc­tors have de­clared Max’s con­di­tion com­pletely per­ma­nent, he’s gained strength in his bi­ceps and trapez­ius muscles. His par­ents be­lieve a stem cell pro­ce­dure would help, but they can’t get it in the United States so fam­ily and friends host­ing “Max’s Leap to Re­cov­ery” fundraiser Sat., Feb. 29, at St. Pa­trickSt. Vin­cent High School.

Max’s mom has al­ready col­lected roughly 150 items for the silent auc­tion, ev­ery­thing from gift cards to sports mem­o­ra­bilia in hopes of rais­ing $20,000 — half of what’s bud­geted for the pend­ing pro­ce­dure and other ex­penses. Mean­time, Max re­mains in his four-speed mo­tor­ized wheel­chair with his mouth push­ing the “joystick.”

There are good days and bad days, Max said.

“One day out of every two weeks, those days are bad,” he said.

“I’m not sure how he does it — where he is gen­er­at­ing it from — but he is pos­i­tive and en­gaged every sin­gle day,” Max’s mom said. “And I am so proud of him for that in and of it­self. I’m sure he has dark mo­ments, but he must keep them to him­self.” Max’s fa­ther agreed.

“He’s an amaz­ing young man with a strong sense of self and faith,” said Earl Hamp­ton. “I like to think that I’m han­dling it well.”

Max can’t for­get that hor­rific day that changed his life — and his fam­ily’s.

“I hit the wa­ter and couldn’t feel any­thing in­stantly. I knew I had to get my head to the top,” Hamp­ton said.

Two friends close by re­al­ized there was a prob­lem. One dived in, car­ry­ing max to land.

“I re­mem­ber wak­ing up in the am­bu­lance,” Hamp­ton said. “I had no idea how my friend put me on his shoul­ders and swam up. It’s pretty much a mir­a­cle.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence re­mains a blur, grate­ful his EMT-trained girl­friend, Do­minique Good­win, was there.

“She saved my life,” Hamp­ton said, grin­ning, “She’s still my girl­friend.”

When Max’s dad first got the news of his son’s tragedy, “I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Once I saw he was alive, I knew we were go­ing to be OK.”

The in­jury — Hamp­ton shat­tered his “C-5” disc at the top of his neck — was sim­ply a freak ac­ci­dent, he said. For­tu­nately, “there was no pain,” he said. “I

just im­me­di­ately couldn’t move any­thing.”

It’s far from Max’s first ath­letic in­jury. He’s frac­tured a foot wrestling, broke both his col­lar­bones snowboardi­ng, and dis­lo­cated a col­lar­bone play­ing flag football.

He said his friends blamed them­selves for his spinal in­jury af­ter the dive.

“They didn’t force me. I don’t blame them at all,” Hamp­ton said “I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Hamp­ton was in ICU for 10 days, re­cov­er­ing from the one surgery he had to re­pair the shat­tered ver­te­brae, in­sert­ing a rod and plate to sta­bi­lize his spine.

Max has a com­rade in Troy Plun­kett, founder of the Spinal Cord In­jury Ac­tive Net­work and, as it turns out, a close neigh­bor of the

Hamp­tons. The two met at the Kaiser Vallejo Re­hab Cen­ter.

Plun­kett, 34, was 17 when a Motocross in­jury left him par­a­lyzed from the waist down.

“In those early days, it’s a dif­fi­cult time when you are work­ing, learn­ing and hear­ing things in re­gards to prog­no­sis of your in­jury and like­li­hood of what your fu­ture may be,” Plun­kett said ear­lier this week.

“I re­mem­ber rolling up to in­tro­duce my­self with an Oak­land A’s hat on and he said, ‘Oh yes, I know we’ll get along,’” said Plun­kett. “Max is a talker, but I learned he was an in­tel­li­gent young man that had an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent and had a long and dif­fi­cult road ahead. I en­cour­aged him to make the most of the short re­hab stay each and every day that could ben­e­fit his re­cov­ery. To fo­cus on the small goals, take pride in the com­pli­ments and progress each

day.”

Each spinal in­jury is dif­fer­ent, Plun­kett con­tin­ued, “but learn­ing how to use the re­stroom, shower, feed, and with Max’s in­jury level, he needs a lot of phys­i­cal care and sup­port.”

With­out the proper wheel­chair, trans­porta­tion, ther­a­pies and equip­ment, “it makes it very hard to make progress in be­ing as in­de­pen­dent as pos­si­ble, much less make ap­point­ments and en­joy ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the day,” Plun­kett said.

Plun­kett “helps me a lot,” Hamp­ton said. “He shows you that there’s al­ways a life out there. I know that, but hear­ing it helps.”

Deb­bie Lamb has known Hamp­ton since he was 4.

“Pre-ac­ci­dent Max was inspiring in that he was so darn smart. He was al­ways a few grades ahead and he even acted like he was a few years older too,” Lamb said. “Post-ac­ci­dent Max has been even more inspiring.

His pos­i­tiv­ity and his fo­cus have tripled. De­spite hav­ing to de­pend on so many peo­ple for so much, he’s still so up­beat and con­stantly ed­u­cat­ing him­self on pos­si­bil­i­ties for im­prove­ment. Max and his fam­ily have been the most amaz­ing welloiled ma­chine since his ac­ci­dent. They’re so lucky to have each other.”

If Hamp­ton never took that dive last July, “his ca­reer would be full speed ahead by now,” Lamb said. “This may slow him down but I think he’ll re­turn to an­other en­gi­neer­ing gig or some­thing sim­i­lar. Af­ter all, he’s still that same smart guy. It might just take him a lit­tle longer, that’s all.”

Earl Hamp­ton said his em­ployer, IBEW Lo­cal 595, “has been noth­ing short of amaz­ing in their sup­port of us dur­ing this time, al­low­ing me to work from home when­ever nec­es­sary.”

Max’s fa­ther added that he “couldn’t imag­ine how dif­fer­ent it would be for us” with sup­port of his col­leagues, friends and fam­ily.

“Their gen­eros­ity and sup­port has been hum­bling,” Earl Hamp­ton said.

De­spite his cur­rent sta­tus, Max said his faith re­mains solid.

“I think about how blessed I am, how much peo­ple care about me,” he said. “How thank­ful I am to have friends and fam­ily and that there are peo­ple sup­port­ing me that I didn’t even know.”

The ac­ci­dent has given Hamp­ton per­spec­tive.

“I took walk­ing for granted,” he said.

“Max’s Leap to Re­cov­ery Fundraiser” is Sat., Feb. 29, St. Patrick/St. Vin­cent High School, 1500 Beni­cia Road, Vallejo, $40 do­na­tion, silent auc­tion, mu­sic, no-host bar. For tickets and info, [email protected] or text (707) 7313560.

RICH FREED­MAN — TIMES-HER­ALD

Max Hamp­ton gets a help­ing hand from his mother, An­nette. The fam­ily and friends host a fundraiser for the 24-year-old Feb. 29at St. Patrick-St. Vin­cent High School.

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