Tripp Halstead was everyone’s son, nephew and grandson.
He nearly died in a tragic accident more than five years ago, when a tree limb fell on him while outside his daycare facility.
It could have happened to any child. At any daycare center.
That part of the story, though, was just the beginning.
How Tripp and his family handle life changed by a traumatic brain injury inspired both people who personally cared for him and strangers from around the world. It was a story that resonated with so many people.
His family documented each moment on a Facebook page that has nearly 1.4 million followers. The posts could be amazingly frank and equally heartbreaking. People celebrated when the family did. They liked photos of Tripp getting a haircut and the adventures of Sailor the cat.
Tripp’s cherub-like features made people smile.
So, when Tripp died Thursday at age 7, they mourned.
A woman named Meredith reacted to the news on Twitter:
“News of the passing of Tripp Halstead literally took my breath away. I did not know him or his family, but I was one of his legion of followers who was constantly pulling for him and prayed for him often. My heart breaks for the beautiful family he leaves behind.”
Another said Tripp and his family “brought us together.”
His family had rushed him to the hospital after his mother, Stacy, went to wake him for school and discovered his labored breathing, according to a social media post.
His parents, Bill and Stacy, posted on the Tripp Halstead Updates Facebook page:
“His little body was just done fighting this last infection. His little heart gave out. This winter was brutal for him. I’m just so thankful he had the best summer ever. Jet skis, Disney World, the list is endless and that’s when we got those amazing huge smiles.
At this time, I will not be reading the comments, but your welcome to leave them for me to read in the coming weeks.
You have been the most loyal and outstanding followers we could have ever asked for and We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the past 5 1/2 years. You let us into your lives and You were there when we needed you most.”
His family could not be reached for comment.
Beth Cook is the executive director of the Chamblee-based Elaine Clark Center, which
provides education and therapeutic play for special needs children and youth, from six weeks old to 22 years old. She met Stacy Halstead last year when she spoke during a lunchtime program.
“What was truly amazing was how the whole Halstead family was supportive of other people,” she said.
Halstead and Cook, for instance, went outside and watched other children on the playground.
Halstead remarked that her family had received “so much support from the community when Tripp was injured. She said some of these children are forgotten, and I want to help these kids. She wanted to pass forward all the support she received to children in our program. It was really special. It’s not common for someone to come in and think about someone else’s situation when they themselves have been through so much. That is true grace.”
Dr. Gail Mattox, a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine and a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said the connection was clear.
“The family allowed us into their homes and into their journey with their son,” she said. “And it was a journey from the time he sustained the injury through multiple hospitalizations and surgeries. When that happened, we got very connected. We were there for each stop of their experience, and it’s natural to experience that loss with them.”
Jennifer Smith, a family friend and owner of Girls on Fire Fitness in Jefferson, said the family is an inspiration.
Halstead is “open with everything,” Smith said. “She doesn’t hide anything. She was able to handle anything with grace and that inspires me because I can be quick to go off.”
Smith said Halstead was just a person to whom others could relate and she always wants to help others.
At times, people were critical of posts on the Tripp Halstead Updates Facebook page.
When the family posted photos of the cat dressed in a sailor’s outfit, some people complained that the cat was uncomfortable.
“People can be so rude and mean,” Smith said. “They could say awful things to her, but she never lets things get her down.”
Sometimes they weighed on treatments and his progress. Another time, Stacy asked followers to share their Facebook pages of their children with special needs.
“And I have told a few people that they could post about adults also, they need our prayers too,” Stacy Halstead wrote. “This is a great way to share your story and help others in similar situations to find someone to connect with. We all need support.”
Another friend is Sara Samples, of Hoschton, whose seven-year-old son, Aaron, and was a former classmate of Tripp.
Samples’ son was diagnosed with autism when he was four.
The two women saw each other a few days ago. On Friday morning, Samples went out and bought a McDonald’s gift card, which she said was one of Stacy Halstead’s favorite restaurants.
Stacy Halstead, she said, can be a rock of support for others even as she went through her own challenges.
It was Halstead, who suggested that Samples join herZumba class as a way to handle the stress of dealing with issues like scheduling doctor’s visits, working with schools and just the ups and downs of being a parent of a child with special health challenges and needs.
“Zumba was her therapy, and yes, it became mine,” she said. “Stacy always made really tough situations better. The way she is on Facebook is exactly the person she is in real life. That’s why she touched so many people. She turned what could have absolutely destroyed her into a positive thing. She opened her heart and her entire family to the world. She became a voice for not only special needs parents and families but other people who probably never realized what special needs parents and families go through. There’s nosugarcoating things.”
A few times, Halstead featured Aaron on her Facebook page.
Halstead once explained how that day a limb fell set the path for her life.
“Had it not been for Tripp’s accident, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today,” Samples said Halstead confided. “It taught me to be a better person.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.