In only its first year of publication, the Murrells Inlet Messenger won four out of nine writing awards associate members were eligible for in the 2010 South Carolina Press Association awards contest.
Enjoy reading these encouraging and inspiring stories of local people who are overcoming autism, a brain injury, a missing father and the premature death of a brother.
The stories are below.
Younger brother’s death somehow breathes new life into family
This article won first place for best editorial/op ed.
By Tim Callahan
My youngest brother wrote an e-mail to our family last month
asking us to forget the past and forgive one another.
“Family is the most important thing,” he said. “I see that now. I
didn’t before. Can’t we all just get along? Nothing else matters.”
He died a week later of cancer. Kevin was 41.
The last the family knew he was cancer free, then it came back,
then he had two to five years to live…then the phone call.
His three brothers and three sisters flew or drove to his home in
Plattsburgh, N.Y., from all over the Eastern United States: Vermont,
New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina and Virginia.
Death is stressful enough for the living without the added stress
of bringing six people together who had let past hurts keep us
Nevertheless, every one of us couldn’t get Kevin’s last e-mail
out of our minds. It was his dying wish. At least for the funeral,
we made promises to ourselves to honor his last request. We
would see each other at the funeral, pay our respects, get along
for a few hours, and quickly get away. But God had other plans.
He wanted to use Kevin’s death for good and not let evil win,
just as He did with Jesus on the cross. Satan thought Christ was
dead and buried. However, God knew Jesus would rise again
and save mankind from their sins, if they only would let Him.
God also knew that our family could reconcile, if we only
would act like Christians and let Him do it.
A Scripture the family had been ignoring for years was Matt.
5:23-26 (NLT): “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember
that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice
there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then
come and offer your sacrifice to God. Come to terms quickly
with your enemy before it is too late and you are dragged into
court, handed over to an officer, and thrown in jail. I assure you
that you won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”
No wonder we were in a prison of bitterness when it came to
family. We hadn’t forgiven each other.
I took a step toward forgiveness and called my sister Kelly at
the hotel – before the funeral.
She answered, “Kelly and sisters.”
Not a good sign. It appeared she was choosing sides again. It
had been sisters versus brothers for a long, long time. (I’m not
going to say why. That is too personal).
After getting in my “Tim and brothers,” I quickly humbled myself
and plunged ahead.
“Kelly. Let’s honor Kevin’s wishes. Let’s forget ‘brothers’ and
‘sisters.’ Let’s not go there. Can we put that aside and get along
this week for his sake.”
“I can’t believe you said that,” Kelly said. “We [the sisters]
were just talking about that. I am so glad you called. Yeah, let’s
I hung up. It was too easy. Yeah, sure, Kelly, I thought. You’re
just saying that. It won’t happen. I was wrong because another
brother took another step.
Pat was supposed to be coming to my room to give me and
Debbie, my wife, a ride over to the funeral home. But, I got a
phone call instead.
“Tim. I’m in Kelly’s room. Come on down.” It was Pat. That
sly dog had gone to Kelly’s room, knocked on the door, and then
walked in and hugged anybody that would let him.
“No one can resist a hug,” Pat said later, laughing.
He was right.
Within five minutes, we were all – Mike, Tim, Pat, Kelly, Kathy and Colleen – hugging each other and talking to each other like we hadn’t since I was 14-years-old.
It was only when we went to the funeral home that we admitted
to ourselves that someone was missing: Kevin. The DVD showing
pictures of a much younger and happier Kevin was almost
too much to bear.
We cried. We remembered. We hugged.
And Kevin was honored.
The whole family forgiveness thing was too miraculous not to
give credit to God. God did it.
But we – Pat, Kelly and I – did something, too.
We took little steps of faith.
Autism speaks to Georgetown, Horry counties
This article won first place for best feature story among associate
members in the 2010 South Carolina Press awards contest.
By Tim Callahan
Anna Damos acted weird as a child. She complained a lot. Her
social skills were lacking.
And she hated loud noises.
