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WLC hockey team helps classmate with benefit game Feb. 5

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 2, 2011

 Walled Lake Central student Drew Clayborn suffered a broken neck March 26, 2010, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. The Vikings’ hockey team is playing a benefit game in his honor Feb. 5.

Walled Lake Central student Drew Clayborn suffered a broken neck March 26, 2010, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. The Vikings’ hockey team is playing a benefit game in his honor Feb. 5.

Photo provided by LeDon Clayborn


COMMERCE TOWNSHIP — This was the same back flip he had done a number of times before. Admittedly, his form and technique were still far from perfect, but his confidence had grown substantially, nonetheless.

So, after what had been a typical Tuesday of classes, Walled Lake Central sophomore Drew Clayborn was ready to show off his new talent.

Surrounded by a group of friends in one of the school’s hallways, he bent at the knees, arched his back and jumped.

“I started getting phone calls from the school, and my daughter and a few other people,” LeDon Clayborn, Drew’s father, recalled about that March 26, 2010, afternoon, “so I knew something had happened. But my first thought was that Drew was messing around and probably hurt himself a little.”

“Then my phone kept ringing, and I knew something was seriously wrong. When I got more calls from people, that’s when I feared I had lost my boy.”

By the time LeDon Clayborn arrived at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, his 15-year-old son was stabilized.

The realization set in
“He landed on his head and broke his neck,” LeDon Clayborn said bluntly. “He broke his C1 and C2 vertebrae when he hit.”

In an instant, the young and popular sophomore with the contagious smile and hectic schedule — including football, basketball and the school’s marching band — was paralyzed from the neck down.

“Those first few days were hell, the worst of my life,” LeDon Clayborn admits. “I didn’t know what day it was or how I would ever survive. It’s like I was in a state of shock. I just kept waiting for Drew to move. … I’m not sure when it changed, but I came home one night, looked at the whole situation for what it was and knew I had to pull myself together.”

After three months in the hospital, Drew Clayborn was ready to come home under the constant care of his dad.

“I’ve become a chef, a cleaner, a nutritionist and a chauffer,” LeDon Clayborn said, forcing a laugh. “Life has become very unpredictable.”

A typical morning requires nearly two hours to get Drew up, fed and to his chair. His airways must always be kept open and clear. He has to drink nearly eight bottles of water every day while his oxygen levels are monitored religiously.

“It’s 24-hour care,” LeDon Clayborn said. “But we try to keep life as normal as we can. He goes to therapy, school, does Facebook, listens to music and watches TV.”

The financial burden
LeDon Clayborn calls his son his “million-dollar baby.”

His three-month hospital stay cost $880,000. The chair he spends most of his time in that allows him to move around, control the computer and TV through a mouthpiece had a price tag of $40,000. The van used for travel was bought used for $25,000, while Drew’s room at home has roughly $20,000 worth of equipment.

He said nursing costs are roughly $1,000 per day, while medical supplies have been as much as $3,000 per month. Insurance covered the bulk of the expenses up front, but LeDon Clayborn, who is a single parent and has yet to return to work, said he pays more than $2,500 per month out of pocket.

Asked how they’ve maintained so far, he says, “by the grace of God and generosity of others.”

The Walled Lake community wasted little time embracing the Clayborn family, as fundraisers and donations began almost immediately.

On Feb. 5, the Vikings’ hockey team will take its turn.

“A couple of guys came to me at the end of last season and wanted to do a benefit game for Drew,” said Central coach John Fritz. “We looked over the schedule to see what days would work and figured out exactly what we needed to do. I talked to the coach at (Romulus) Summit Academy, and they were on board from the start.”

The teams will drop the puck at 8 p.m. at Lakeland Ice Arena. Players have been selling tickets all season. The night will include basket raffles, prizes and T-shirt giveaways, as well as appearances from the school choir and cheerleading team.

A minimum donation of $5 is required for every ticket, and all money raised during the game will be donated to the Clayborn family.

“The goal is to fill that place to capacity with 750 people,” said Amy Lazare, who’s the self-described game coordinator. “We all know what type of kid Drew is, and that’s the reason we want to do something like this.”

“He may not be part of the hockey team, but he’s one of those kids that’s associated with so many different things and people. We felt like we had to do something,” said senior forward Brett Joseph. “We’re excited to see just how big it’s going to be.”

Joseph said he and his teammates are currently reaching out to people not associated with Central to increase ticket sales. They’ve contacted families at Walled Lake Northern and Walled Lake Western, and people within the community who may not have kids in any of the schools.

Summitt Academy has also gotten on board.

“We’ve got an extra bus coming so we can pack in as many fans as possible,” Dragons coach Dave Wood said. “Anytime you can do something for the benefit of a kid, especially in an injury like this, you can’t help but be part of it. … That atmosphere is going to be something special.”

Helping to heal
The gesture itself already is.

Speaking from his home last week, Drew Clayborn said he’s been overwhelmed with everything that’s come his way.

“It means so much,” he said with a tone of strength and confidence. “To know there’s people out there that care enough. It means so much to me.”

He explained how every day has been a battle, but he’s taking that fight one day at a time.

His prognosis to move or walk again is slim, less than five percent is what he’s been told.

“I’m going to walk some day,” he boasts without hesitation. “I have no idea when, but I believe I will.”

Drew Clayborn said he’s anxious to get to the Feb. 5 game, but it has little to do with being the center of attention or taking in all the fanfare.

“I’ll be there cheering on Central,” he said. “That’s what I always do.