A community rallies around Eddie Williams and his family as he recovers from a spinal cord injury.
In the town of Marshville, North Carolina lies a 90-acre plot of land that has been in Eddie Williams’ family for generations. Eddie and his wife, Starla, raised their two sons, Josh and Chandler, here. Eddie also lived here when he decided to start his own trucking company, S & E Transport, LLC, more than 35 years ago.
“He built his company from the ground-up,” Starla says. “Eddie had to sell his car to buy his first truck. Now, he manages 8 to 10 trucks at a time, from his own trucks to the owner-operators’ trucks that haul sod. Eddie rebuilds motors, works on trucks and drives as well. His favorite job is delivering sod for Carolina Green to NFL fields around the country.”
Reliable and hardworking, Eddie takes great pride in his business and is a respected figure in his community of New Salem.
“Eddie is a genuine businessman and person,” Starla says. “His mind is going 24/7 – nobody can keep up with him!”
On March 20, 2020, Eddie was clearing tree limbs on his property with his son, Josh. In addition to being an emergency room nurse, Josh owns a truck and helps his dad with his business. As it turned out, Josh’s presence that day would help save Eddie’s life.
“He’s still Eddie.”
While Eddie was cutting tree limbs, he slipped and fell about 15 feet to the ground. Josh knew his father had sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI). He called Starla and told her to get his hospital badge while he called 911.
Eddie was airlifted to Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where doctors confirmed he had sustained a complete C-4, C-5 and C-6 SCI. Initially, he could not speak, so Starla used her experience as a literary interventionist for Unionville Elementary School to communicate with him. She would organize the alphabet into groups of letters, and Eddie would nod at the correct group, and then at the correct letter, to gradually spell out words.
“The first thing Eddie spelled out to ask our son Josh was, ‘Are the trucks running?’,” Starla says. “Even when he was in pain, he was focused on keeping his business running.”
There was another message Eddie spelled out – “I love life, Starla.”
“He wanted to keep fighting,” Starla recalls. “He may not have his legs or be able to use his hands, but he’s still Eddie.”
On April 13, Eddie arrived at Shepherd Center. In addition to battling for his life, Eddie had to deal with the difficulty of not having his family physically present with him due to COVID-19.
“We FaceTime multiple times a day,” Starla says. “I FaceTime with his whole team to stay up-to-date on his progress.”
And he has definitely made progress. Eddie was eventually taken off his ventilator and given a speaking valve, an attachment placed on Eddie’s tracheostomy (trach) tube that allows him to speak. He has now progressed enough to have his trach removed completely.
“The first time I heard his voice again, I got so emotional,” Starla says. “When he saw me crying, Eddie said, ‘I didn’t know you’d get so emotional – you always told me I talk too much!’”
Eddie continues his rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program and fights to keep improving. He has even found a way to let his passion for trucking shine on his wheelchair. Eddie owns Peterbilt trucks, so he had a Peterbilt sign made that hangs on the back of his chair from a stainless-steel chain.
“It is a God-send that we got to Shepherd Center,” Starla says. “What the team at Shepherd has done is a miracle. Every professional we’ve met has said that even after you leave Shepherd, you’re always one of us. This has been awful, but Shepherd has been on our side for everything.”
The Williams family has endured a lot between Eddie’s injuries and being apart from each other due to COVID-19. But hardship can bring out the best in people, and on April 24, Eddie’s community joined together to support him. It all started when Starla received a phone call from her friend, Mandy Little.
“Eddie delivers agricultural lime to the farms in our town,” Starla says. “Mandy had an idea to put together a truck convoy in honor of Eddie with 15 farmers so they could record the event and send it to Eddie. She said, ‘Everybody knows Eddie and loves him. We want to tell him to fight, fight, fight.’”
Mandy organized the event in two weeks. What had started as a 15-truck convoy grew to 25 trucks, then 50 trucks and finally reached 130 trucks on April 24. Led by Eddie’s son, Josh, the convoy stretched a mile and a half long. Many of the trucks displayed signs with #EddieStrong or #FastEddie, and people remained in their trucks to maintain social distancing. Donations collected during the event will help pay the Williams’ medical expenses.
“People came from all over the county and surrounding counties,” Starla says. “Some knew Eddie and others had only heard his story. It was the most amazing thing this community has ever seen and was out of love and respect for this man.”
Eddie watched the event live on FaceTime from Shepherd Center. He wept tears of joy and asked his wife to blow his truck horn as the convoy drove by.
His dry sense of humor always intact, he told his wife, “I thought I was like Doc Holliday – that I only had a few good friends!”
Eddie’s son, Chandler, and Chandler’s fiancé, Sophia, started a Facebook page to keep everyone up to date on Eddie’s progress. Now, the Facebook page has nearly 2,000 members who cheer for Eddie every day.
The community continues to rally around Eddie. Starla has been overwhelmed by the process of making her two-story house accessible for Eddie once he returns. Building a new accessible home on their land would be ideal, yet expensive. Fortunately, Monty Soots, a contractor in a surrounding county who had recovered from a fall in 2004, volunteered to be the lead contractor on the project and asked area businesses to donate their labor and materials. He is partnering with staff from Shepherd Center to ensure the new home is accessible. The Williams family affectionately calls the new build their “barn apartment.”
When communities join in solidarity, they can achieve great things. Eddie’s story is a testament that we are truly better together. If you would like to keep up with Eddie’s progress, join his public Facebook page, “Prayers, Support, and Updates for Fast Eddie (Eddie Williams).”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.