Now 23-years-old, Anna still hates loud noises, but she has improved
socially and is looking for friends.
Anna has a milder case of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.
One in 110 children is diagnosed with autism, according to
Autism Speaks, and 1.5 million people in the U.S. – and tens of
millions people worldwide – are affected by it.
Anna’s aunt, Phyllis Chapman, said that 730,000 young people
in the U.S. under the age of 21 have autism.
Anna wants to connect with some of these younger people living
in the Georgetown County area. With the help of her mother,
Kelly Damos, and grandmother, Pat, she hopes to start an autism
“She wants and needs friends,” said Phyllis.
The four women agree that no one can truly understand what
someone is going through unless they have gone through it
“I was the oldest of three sisters and I felt like the youngest,”
She said her parents were overprotective of her a bit, afraid her
disability would put her in danger with the wrong person, maybe
even a pedophile.
She was drilled repeatedly about talking to strangers.
“One time,” Pat laughed. “She came up to me and said ‘Don’t
be mad at me, but I talked to a stranger. A lady fell down in the
store and I helped her up.’”
There was constant tension over giving her some breathing
room and training and guiding her in navigating the world with
“I sometime felt like my parents didn’t trust me,” Anna said.
Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and
communication and restricted and repetitive behavior.
Anna is on disability and doesn’t have a regular job but, like
many people with autism, she is very creative.
“They are usually very strong in one area,” Kelly said. “Math,
art, writing – Anna is an artist.”
Anna took the opportunity to show a guest her handmade
greeting cards. It looked like it would take hours to do just one
“It takes me about a half hour,” Anna said.
Her creativity also expresses itself in writing as she handed
a fellow writer a couple books she had written. In addition, she
writes the words on the cards she makes, whether it is a birthday card or a thank you card.
Anna has a high functioning form of autism, Kelly said. She
can dress and care for herself, but there are those with autism
who can’t. There are even some who can’t talk. Dustin Hoffman’s
movie character in “Rain Man” portrayed the most severe
cases, or levels of the spectrum, as they are called in the autism
Autism is a general term used to explain a group of complex
developmental brain disorders; Asperger’s among them. It is not
yet known what causes autism, but it “is not bad parenting,” according
to Autism Speaks.
“Of course, I blamed myself,” Kelly said. She now knows better
but that type of thinking can still creep in her life.
First Sign Inc. states that signs of autism can be detected very
early: no big smiles by six months; no back and forth sharing
of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions; no babbling by 12
months; no back and forth gestures like finger pointing, showing
or reaching by 12 months; and no words by 16 months.
Anna had public schooling and home schooling to help her
grow socially and intellectually. But, she said, she always felt
like a third wheel with her two sisters. They could do things she
The women laughed about the “Rain Man” portrayal of autism
as Anna is far from that, but she is willing to help those who are
severely handicapped with autism.
Anna and Kelly, and her husband, Al, live in Pawleys Island, as
does Aunt Phyllis, who is willing to open her home for gatherings
of those with autism. If there is a big response, they might
meet in a church, she said.
No matter where a group meets, Anna just wants some friends.
She doesn’t act weird anymore and she complains less, she said,
but that doesn’t mean she can’t relate to those who suffer from
negative behavior associated with their autism.
“I know what it is like,” she said.
(For more information on autism, please visit these Web sites.
www.firstsigns.org, www.cdc.gov/actearly, www.autismspeaks.
org, www.autism-society.org, www.murrellsinletmessenger.com)
Courageous student overcomes adversity
This article won second place for best feature story in the 2010
South Carolina Press Association awards contest.
By Tim Callahan
Donnie O’Dell’s drug addicted mom left him. His grandfather,
who helped raise him, died during Donnie’s sophomore year.
Donnie never knew his father until this year, his senior year at
St. James High School.
Donnie did not resort to drugs and he did not drop out. He did
not wallow in self-pity.
Nor, did he just scrape by.
