Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as: an illustrious warrior, a person admired for achievements, noble qualities, one who shows great courage and Lindsay Benton. I added the last one because I am a little partial.
Lindsay was a hero in many ways and she touched so many lives, but I want to tell you about Lindsay’s heroes. Our heroes. The amazing people that touched our hearts during the most traumatic week of our lives. Her surgeon, her doctors, her nurses, the NC Highway Patrol, Carolina Donor Services, her janitor, the angels that were with her at the accident, the numerous family members and friends, and all our newly adopted children better known as Lindsay’s friends. Below are just a few of the people I consider heroes, there are so many more and they will be brought to light in future blogs.
Her surgeon, Dr. George Huffmon, I cannot put into word what this man means to me. He is, for a lack of better words, my hero. If you added all the time that we spent together it would total maybe two hours. Those hours have meant more to me than anything, I would like to share an excerpt of a speech I gave at the NHCRMC Symposium for Trauma and every other speech I have given since:
Her surgeon, Dr. George Huffmon, apart from my own father and brother, is one of the greatest men I have ever met. In one of the first meetings we had with Dr. Huffmon as a family, he told us had Lindsay been his age or my age he would have never operated, but she was a 17-year-old young lady and she needed every possible opportunity to survive. There were so many things he did not have to tell us, so many things he did not have to do, but the one thing he did do was give us one more week with Lindsay. A week in which we could talk to, touch, reminisce with and tell our little girl goodbye. Dr. Huffmon in every meeting talked to me like one father to another, not just as a number on a chart. I could see in his eyes and in his tears that Lindsay had touched his heart.
Dr. Huffmon is a true hero, he saves and mends lives. Although he could not save Lindsay, he did all man could do for her. He did save my faith in humanity. He showed me there are good, loving, compassionate, faithful people in the medical field. The sincerity and faith he showed though his words and through his tears proved to me what kind of man he is. He was the person I looked to for guidance when it came to the well-being of Lindsay. I believed every word he said concerning Lindsay’s diagnoses. I trusted him with my daughter’s life and my heart. He was there when my family needed him the most, even if what he was telling us was not what we wanted to hear. He made a devastating situation somewhat bearable. Dr. Huffmom is a man of integrity, honor, and compassion. He is a surgeon, a doctor, a husband, a father and a true man of faith. I believe this is what makes him a true hero.
Due to her age, Lindsay had two pediatric trauma doctors, Dr. Stoiko and Dr. Smith. I cannot tell you what these two men did for me while Lindsay was in the hospital and the weeks and months after. They both were men of integrity, hope and medicine. They always had a smile and an uplifting word to share with us. Dr. Smith was in attendance when I gave my first speech about Lindsay’s story at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Trauma Symposium. I remember seeing him after the speech and with tears in his eyes he told me, “That was wonderful.” I could not have asked for more, that was all I needed to hear. Dr. Stoiko, just the mention of his name brings a smile to my face. Dr. Stoiko had a youthful bounce in step and a slight bit of mischievousness in his smile. Just his presents in a room lifted us up. Even Dr. Stokio’s wife, a nurse, would reach out to my wife daily through messenger with words of encouragement and prayer. Being a doctor, you have to tell patients and family’s news they do not want to hear, but Dr. Stokio, and Dr. Smith did this with true compassion and understanding. These two men have my utmost respect and will forever be in my thoughts.
Deani, Elizabeth, Mike, Paul, Cari and Neta. If there is a level above and beyond hero, that is where these individuals fall. These were Lindsay’s nurses, caregivers, family counselors, liaisons, and the best huggers in the world. Deani and Elizabeth were with Lindsay during the day and Mike, Paul and Cari were her nurses at night. Not once did we walk into Lindsay room that they were not there with a smile and encouraging word. They laughed with us, they cried with us, they listened to Beyoncé with us and they prayed with us. The integrity and care of my daughter was never questioned. These nurses are super human. On a daily basis, they work thirteen to fourteen hours, they deal with death, they inform families of their worst nightmares and are there to hold them as they cry in pain. We will never forget Mike, Paul or Cari for the love and care they gave Lindsay. There dedication to her comfort and wellbeing went far beyond what their job title describes.
There was a special connection, a bond, with Deani and Elizabeth. If there ever was a manual written on how to handle situations such as ours, these two heroes would be on the cover. These two nurses were our wealth of knowledge, our source of power to make it through one more day, our consolers when we knew the outcome was not what we had been praying for. If you ever cross paths with these ladies you will see and feel the passion they have for their patients, the patients family and their job. They may also tell you a story of how a beautiful 17-year-old girl changed their lives. How the love and compassion that her family showed to them and to each other brought a new perspective to their life. These two ladies hold a very special place in my entire family’s heart and we will never forget them. Actually, we stay in touch with Deani and Elizabeth, and I would like to tell you were they are today.
