Growing up, Matthew was restricted from contact sports and was told to rest when he felt tired, otherwise, everything was typical. He was close to his siblings, older sister Logan and younger brother Drew, and he loved to play basketball and baseball.
On Dec. 2, 2015, when Matthew was 13, the Caymol family experienced a life-altering tragedy. While driving home from basketball practice, Matthew, his father, Mateo, and Drew, 11, were in a car accident just 20 seconds from their new home in Buford. It was dark when a deer ran into the road. An oncoming car swerved to miss the animal and collided with the Caymols’ Honda Accord.
Angie could hear the onslaught of sirens as she surveyed a mountain of moving boxes in her garage. As the volume of the sirens grew, so did her anxiety. She began calling cell phone numbers — Mateo, Matthew, Drew — but no one answered. She got in her car and followed the high-pitched wails. She prayed she wouldn’t see a gray car but discovered an accident with two gray cars at the center of the noise.
After standing by for what felt like forever, an officer approached. He told Angie that Mateo and Matthew were both severely injured and could die, and Drew, the baby of the family, her baby, who looked like Matthew’s twin, did not survive.
Mateo had a shattered hip socket, several broken ribs, and lung issues. He was taken to one hospital while Matthew was life-flighted to another. Matthew suffered a lung collapse, traumatic brain injury, and a deep cut on his right foot that later turned septic. He was in a medically induced coma for three weeks.
“My memory from the accident is foggy,” said Matthew. “I don’t remember much of anything from before, during, or some of the after.”
Matthew’s recovery was miraculous. He came home in early February of 2016 and continued daily out-patient rehab for three months. He had physical, occupational and speech therapies for the next couple of years.
Matthew’s memory and reflexes are compromised as a result of the traumatic brain injury. He has what’s called “foot drop,” where the brain doesn’t send signals to the foot to lift. On his left leg he wears a Bioness, a brace-like e-stim device that helps improve walking abilities.
When Matthew turned 16, getting his driver’s license was not on his mind.
“It was a mix of not being sure I’d physically be able and, to be honest, I just didn’t want to,” said Matthew.
He changed his mind, however, when he was 19.
“It was his first summer back from college,” recalled Angie. “He called and told me he was ready to get his license. He said to make sure I wouldn’t let him change his mind.”
For two-and-a-half summers, Angie drove Matthew to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta-Scottish Rite to attend their driver rehab program. Evaluation results showed he was not fit to drive using his feet but could train to drive with hand controls instead.
“I don’t remember being afraid of being in a car, but I was a bit nervous with the hand controls at first,” said Matthew.
Watching Matthew work toward his goal to drive was consistent with the character he’s shown his entire life, said his mother.
“Like everything else involving him, I was amazed,” said Angie. “His desire to work toward something without complaint, his commitment despite the difficulty, his lack of excuses and how he’s unaffected by comparison — I just admire him so much.”
Matthew earned his driver’s license on Aug.18, the day after he returned from a cross-country road trip with friends. When he returned to Clemson University to start his junior year, he did so in a new white Bronco, complete with hand controls.
When asked how he carries on without fear or bitterness, Matthew is succinct, absolute.
“The accident is always in the back of my mind. It’s a presence, but not a fear. I have the support of my family, faith in God, and faith in myself.”