Classmates say David Jones was one of those guys in high school who made everyone happy. Elise Silver Simons even mentioned his smile in her valedictory address as the Hilton Head Island High School Class of 1991 stood in Seahawk blue robes ready to sprint into the future.
For David the sprint started out fine. He took over his father's 73-foot shrimp trawler, winching up a living one drag at a time like his sturdy father and grandfather before him.
Then something cruel happened.
It was on Labor Day 1997 as a yard full of giddy children arrived for a birthday party. With no warning signs or symptoms, David's upper body started burning. Within hours, his strapping body was paralyzed from the shoulders down. A rare virus called transverse myelitis had attacked his spinal column.
Now 34, David has learned to work a computer by voice command. He sends e-mails, writes letters, manipulates pictures and reads books on his computer. He works the phone to keep up with friends, who call him a positive influence. He moves about in a wheelchair he controls with puffs of breath, air that gets piped into his limp lungs through a respirator.
For a decade, David has largely been confined to his mother's home near Barker Field.
But those old high school classmates want to change that. They're leading a drive to raise $36,000 for a special van for David. By word of mouth over the past year, they've raised $12,000.
"His daily smiles were part of our high school experience," said Elise Simons, now a mother of two. "He played football and baseball and was an all-around great guy. His personality still shines through even though he has been faced with such awful circumstances."
Classmate Kelly Best Vogel quickly put together a Web site (www.vanfordavid.com).
Julie Jones Delguercio started a letter-writing campaign. Lots of classmates are just now finding out about David.
"He means a great deal to me," said Julie, also a mother of two little boys. "He has taught me as a person that there is always a bright side no matter how many hardships you face, and every person you meet you have to treat them with kindness because everyone has their own troubles."
Tom Rhoads of Raleigh, N.C., wasn't in David's class, but his sister Molly was and he said everyone in school knew David. Rhoads has sent a generous donation. "We've been blessed," said Rhoads, now executive vice president of a growing firm that uses robotics to fill prescriptions. "We want to do what we can to get him a little more freedom."
Bart Brophy, a local paraplegic and activist, got behind David's cause early on, helping him wade through the bureaucracy to get the services he needs.
The Deep Well Project, a private social services agency on the island, agreed to handle David's van fund so all donations are tax-deductible. Director Betsy Doughtie said when she lost her husband, Tim, she got a visit from David's mother, Janie Holmes Jones. She came to console Betsy, even though she herself was wearing a scarf due to her chemotherapy.
"They are good people who have been hit hard," Doughtie said.
LIFE ON HOLD
David's mother said she faced a big decision at the hospital. They asked where she wanted David to go: home or to a nursing home. She knew it was going to be a challenge, but she brought him home to be around family and friends who could help him heal.
"I decided I would just put my life on hold and do the best I can to help," she said. "Nothing much has changed."
Janie Jones was widowed in 1993 when her husband died of a brain tumor at 46. He was known as "David Jones the Second" to distinguish him from another islander by the same name, and he was a key figure in one of the island's most historic moments.
When the community rose up to fend off a chemical plant proposed for Victoria Bluff in 1970, shrimpers joined the fight to save Port Royal Sound from pollution. In the most visible moment of the heated battle, David Jones the Second piloted the trawler Capt. Dave for the 600-mile "Cruise For Conservation" to Washington, D.C., bearing signatures of 45,000 protesters and 25 pounds of shrimp for the secretary of the interior.
When her son came home paralyzed, Janie Jones sold the family business, Skull Creek Seafood. She's David's primary caregiver, along with his sister, Melanie Jones, who works at the Hilton Head Island Airport. Melanie says her life has been changed for the better by the experience because it brought her closer to her brother and taught valuable lessons.
"It was not our decision for this to happen," she said. "It wasn't our choice. It wasn't anything we did. So you make the best of the situation."
THE FIGHT TO ADVANCE
At first, David was angry.
Cheryl Holderfield, the nurse on duty in the Hilton Head Hospital emergency room when David was frantically wheeled in, says the part she'll never forget is David crying that he could never again hold his son. Devante was then just 3 months old.
"He was just frustrated," said Holderfield, now a neuroscience critical care manager at the Medical University of South Carolina and a close friend of the Jones family. "He wanted to be better and get out of there. He was determined this is not the way it's going to be."
David is smart, stubborn and always "thinking, thinking, thinking of how he can be better," she said.
He has slowly progressed, first learning to talk, then graduating from pureed food to solids, then getting a lift so he could get out of bed, then getting an appropriate chair, then getting a wheelchair and learning how to use it. Every advance was a fight, but he now has the services of a home health nurse eight hours a day.
Holderfield said there presently is no cure for David's condition. But David and his family fully believe he will walk again.
In measured speech, his voice box able to vibrate only as the respirator air escapes from his paralyzed body, David looks at you with huge brown eyes and booms out a message the full world should hear.
'I WON'T GIVE UP'
"Undoubtedly, in the beginning, it was a rough patch," he said. "Deep depression. Lots of uncertainty. A great deal of disbelief -- especially going from 100-percent independent to 100-percent dependent. My faith, along with the faith of others, is what got me through.
"I rely on my faith now to help me through because I know that God is above and although I am in this state, there are still things I can do, and I focus on those things. At one point, I was caught up in the thoughts of what I could not do, and as my faith began to rise and rise, I realized I needed to shift my focus from what I couldn't do to what I could do as I began to seek a more personal relationship with God.
"It allowed me to see things in a different light. It allowed me to focus on the positive things of life that I could control and that's what I did."
He credits the teachings of evangelist Andrew Wommack's CDs, tapes and "Gospel Truth" television show.
He credits his late father and grandfather, Benjamin, for teaching him to be a fighter. It's important to him that his son, now 10, sees that his father will never quit.
"I won't give up," David said.
"I wouldn't tell you this is easy. Each day is different, but I push on because of that drive and spirit. Always realizing it could be worse. Knowing that, whatever the adversity, it could've been worse so you have to reflect on that also."
His high school classmate, Julie Jones Delguercio, said she often stops in the heat of her day to remember something she learned from David:
"If you're going to worry, don't pray. If you're going to pray, don't worry."
Now the Seahawks are praying they can help David. They want him back out there as part of the island where they all watched each other grow up.
"We're not going to quit until we get there," Julie said.