Deani has recently left the STICU at NHRMC to follow her heart. She is now in Texas attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to earn her degree in Old Testament with an undergrad in Biblical Studies. I wish her all the best, no one deserves it more.
Elizabeth has also left the STICU for a new position at Novant Hospital in Charlotte NC. Since arriving at Novant Elizabeth has been a part of a live podcast which covers the many trials and heartaches of being a nurse. She is also in the process of starting a Neuro ICU support group, which was inspired by her experience with Lindsay. I wish her all the best on her new endeavors.
Neta, another very special person in our lives at the hospital and our life today. This amazing lady is in charge of the nursing staff at the STICU and keeps that unit going. She is a manager, a peacekeeper, and a calm voice of reason when reason has left your world. Neta continues to be a major presence and contributor as my family continues Lindsay’s legacy through the Lindsay M. Benton Foundation and the importance of organ donation and registration.
My wife and I were standing in Lindsay’s room one morning and it was not a very good morning, Lindsay had a rough night and we were heading to that unhappy place in our hearts. The janitor came in and started doing his daily cleaning. We both looked at each other as to say “You can’t wait five minutes, you can’t leave us alone with Lindsay, you have to come in right now.” He continued with his duties, sweeping, dusting, and emptying the trash cans, very quietly and respectfully. We both thought “Finally he is finished” as he started out of the room. When he reached the door he stopped, turned to us and said “I want you to know I am praying for her. What is her name?” We told him Lindsay, and replied “Now I know who I am praying for, thank you.” There was always somebody or something that pulled us up from the darkest valley when we least expected it, at that moment that janitor was a hero to me.
NC Highway Patrol State Troopers Strangman and Ransom, first responders at Lindsay’s accident, met us in the emergency room when we arrived. They were very professional, considerate, and showed the utmost respect when they spoke to Kellie, Lindsay’s mom, and myself. They were genuinely concerned for Lindsay’s condition as well as our family. After we spoke and all the legalities were take care of both troopers shook my hand and wished us well. I thought this was the last time I would see these men, but I was wrong. The next day I saw Troopers Strangman and Ransom walking down the hall toward the STICU waiting room area. The first thought that popped in my mind was “This is not good, why are they here?” Very anxiously I waited for them to arrive at the end of the hall. They both shook my hand and said “How is Lindsay doing and how are you doing?” I had to stop for a minute and register their question. I explained to them what was going on with Lindsay and how bad her condition was. They both, with sincerity rarely seen said “We will keep her and your family in your thoughts and prayers.” These gentlemen did not have to come by, their job was completed the day before. Every day, for a week, one, if not both, of the NC Troopers would stop by and check on Lindsay and my family, always asking if there was anything they could do for us. Trooper Strangman stopped by on what I believe was the third day after Lindsay accident to let me know where Lindsay’s car was towed so we could get her possessions. I told him I saw her car at the accident and I never wanted to see it again, and I assured him her mother never wanted to see it again as well. This was Trooper Strangman’s response “Saying that, if you will give me your permission, I will go by and remove her belongings for you. I will also remove her licenses plate and bring it to you.” I was amazed by this, I could not believe this NC.State Trooper would take time out of his day to do this for us. Later that week the trooper’s First Sergeant, Sergeant Pope, stopped by to visit us and check on Lindsay. He, too, was so uplifting. His faith was amazing, his words inspiring, and again he did not have to take the time to visit us. Trooper Stangman visited us on his day off, yes, his day off. I was standing outside the waiting room door and I saw this tall gentleman walking down the hall with a young lady on his arm. I have to admit I did not recognize him out of uniform. He walked up to me and said “This is my girlfriend and I had to bring her by to meet you and your family, because you have been such an inspiration to me.” This is one more example of good people doing good things. Another example of someone pulling you out of that place your mind takes you when your world is falling apart.
One more thing about these amazing men. Still to this day, they check on me. They still ask if there is anything they can do for me. These men are truly two of North Carolina’s finest. God’s continued blessings on them for what they do for all of us, every day.
