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After a terrible crash, a community of faith rallies

First slide

When Teddy Schwab talks about the accident, he doesn’t mention pain or fear, or the weeks it took him to learn how to walk and talk and write again. The cheerful sixth-grader talks about the other children who were in the hospital with him, the ones who lived, and the souls he and his family still pray for. He talks about the basketball championship game he watched with his family as he slowly regained his strength. He talks with gratefulness about finally getting to sleep in his own bed. 

When his parents, Ted and Claire, talk about the accident, they talk about the outpouring of love they received from their friends, family and fellow parishioners of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria. They talk about the ways the experience strengthened their trust in God.

“Faith can be a hard thing to grasp for a lot of people, but when you see faith at work in such a miraculous way that it brings people closer, it’s a gift,” said Claire. Teddy is here for a reason, she said. His tremendous recovery from a traumatic brain injury “serves as a testament to God’s miracles.”

Good Friday

Spring break 2016, Ted and his daughter were preparing for a pilgrimage to Rome with other students from her confirmation class. Claire, meanwhile, took Teddy and their other daughter on a college tour en route to Florida. 

“We were an hour and a half into our trip the morning of Good Friday, in stop and start traffic, when we were hit full speed from behind,” said Claire. The driver had been on her phone, and didn’t see them until it was too late. Their car spun 180 degrees, yet everyone was fine — except for Teddy. 

His skull had been broken, and he was bleeding and unconscious when first responders arrived. When they realized the severity of his injuries, Teddy was flown to the nearest trauma center: Memorial Hospital in Savannah. 

“The hardest thing was watching him being lifted off, not knowing if I would ever see him alive again,” said Claire. “I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit came over me in that instant, over my shoulders and pushed me to my knees. I said, ‘God, I trust you,’ three times in a row.”

The woman who crashed into their car was unharmed, but overcome with grief and guilt. “She must have asked me 50 times — she got down on her knees and begged for forgiveness for the accident,” said Claire. With God’s help, she forgave the woman instantly, she said. “I knew I would need my energy and strength to focus on Teddy,” said Claire. “I said, ‘I forgive you, but I need you to pray for my son harder than you’ve ever prayed before in your life.’ ”

sick teddy

Teddy Schwab, in a 2016 photo, rests in his hospital bed surrounded by a prayer chain made by his classmates at St. Mary School in Alexandria. COURTESY

Strangers on a plane

When Ted heard the news, he got on a plane to Georgia as soon as he could. While boarding the flight to Savannah, another passenger overheard Claire on the phone, telling him that Teddy was breathing but that the doctors weren’t sure if there was any brain function. After he hung up, the man told Ted, “I’m praying for you.” 

Then another woman sat down in their row. She had a severe speech impediment, and while making small talk with the man beside her, mentioned her disability stemmed from a car accident in which she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. 

“At which point, I just start sobbing,” said Ted. “She grabs my hand — a total stranger — and she said, ‘There’s a reason I’m here and there’s a reason you’re here — let’s pray.’ She held my hand the entire way to Savannah.”

By Easter Sunday, Ted said they weren’t sure whether Teddy was going to live or die. So Ted began to pray. “I said, ‘I know this is not our call and if Teddy dies it’s going to be great for him and terrible for us, but I know it’s not my call.  All I can say is Thy will be done and I trust You.’ And right as I said that, I felt the peace that surpasses understanding,” he said.

Mementos of love

Claire still treasures all the messages of support and prayer her family received that spring. When they were in the hospital, Claire printed out pictures every day and decorated the walls of Teddy’s room with them. They now fill a scrapbook — the pictures of friends wearing Team Teddy t-shirts, or organizing a Mass for him or displaying handmade signs of encouragement.

teddy strong


To let their loved ones know what was happening, the Schwabs started a page on CaringBridge — a website that allows people to share health updates. “Every day I was searching for the inspiration of the day,” and then posting it to the page, said Claire. “We got to share our faith through CaringBridge, and we had people praying for Teddy all over the world. (Without the accident), we never would have known the generosity surrounding us, the outpouring of love and prayer,” said Claire. Though he was still in a coma, Ted would read the messages to his son every night.  

In the first week, they prayed that surgery would relieve the pressure in Teddy’s brain. The next week, he had surgery to repair his skull and eye socket; the doctors used 13 plates and 52 screws to put it back together. He then began to breathe on his own again, and started to see. After a month in Savannah, he was transferred to Washington for more rehabilitation. 

Finding healing

Today, it’s difficult to tell Teddy was ever in a life-threatening accident. But he’s healing still. “Through extensive cognitive therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and supplemental tutoring, we’re hoping he can be the best he can be with his activities before the accident,” said Claire. “He’s here for a reason. God knows his end game.”

A year after the accident, the Schwabs traveled back down to Savannah to thank all the doctors and nurses who had cared for Teddy. On the way, they learned even more how prayer had surrounded them at every step of the ordeal. 

“We stopped and saw the fire chief and the paramedic. (After the accident, they called) their local church, the Great Swamp Baptist Church’s prayer team, (and they were) praying for Teddy,” said Ted. 

In honor of the therapy dog they met while Teddy was in the hospital, the Schwabs adopted a dog they hope to bring to other sick children. They named her Savannah. 

Stories like Teddy’s are what helped Ted get through those difficult months, he said. “There was this boy in Teddy’s (hospital) room two years before (him) and this boy had a very faithful family and a miraculous recovery,” he said. “I watched a video (about his recovery) two or three times a day for six months.”

Teddy's Story from Potomac Communications Group on Vimeo.

So the Schwabs decided to make their own video chronicling their son’s healing and their own journey in faith. “Hopefully Teddy’s touches some people the way theirs did for us,” said Ted.

The Schwab’s video ends with this message: “We hope that others who hears Teddy’s story will know that for every Good Friday, there is an Easter Sunday for those who love the Lord.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018