Community welcomes home injured firefighter

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) -- A Waco, Texas firefighter who was paralyzed in a freak accident last month was given a special homecoming Wednesday.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

Family, friends, firefighters and fire engines were there to surprise Garth Goodwin as he came home from a six-week hospital stay.

"I've been through the surgeries and the rehab, it's good to be home. It's hard to explain how excited I am to be home,” Goodwin said.

The 17-year veteran of the Waco Fire Department was working an off-duty job on May 10 when he was shocked and fell from a billboard, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

“I had to work hard so I could get up this driveway," said Goodwin, who is now bound to a wheelchair.

Since the accident, Goodwin has been essentially living in a Dallas hospital, working with doctors and physical therapists on his recovery.

"It's tough being away, I mean, we're a real close family,” he said.

While hospitalized, Goodwin took his recovery very seriously, determined to get back to his family and friends as soon as he could.

"I even told some of my friends and family to not come visit me because I needed the rest and that extra time to catch up after my therapy sessions. But that was hard, real hard, to not be able to see everybody. But that's what I needed to get me here as quick as possible, and it's paid off,” he said.

His wife, Lisa, said therapists were in awe of the progress he made.

“It’s every morning, ‘Let’s get up and let's go.’ He's waiting for them (physical therapists) to get there before they get here, and they're just like, 'What is this?'” said Lisa. “All they kept saying was he always has a positive attitude.”

And Lisa said that positive attitude is around-the-clock.

"You know, I think when people say, when things happen like this, you really find out, you know, what kind of person they really are whatever, but that is him; he really is that person,” she said. “I’m not saying he doesn’t get frustrated and have his days, but 90 percent of the time, this is him.”

Lisa’s responsibilities will now double. The couple already has a disabled son, Cutter, 19, who was born without a portion of his brain.

But instead of seeing her husband’s new disability as a burden, she said dealing with her son’s disability has given them an advantage.

"I think we learned a lot, us as a couple, with Cutter, you know, 19 years ago, and I think that's kind of lived through us and made both of us better people," said Lisa. "And now that this has happened to him (Garth), I think he really sees what you have to do, and you know, the effort you have to put into working and making yourself a better person, and I think he's determined that, that's what he's gonna do."

While Garth is excited to be home, he realizes life won't be the same.

"I want to try to get back to as much of a normal life as I had before, I mean, I know it's different," said Garth.

Helping him try to get as much of a normal life back as possible, his fellow firefighters decided they wanted to build him a wheelchair-accessible house.

“Out of nowhere, they called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna build you a house,’” Garth said.

The local construction community heard what the firefighters were trying to do and stepped-in, donating almost all of what it takes to build a home from scratch.

"I know I've got some pretty special guys here that have pushed hard,” Garth said of his co-workers. “But the community has definitely jumped on-board, and thank you is not enough."

So far, contractors have donated about 80 percent of the home including the electric, plumbing, paint, concrete, the architecture and design. Even meat for the freezer has been offered.

Almost everything needed to build the house has been committed except two big ticket items: framers and lumber.

"We're really blessed, first of all, with the response,” said Wes Waller, a partner at UBI Products who has volunteered to organize the construction of the Goodwin’s home. "We're trying to connect the dots, and one of the big dots is the lumber and the framers. We can't build it without it."

Waller said they wanted to get the Goodwins in a new home by Thanksgiving.

"Once we get lumber, and I know the framers will come, even if we have to frame it ourselves, man, we're gonna build a house in no time."

The “Team Garth” construction team met for the first time Wednesday morning, and vows to meet every Wednesday until a home is built.

"Even if lumber companies want to work together, we can even sit down and come up with a strategy to where we break it up even to make this happen," said Waller.

The Goodwin’s currently live in a two-story rental in China Spring, Texas.

“We’re trying to figure out the bed he’s gonna sleep on,” said Lisa.

They’re hoping a new house could be built near their family in Moody.

“It's the smallest little things that matter: putting on his shoes, just being able to sit on the bathroom toilet and use the bathroom, you know, and like, he won't even be able to do that here in our house right now,” she said.

Garth, who loves the outdoors, can’t even go outside on their current patio because there’s no ramp, she said.

"Little stuff like that that would probably mean absolutely nothing to anybody else because they can just walk out there. But now those little things are gonna be the big things to us,” Lisa said.

"One day at a time, that's pretty much what I’ve told Garth. We've got this, we've got this, just one day at a time."

The wife and mother sees a new home as an opportunity, not only to help her husband, but also to give her son the home she’s always wanted to.

"Even with Cutter, there's so many things I've always dreamed about doing with his bedroom, and so now just to think of how blessed we are with this situation…” she said.

While in Dallas, family and friends have been keeping them updated on the situation happening back at home.

“To think two little peons like us, to have all of this… it is true… what you give to the community and what you do for others, in turn, when something like this happens, they're gonna do for you, and we’re seeing that. It’s just been so positive, so uplifting,” said Lisa. “It’s kept us going. It's kept his attitude as positive as can be.”

The support surrounding the building of a new home gave Garth something to look forward to.

"As soon as I try to lay down at night and catch up to everything, most of the time I just end up falling asleep with my phone just falling out of my hand,” Garth said of all the text messages and phone calls with updates.

Garth said the experience has showed him that people want to do what’s right.

"There's still a lot of good in this world, and especially in this community. And we're just getting it, we're getting the tip of it, and it's awesome. I mean, you can't explain that,” he said. “God’s got his hands all over us.”

The firefighter said his hands were ready to go. He already wants to get back to work in some form or fashion.

"Hopefully, I can still be able to give back. I'm gonna try to put that uniform on right there, and I'm gonna try to go back to work and do what I can for this community,” said Garth.

Until then, his focus will be on getting a better home built for his family.

"We got things to do, we're busy, as hard as I can go!” said Garth.

Besides being around family and friends, the best part about being out of the hospital and back in Waco?

"The smells. I'm just happy with the smells, y’all don't even know,” he said.

Construction donations may be made by calling Waller at (254) 722-3943 or Jay Jeffrey at (254) 855-3208.

Monetary donations to help with Goodwin’s house can be made payable by check to “Waco Fire Honor Guard” with “Movember/Garth” in the memo line and mailed to Station 9, 315 N. New Road, Waco, TX 76710.

Read the original version of this article at kwtx.com.