As we stood as a family in the front of Northside Baptist Church the evening of September 1st for Lindsay’s Visitation, we had no idea the outpouring of love we were about to witness. Over one thousand people came through the doors of the church and so very patiently waited in line to speak to each of us. Among all these amazing people were a few of her nurse’s, one of her doctors, friends, family, classmates of Lindsay’s and strangers. These strangers felt a calling to come and support us because they themselves had lost a child, now these strangers were part of our life. There was a friend Lindsay had met at the National Youth Leadership Forum for Medicine UNC-Chapel Hill the summer of 2016. This young man traveled 8 hours to show his love and support. He told us a story of how Lindsay had changed his life at the forum. How she had shown him compassion and invited him to join her group when he was alone. He was drawn to Wilmington by his love for Lindsay and her friendship. There were cheer teams from North Carolina and Virginia, young ladies that had meet Lindsay during the many tournaments she had competed in with her squad from Wilmington Christian Academy. The evening was long, but the love and kindness shown to us goes far beyond any word other than “heroes.”
It is now September 2nd, a day I was dreading, the day we were laying my daughter to rest. We woke up that morning facing the hardest thing any parent could ever face along with the added stress of tropical storm Hermine bearing down on us. It was a solemn morning and my wife and I spoke very few words, we knew what was ahead of us. As we drove to the church the weather became even more intense. My family gathered in a separate room as we prepared to enter the church sanctuary for Lindsay’s service. When the time came for us to walk into the church, there were over 800 people sitting and standing to show their love, support and respect to this amazing young lady. Over 800 people that could have very easily stayed home because of the storm. My heart filled with an emotion I have never felt. I could not believe that all these people had travel through a tropical storm to be here, to say good bye to Lindsay. The service was beautiful and it was Lindsay’s service. There were songs from Beyoncé playing as the multitude of people found their seats. Pastors Kenny Chinn and Chris Wroten delivered a love filled message of Lindsay’s life and how she lived it, her way.
I know there were so many more heroes during that week and the weeks to follow. I cannot list or remember everyone’s name, but I know you were there and you were a hero. Lindsay’s cousins, step brother and sister are among the many that were behind the scene heroes. Andrew, Aaron, Mary, Nichols, Ethan, Michael and Alyssa, they all were there for us, and Lindsay, in so many different ways. They traveled from Las Vegas, Raleigh, New York and Durham to be with her before she passed and after she left us. Some had to return home before her service and it literally broke their heart, but I know they were there in spirit. Alyssa, this sweet young lady lives in Long Island New York, one of Lindsay’s favorite places. We had discussed, and made arrangements for, Lindsay to spend the weekend with Alyssa in New York for her 18th birthday, but she never made it.
These last two are very personal to me.
Jarrett Benton, my son, was, and still is, a hero. I remember in the hospital he told me “Dad, all she ever wanted to do was turn eighteen. Can we have a party for her on her birthday?” With a smile on my face and tears in my eyes I said, “Son, we can have a blowout.” He was at the hospital day and night except when he had to go to school for something he could not miss. He would sit with Lindsay for hours hold her hand and just talk to her. He wanted so badly for her to sit up and just argue with him. After Lindsay passed away he came to his mother and I to ask if he could speak at Lindsay’s service. Kellie and I discussed it, we were concerned that he may not be able to get through it, but we agreed to let Jarrett speak. This young man stood at Lindsay’s service and in front of over 800 people, and told his story of Lindsay. He told a beautiful story of himself and his sister in his own words. He wanted everyone to know that Lindsay was his sister, that he loved her and was so proud of her. He spoke of their childhood and growing up, he spoke of how they had grown apart and how over the year before Lindsay passed away, they had grown closer than before. They began to confide in each other and lean on each other. They were becoming a brother and sister again, they were becoming friends. This young man made us smile, he made us laugh, he made us cry but most of all, he made Lindsay proud. I love you son.
There is a saying that goes “Behind every great man, is a great woman.” I have a little different version of that statement and it goes like this “Beside every great man, is a great woman and behind him is his brother.”
My brother, Brian Benton, has been my big brother my entire life, I know, that is rather obvious. Not only has he been my big brother because of age, he has been my big brother in life. He has always supported me in every way, and during Lindsay’s passing it was no different. He was here from the day after her accident, and stayed until he felt comfortable leaving us. He was my right arm, my mediator and my liaison. Anything I needed done was done, no questions asked. He made phone calls, made appointments and took notes at the meetings he set up. He washed dishes and took out the trash; there was nothing he was not willing to do for us. There was one thing I asked him to do, something that I just could not fathom doing myself. After speaking to Lindsay’s mom, I asked him to write Lindsay’s obituary for us. Brian, without hesitation, very humbly agreed to write my daughter’s story. He poured his heart into every word, and it was beautiful. It was short but told a story of this beautiful young lady and her dreams of saving lives. I can never thank him for all he did for me during the most heartbreaking time of my life, but brothers have a bond that goes far beyond any spoken word.
Sometime I feel like the luckiest man in the world to have all these amazing people in my life, but the word lucky is far overshadowed by the reason they were there. Thank you to each and every person that was there for us, you are MY definition of true heroes.