O’Dell was honored last week with the Taylor McKinney
Courage Award, given to a student for overcoming adversity to
graduate from high school. He also was the Sharks’ REEL Kid
(Recognizing Extraordinary Examples of Leadership).
One student was named from each school in the Horry County
The phenomenal student-athlete is headed to Methodist University,
a co-ed liberal arts and science college, on an academic
scholarship. He has also been recruited to play football. Not a
real big boy at 5’10” and 170 pounds, Donnie will probably be
the team’s long snapper for punts. He also wants to play outside
The young man, who put on the Special Olympics as a senior
project with 17 high schools participating, wants to major in
special education or sports administration.
Special Olympians and special education students bring Donnie
joy.“They lighten up my day,” he said. “When I walk into the
room, I just can’t help but smile.”
He said that working with the disabled puts his past into perspective.
“I found out there are people who had it a lot worse
than I did,” he said.
He may also study sports administration at Methodist “in case I
want to take Coach [Paula] Lee’s job,” he said. Lee, the school’s athletic director, has been a big fan of Donnie O’Dell.
“Look at everything he’s done and everything he’s overcome,”
she said. “It’s amazing.”
The loss of his grandfather and his “tough love” was huge. It
was his grandfather, Donnie said, who provided him with the
motivation to overcome all the obstacles.
“I wanted to prove to him that I could do it,” he said. “To prove
that I could do what he wanted me to do. Going to college was
one of those things.”
His grandmother, the “soft one,” the one who would slip him
a 100 dollar bill behind his grandfather’s back, took him completely
under her wings. She did a great job of helping raise him
on her own, Donnie said. But, Donnie still hunted down his dad.
He drove up to Maryland and knocked on his father’s door.
“It was a shock for him, sure, but we talked,” Donnie said.
He was impressed with his dad, a man of many jobs and hobbies,
including drag racing, taxidermy, biking and hunting.
“He drove down here for Bike Week many times,” Donnie said. “He was
just a few miles away from where I lived.”
Michael Brown: my son Chandler ‘is a miracle’
This story won third place in the best feature category among
associate members in the 2010 South Carolina Press Association
By Tim Callahan
The young man lay bleeding and unconscious with a traumatic
brain injury and a broken jaw after he lost control of his car and
went off the road and hit a tree outside Harrisonburg,Va.
Once arriving on the scene, the ambulance squad questioned
how anyone could live through what they found. The left side of
the car was an accordion, the roof was crushed, the windshield
smashed, and the young man was slumped forward with a massive
The squad gingerly freed the young man and raced him to
Rockingham Memorial Hospital.
At the hospital, nurse CeCe Rosen was talking to a co-worker
when the co-worker’s beeper want off. She told CeCe she had to
go, a male patient was on his way to the emergency room.
Thirty minutes later, the hospital administrator asked CeCe if
her son was Chandler Brown and did she recognize a medallion
they found on the crash victim.
Chandler, her 18-year-old child from a previous marriage, was
the emergency patient. He lived with her and his step-dad in Mt.
His mother ran to the emergency room, where doctors fought
to save Chandler’s life. After doing what they could, the doctors
wanted to put him in a rescue helicopter, but it was grounded
due to bad weather. The ambulance squad was the only hope.
They had to drive Chandler 63 miles to the University of Virginia
Medical Center in Charlottesville.
Meanwhile, the father, Mike Brown of Murrells Inlet, an employee
for 30 years of Drunken Jack’s, raced to the hospital from
Doctors told the parents to prepare for the worse.
A year after the accident in October of 2009, Mike Brown can
still not tell the story without bursting into tears.
“The doctor’s gave him little hope, little chance of coming out
of the coma,” he said.
Three weeks later, Chandler Brown was conscious.
The doctors still gave him little hope of recovering, of regaining
use of some of his limbs – and his mind.
Five days after awakening from a coma, he hugged his parents.
Chandler Brown entered community college this fall.
“They told his mother he wouldn’t survive.” Mike said. “He did
a lot more than survive.”
“I want people to know that in this world – with so much bad -
there is good, there are miracles,” Mike said. “He is a miracle.”
