By Brooke Greene / Editor in Chief
Hutchinson has come together in these past few months to support an important family that has been struck by tragedy.
Locals have seen it all over our town, whether it be at Bogey’s with the Mrs. Evans shake, Midway Motors, as they offered car washes and T-shirts to raise money for the Evans family, or the Facebook temporary profile showing “Relentless in hope, #Evansstrong”, the Evanses have been on the city’s hearts as they tackle their journey.
This is their story.
Melissa and Clayton Evans have been active in the community and have two children. They both graduated from Hutchinson Community College, Clayton in 2007 and Melissa in 2017, and she also studied at Kansas State University. The two settled on educational degrees and took their roles as teachers in Hutch. Melissa is now in her second year as the assistant principal and athletic director for Hutchinson Middle School, and Clayton is a business teacher at Hutchinson High school, head softball coach and a DECA sponsor. He also helps with the student run business at Hutch High known as The Sweet Treat. Both of them coach a variety of sports, as parents, and proud teachers.
The accident happened when Clayton was in Lawrence golfing with some friends. They were set to take a flight to Chicago for a boys trip. When they took a turn too quickly, the golf cart rolled over and landed on top of Clayton. While he remained conscious, he knew instantly that he could not feel his legs.
“They called an ambulance and he was soon after airlifted to KU Med in Kansas City. I was actually leaving KC on my way to Lawrence to meet Clayton and my little brother for dinner when they called to tell me what happened,” Melissa said. “I instantly turned around and headed to meet Clayton at KU Med. I’m thankful I was so close when it happened, because I can’t imagine making a three-hour drive instead of a twenty-minute drive. There was a really nice EMT on the helicopter that finally let Clayton call me himself. There wasn’t much substance to that conversation other than Clayton saying, ‘Babe, I love you so much. I can’t feel my legs. I love you so much.’ And me reassuring him I would be right there with him, that I was on my way and everything was going to be OK.”
Clayton was then taken to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at KU Medical Center. Rods were to be put in to stabilize his spine. Before the surgery, he could barely move at all.
His accident was on a Wednesday and the surgery took place Friday, but after about 60% completion, they were forced to stop when Clayton started to code on the table.
“I don’t really remember much after the doctor told me, I just remember falling to the floor in the waiting room and begging the surgeon to understand that it wasn’t just anyone on the table, it was my husband,” Melissa said. “It was the father of my children and we need him. I thank God every day that my brother drove 17 hours in 23 hours to get to me because he was the one that picked me up off the floor and got me back to Clayton’s room. They told us the plan was to keep him intubated and sedated through the weekend while they tried to figure out why he coded. I just knew he was never going to wake up again.”
This fear and worry for her husband and her family was unimaginable, all because of an accident. However, Clayton managed to surprise them all.
“Come to find out, Clayton ended up waking up on his own, ripping the tube out. Which we’ve since found out is never an ideal thing but it meant we were able to talk through the weekend and I am really, really grateful for that,” Melissa said. “They went back into surgery on Monday and were able to successfully complete his spinal fusion. He was monitored over the next few days and we were transported to Craig Hospital on Thursday.”
Once the news was out that Clayton may never walk again, Melissa knew their family would have to make some serious accommodations. She was already onto plan A-Z when Clayton had been given enough sleep aide to fall asleep. She considered his coaching career and looked into the KSHSAA regulations for coaching in a wheelchair, the housing market in Hutch, and vehicle modifications.
A good wife worries for her injured husband, but a great wife like Melissa was set to make life seem as normal as possible for Clayton. After all, a wheelchair is only a setback. It is his life that she and her kids clung to the most.
“That Friday evening, when I thought he was going to die, that’s where I struggled. I can tell my kids, ‘Daddy will need a wheelchair.’ I couldn’t bear the thought of telling them he was gone,” Melissa said.
It was decided that the best course of action to take care of Clayton and his injuries was a rehabilitation center in Colorado. Craig Hospital, located in Englewood, has been accommodating to Clayton, and his family travels up there often to see him. They FaceTime and have phone calls, being sure to never lose contact with one another despite the distance.
They have a team made up of his doctor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, peer mentors, social worker, and a couple nurses assigned to his case – they all work in conjunction to help Clayton reach goals specific to what he wants to be able to do when he comes home.
“I’ll never forget our first day here during intake. They asked him what he wanted to get out of this inpatient rehabilitation and he said, ‘I just want to be able to play with my kids and take my wife on dates,’” Melissa said. “In the most horrific of situations, he was still thinking about us.”
Their kids enjoy spending time with their dad in Colorado, with plenty of things to do to keep them busy. Their daughter Bella seems to enjoy the beauty in Colorado.
“We go hang out in the gardens, we play basketball, and play by the fountains, and we saw birds and the fishes,” Bella said.
Their son Max, on the other hand, takes any chance he can to play with his dad.
