ST. GEORGE – Britton Shipp, a 16-year-old Snow Canyon High School student, has remained in a coma since suffering a traumatic brain injury in an ATV accident Nov. 1, 2014, but the outpouring of support from the community for this young man and his family continues, and Britton has shown recent promising signs of improvement on his long road to recovery.
“He’s close,” Autumn Shipp, Britton’s older sister, said. “We think he’s really getting there – getting to the point where he’ll be able to open his eyes and start coming back.”
Currently in Dixie Regional Medical Center’s Acute Rehab Unit in St. George, where he continues undergoing tests and physical therapy, Britton lies in a semi-coma state, Autumn Shipp said. This past week, he has shown increasing signs of recognition when friends and family members are near and is even responding to questions and comments from those around him.
“We’ll be like, ‘Britt, so-and-so is outside the door and is here to see you,’” Autumn Shipp said, “and he’ll throw his arm up and wave hello.”
Britton’s mother, Sommer Shipp, a cosmetologist by profession, quit work after her son’s accident so she could be by his side as he lay in the hospital.
Following suit, Autumn Shipp made the painstaking decision to take time off from the University of Utah, where she has been attending college on a softball scholarship, to be front and center with her family members as they live the roller coaster of triumphs and setbacks along Britton’s healing journey. Now, instead of being cheered on by U of U fans, Autumn Shipp is back at home, cheering for her brother.
“I want to be there for him every step of the way,” Autumn Shipp said. “He would do the same thing for me.”
Family, friends and Britton fans have closely followed an almost daily updated account of Britton’s progress through a blog Autumn Shipp has written, detailing intimate family moments and each of Britton’s daily victories.
Excerpt from Autumn Shipp’s blog, written Dec. 31:
I just want to say how much it means to me that you read this blog. That you care enough to hear of my brothers daily progress. I am completely blown away at the response this thing has had, especially because I had no intentions of it becoming what it has. I initially just started it so Britt could have kind of a journal of everything that went on, so that one day when he is able to he can look back trough it and see everything he overcame.
Chronicled in the blog have been Britton’s many promising steps toward recovery. On Dec. 23, Britton showed movement in his eyes for the very first time, Autumn Shipp wrote. He was “tracking with his eye” as he followed the phone his father, Jesse Shipp, held in front of him, moving it side to side.
Autumn Shipp has also recorded the touching and sentimental moments she has shared with her brother during hospital visits, including singing “Silent Night” to Britton on Christmas when it was just the two of them:
I was sobbing trying to get the words out, especially when I sang the lyrics …’sleep in heavenly peace.’ For some reason those hit me hard. He started moving all around, like he was trying to tell me something. I don’t know what. I wish I did. Maybe he was trying to tell me he was sleeping in heavenly peace. That wherever he was, and whatever he was doing … it was peaceful and he was okay.
As time has passed, hope and faith have not flagged within the Shipp family, and their prayers and patience seem to be paying off. On Dec. 27, Autumn Shipp wrote, Britton responded to all of her commands:
I told him to raise his eyebrow, wiggle his toes, and stick out his tongue and he did all of them! I asked him if he wanted to open his eyes and he just started moving all around. I really think he wants to so bad, and he is trying, but just can’t!
His head is no longer swollen and wrapped in bandages. He no longer has tubes running through his nose and mouth feeding him and breathing for him. He breathes completely on his own through a trach in his neck. He has a feeding tube in his belly that is able to give him the nutrition he needs. His face is the perfect color, his hands warm and firm. He moves. On his own. He hears us, and he responds. He recognizes pain. His scars are healing, his hair is growing. His organs are all working properly. His immune system is working the way it should. He swallows, has a gag reflex, contracts his own muscles. He’s here, he is alive, and he is well. Obviously not as well as we would all wish him to be, but he is getting there. Slowly, he is getting there.
Autumn Shipp described this past Wednesday as the “best day yet,” when Britton’s speech therapist came in to evaluate him. The therapist asked Britton some simple questions, and Britton was told to give a thumbs-up if the answer was “yes” and to do nothing if the answer was “no.” Autumn Shipp said her brother did really well and answered almost all of the therapist’s questions correctly.
Britton also did everything the therapist asked him to do, such as lifting his head, wiggling his toes, squeezing hands, shaking his head and waving goodbye. When the therapist asked him to open his eye, Britton opened one eye halfway.
“That was really cool,” Autumn Shipp said. “That’s the first day he’s been able to do that on his own.”
“That was probably the happiest moment of my life thus far,” she added, “and that may seem funny, and it might not seem like a big deal, but it was.”
Though Britton continues to respond to both physical and verbal cues, it is difficult to know whether his progress means he is close to waking up, but his family members are holding on to hope. And while Britton sleeps, his story, as told by his sister, continues touching the lives of others in a powerful way, prompting a far-reaching outpour of love and support.
Blog excerpt, Dec. 31:
It is not me. It is my sweet brother. The boy who is laying in the bed next to me. The boy who has fought miraculously for 60 days, and will continue to do so. The boy who has left an unerasable mark on my heart, and probably all of ours. He has inspired thousands, yet hasn’t said a word. He has taught me the true meaning of love. In it’s deepest most purest form.
I’m so thankful that (the blog) has helped others, through their own difficulties and trials. It helps me to realize that my brothers accident wasn’t just for nothing, he isn’t going through all of this for no good reason. If it is helping even one single person, inspiring one heart, or teaching one mind…then it is all worth it. And that is all I could ever ask for. That through my brothers struggle others are being helped.
He has taught me what it really means to be strong and to never give up…no matter how hard it gets. He is my angel, my role model, my perfect example, and my little brother. Everything I have said within the last 60 days, has been from him or because of him.
Donations to help the Shipp family can still be made through the “Believe for Britton” GoFundMe page or by depositing funds directly into the Britton Shipp account at any Zions Bank location.
Assistant Editor Cami Cox Jim contributed to this report.
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