Mike stopped for several seconds as he choked back tears and
then said it again. “He is a miracle.”
Mike also wants people to know that there are a lot of good
people in this world, people who wrote his family letters, prayed
for them, visited them.
“People at the bar in Drunken Jack’s got down on their knees
and prayed for Chandler,” Mike said, the tears falling again.
“Drunken Jack’s Al Hitchcock, Theodore Russell and David
McMillan paid for my hotel when Chandler was in a coma.
They also let me stay away from work for two months to be with
Chandler at a rehab center in Virginia. They took care of me.
These are the kind of people we have down here.”
He said churches in Murrells Inlet and Charlottesville, and the
surrounding areas, prayed for Chandler. The “whole community”
of Murrells Inlet helped the family. People he didn’t even
know sent the family letters, or called to let them know they had
similar experiences with their children and wanted to offer hope
Mike would never, ever wish that what happened would happen
to his son, but he said good came out of a terrible, senseless
“He had no purpose in life,” he said. “Now he wants to go to
college, become an English teacher, and write a book about what
happened to him. He has a goal in life.”
To help Chandler fulfill his purpose, and pay off some of his insurmountable
medical bills, Drunken Jack’s and Inlet Affairs in
Murrells Inlet are hosting a benefit on Oct. 30, starting at 1 p.m.
“The bands involved are all giving their time and talents,” Mike
said. “We have very special people in this area.”
The rest of the story
Chandler’s story was not an accident and victory. It was an accident
and a year of rehabilitation. He was on feeding and water
tubes for two months. He couldn’t speak at first, his tongue
wouldn’t move. They wouldn’t take the tubes out until his work
with a speech therapist freed the tongue enough to allow him to
swallow without choking to death.
His broken jaw had a plate in it. He had partial paralysis on one
side of his face and in one hand, his writing hand. He lost sight
in his right eye. And, Mike said, he became addicted to the painkillers
cursing through his body.
“He was waking up, crying, having nightmares,” Mike said.
“My son is my heart and I couldn’t do anything.”
“Phase one was coming out of the coma,” Mike said. “Phase
two was getting off the tubes, but phase three, that’s when it got
Phase three was rehab at the University of Virginia’s Kluge
Children’s Rehabilitation Center. Chandler had to learn to walk,
talk and eat again. He said the strength to recover came from
But, in a weird way.
“I thought I was stuck in a bad dream and I would wake up at
home,” he said. “I felt I could get through it and do anything
they asked because I would eventually wake up.”
About two-thirds of the way through his 77 days at the rehab
place, Chandler was still in his dream. But, he started to question
the dream through another “weird” occurrence.
“I was watching Jeopardy on television and I thought, ‘There
is no way that I would I know all these answers if I was in a
Still, it wasn’t until he went home, just as he knew in his dream,
that he mentally woke up.
“It was real,” he said.
The negative aspects of the accident were obvious, his body
was banged up, his mind had slowed down, and he lost a year of
his life recovering.
His thought processes are still much slower than other people
“I can hold a conversation like this,” he said. “And I can get
things done. It just takes longer for my thoughts to process. I
need more time.”
A year removed from the accident, his biggest concerns are
teenage ones: he feels he is behind his friends, some of whom
are now juniors in college, and that he can’t drive.
But, what has gotten him through the tragedy is his faith, he
“I know that with every negative, every bad thing, there is agood thing,” he said. “They balance out.”
And, the “near death experience has given me a whole new
perspective on life,” he said. “I know I am here for a reason.”
A proud father
Chandler is now entering the next phase of his life.
“Sometimes his actions are like a little kid,” Mike said. “In
some other ways he is very mature, beyond his years. But he is
very focused on what he wants to do.”
“He amazes people,” Mike said. “He brings a smile to their
Mike cannot say the words enough: “He is alive. He is a miracle.
My son is a miracle.”
The tears flow again. He can’t stop. The interview with Mike,
and the story, is over.
Someday soon, Chandler Brown will write his own story.