“I mostly just basically play with my dad. He’s great,” Max said.
It is clear that their love and support for their daddy shines bright even through the most challenging times.
Adjusting to this new life, living so far away from Clayton while he recovers, has been hard on the Evans family. Emotionally and physically, having to accomodate for the temporary absence of a parent is not an easy task. She gets the kids up earlier for school, tries to keep the house clean for home showings, factors in her workday, hosting and supervising seventh-grade activities, keeping in touch with Clayton through FaceTime and Zoom calls, and she’s also tackling applying for aids and grants that will help Clayton when he returns home and is able to get back to work.
Clayton’s job right now is to recover so that our community can welcome him back home, and his wife is doing a wonderful job at making sure things will be in order when that time does come.
“It’s just a lot. But I honestly think the hardest part is not being there with Clayton while he is rehabbing,” Melissa said. “We’ve talked a lot about how the days aren’t too hard because we’re used to being away from each other at work and even late into the evenings because I have supervisions and he coaches two seasons. But it’s going to bed without each other, it’s having conversations about our day face to face, it’s missing listening to him tuck the kids in, those are the things I miss most. The beauty of that is all of those things – those will absolutely still be things when he returns. It’s just like this for now.”
While she says she is more than capable of holding down the fort while he recovers, it is important for her to let him know that she, their family, and this community still needs him.
Fundraisers have been organized to raise money for the Evans family, one of the best known being the Mrs. Evans shakes at Bogey’s. Many want to know how that shake was named after her in the first place.
“This question cracks me up because every time I answer it, I realize I basically forced Bogey’s hand,” Melissa said. “I have a couple different passions in life, one of them being cookie dough. We love Bogey’s and every time we went, I always asked Clayton to order my shake very specifically. Cookie dough and oreo, extra cookie dough extra chunky. Every time we’d get it, I’d post it on my story calling it the Mrs. Evans shake. People would ask what it was and I’d tell them the order. After a while, I started just telling people to order the Mrs. Evans and they’d know how to make it, knowing full well this probably wasn’t the case but it cracked me up.” said Melissa. What started as a simple sweet treat eventually became something huge in our community, becoming a more and more popular option at Bogeys out of their 101 shakes. “Eventually, I think enough people tried to order it that the owner of Bogey’s reached out and offered to make it the Shake of the Month in October of 2019 and he donated a percentage of the proceeds to The Closet at Hutch High, a place where students can go if they need clothes, school supplies, hygiene products, etc., where I was working as a math teacher at the time,” Melissa said. “Bogey’s puts so much good out into our community.”
After this development, and after Clayton’s accident, Bogey’s then put proceeds towards raising money for the Evans family and medical expenses needed for Clayton.
Melissa immediately started considering new housing options, as it was obvious that their lives would change forever. She reached out to the building trades program at Hutch High and discussed buying the home they build each year if the floor plans could be modified to Clayton’s needs.
A premature idea, a shot in the dark, became a reality. With the opportunity to have a custom-made home, the Evanses are hoping to do something even more remarkable with it.
“In designing the plans with Jim Strawn, who volunteered to do them for free, we were intentional about still having a basement with additional bedrooms because Clayton and I have always had intentions of fostering once our own children are old enough for us to feel like we can safely do so. And we knew we would need to sell our current house to be able to foster, so while this sped up that process exponentially, it is still exciting to think we are one step closer to that goal as well,” Melissa said. “And not only that – with this house being built to fit all of Clayton’s needs, it means we could potentially foster kiddos with similar needs. There is always good that comes out of these situations, as long we choose to create it.”
Since his accident, Clayton has made incredible progress. His family and the Hutchinson community is proud of him for his improvements over these past several months. His recovery has been a slow process, but not without effort. After his surgery, he could barely move, not even enough to watch the television in his room. Slowly but surely, things started to look up.
“Since July 7, he has graduated from a power wheelchair, to a manual wheelchair. His restrictions from surgery are now lifted and he can fully activate any and all muscles in his back and anywhere else he is physically able to. He has transitioned from being completely dependent for transfers – think from bed to chair, chair to mat, etc. – to being cleared for slide board transfers independently and working towards getting cleared for popover transfers,” said Melissa.
Over Labor Day weekend, Craig Hospital traded out Clayton’s hospital bed for a full-sized firm mattress. They were able to complete his full morning routine without any medical assistance. While it is a little scary to think about bringing Clayton home, and hopefully soon, they are grateful for the knowledge they have obtained from their time at the hospital in learning how to care for someone with a spinal injury.
“But courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s doing it despite the fear,” Melissa said. “So we will lean on them as long as we have them, and then we will attack this new life as courageously as possible, with the intent of having every friend in the medical profession on speed dial.”
This brave family will always face trials, but it is their love for each other that makes them so #Evansstrong.