The parade of cars seemed never ending as the group hurried to get parked and set up the banners and cake to welcome Matt back to his Evening Shade home, the home that he hadn't seen in two months following the terrible rodeo accident. Matt was severely injured while riding in a saddle bronc event at the Sidney Rodeo when his foot became entangled in the stirrup causing the horse to fall on him. He suffered severe head trauma and was air-lifted to Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) in Little Rock in critical condition, where he remained with little or no hope of recovery.
When Matt finally awoke in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, his mother recalls him asking where his dad and brother Grayson were. She then told him about all of his friends who had come to visit him. When she got to the name Sage Parish, Matt said, "Best friend."
Matt's mother, Dianna, said doctors at ACH called him a "miracle" because there is no medical explanation for his recovery from such a severe brain injury. The only surgery Matt underwent while at ACH was one to implant a feeding tube in his body to help nourish him while he was in the coma and a bolt that was put in his skull to help alleviate the pressure from brain swelling. He also suffered damage to his left eye as a result of the swelling nearly popping his eye, but the damage appears to be minor. The family and community rallied around Matt in both prayer and hospital visits, although admittedly, Dianna said the doctors didn't know if he would come out to be in a vegetative state or even suffer brain damage. During the weeks before Matt awoke, his mother remained vigilant by his bedside only leaving the hospital a few times to travel to Melbourne to her son Grayson's football games. Dianna said Matt had to learn to swallow and walk again and never complained about his injuries. She said he wasn't ever angry and always took one day at a time.
The doctors partially credited Matt's recovery to his physical fitness. Dianna said Matt wouldn't go to bed until he exercised and was in great shape and very active. She knows Matt will want to get back in the saddle, but currently is under doctor's orders not to participate in sports. She said both she and Matt's dad were adamant they didn't want him to rodeo. She said, "That song 'Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys' is so true." She laughed and said he is a "true blue cowboy. And so is his brother, who idolizes Matt." The main concern the doctors have is the possibility of seizures. Matt's feeding tube must remain in his body, despite the fact he doesn't need it, to allow his stomach to heal from the surgery before removing it. She said he has appointments set up for follow ups in December with both an ophthalmologist and neurologist at ACH.
Welcoming him home was what appeared to an army of well wishers and friends. Many of those present had never met him, but through the words of Vicki Haas, a family friend and fellow basketball mom, painstakingly kept everyone informed throughout each baby step of Matt's recovery through a Facebook group called "Prayer Group for Matt Melton and Family." The group has an overwhelming following of 1,934 members. Haas's posts detailed his surgeries, his first foods, the first time he grasp his mother's hands, to his process of walking and speaking, each small miracle that, as a whole, led Matt to a nearly complete recovery from his injuries and essentially his big miracle of coming home in two months.
Haas said she began the Facebook page because of misinformation that, she said, "Made me fighting mad." The information she referred to was a post on Facebook shortly after the accident in which someone falsely reported that Matt had died from his injuries. She said she felt like she had to be the spokesperson for the family and provide everyone with true information. Haas visited with the family with her son Bryce, who is a close friend of Matt's, numerous times in Little Rock and posted frequently to the site from her conversations and texts with the Melton family. The posts included this notable one on Oct. 9 in which she said, "I watched a boy stand on his own two feet last night, to get measured against the others to see how tall he was, that I wondered on Aug. 30th if he would live or not."
The last group to arrive for the welcome home party held in the yard of the Melton's home in rural Evening Shade was the bus loaded with the Melbourne Bearkatz boy's basketball team. The team had made the trek from Melbourne to Evening Shade moments before Matt's anticipated 4:10 p.m. arrival. The team joined the numerous students, friends, family and neighbors of the Meltons, all of whom had prayed and shared in the family's struggle during Matt's hospitalization. The first to arrive for the homecoming was Matt's special friend Lora Sharp, her brother Gus and father.
Posted in the yard was a huge banner from the charity bull ride held Oct. 24 in Matt's honor. The event was held to help raise money for hospital expenses for the family. While waiting for Matt, some of his friends from Melbourne talked with the Villager Journal about things they have been forced to realize since Matt's accident. Amanda Treat said, "It has really made us think about life in general and made us not take life for granted." Sara Adams added, "People can be there one day and gone the next." Still another friend of Matt's, Robert Nelson said, "It has made us trust in God more." He told of the entire school gathering to pray, as did students at Cave City.
The group had also assembled a large welcome home banner that was signed by well wishers. The balloons fluttered quietly in the air and the horseshoe shaped cake bearing the words, "Matt ... Bullet Proof" were visible displays of just how special this welcome home party truly was and Matt's overcoming the odds in his speedy recovery.
The large group anxiously awaited Matt's arrival. Tori Taylor and Kelsey Foley, close friends of Matt's, wore shirts with a picture of Matt on the front and a photo collage of him riding saddle bronc on the back. The words "Miracles do happen we love you" spoke volumes of the girl's dedication to Matt and pride for his recovery. Holding the banner for Matt were the two and Matt's special friend Sage Parish.
As the group formed a horseshoe in the driveway of the Melton's home, Matt's arrival in the family's Chevy Tahoe brought tears and emotional displays to many, not excluding Matt's mother Dianna and her friends who had helped her through the ordeal. As he exited the vehicle clad in his best western attire, topped off with a black cowboy hat, Matt held his hand up in the bright sunlight with a look of overwhelming surprise and simply said, "I am so glad to see ya'll." To say he was surprised by the homecoming is an understatement. He just kept saying, "I have never had this many people in my yard." Matt was very thin but walked alone and appeared to be as normal as any other 15-year-old, laughing and smiling continuously. Despite urging him to sit down and visit on a bar stool, provided by Haas, Matt continued to greet, shake hands and hug all those whose prayers undoubtedly helped make the day a reality for him and his family.
Shirts honoring him were prevalent throughout the crowd and were sold to the public shortly after his accident as a fundraiser to help with expenses the family might incur as a result of missed work as well as for hospital and household bills. Dianna said it was just one of the fundraisers, that also included a pie auction and barbecue at the Melbourne school, that helped pay all the family's bills and living expenses throughout the ordeal. Matt took time to greet each person in his yard including school mates from Melbourne and friends from Cave City, family, other friends, and neighbors and complete strangers who came to witness the miracle of his homecoming.
One young man dressed in a cowboy hat simply looked up to Matt as he shook his hand telling him he wanted to be a cowboy and showing him his age of 5 by a show of fingers. Matt's friends gave him numerous goodies including Milky Way candy bars, Mountain Dew, a pumpkin and other items. Most of all, they were glad to see him.
Despite his homecoming, Matt is still on the road to recovery. His mother said he would be home schooled for about a month and then he would begin half day of school until he gets his strength back and his immune system is stronger. Although the road has been long, it is far from over, as with any tragedy, the financial woes are something that also have to be faced. Dianna, who works for Chaney Taylor as the District Clerk in Independence County said she wasn't sure if she would have a job, but very confidently said, "God has taken care of us this far and I have no doubt he will continue to take care of us." Gary is a self employed rancher and was also overwhelmed by the showing of support for Matt.
Dianna said she could not come up with fancy words to thank everyone who helped their family through the process but gave special thanks to Vicki Haas, Teresa Sharp, who took care of her bills and Anna Harris for all the things they did while Matt was in the hospital. Gary, Dianna, Grayson and Matt's Mamaw said they would like to thank the entire community for their prayers, phone calls, food, gifts and acts of kindness. She said no words could ever explain their appreciation and how proud they were to live in such a community.
Dianna said, "There are three things I have learned through this, one is I know where God is in my life, I know where my family is and I know who my friends are."