It’s not hard for Rebecca Clark to describe her stepson, Chase Clark.
He’s smart, he’s thrifty and he loves his family.
The only thing the Heritage High School graduate loves more than catching a fish or hitting the open road is learning a new skill.
“He could do anything,” Rebecca Clark said. “One YouTube video, and he could rebuild a car engine, drive a tractor or remodel a house. He read a book about sailing, then he came home and bought himself a boat. He sailed to the Bahamas. When he was growing up, if it was raining, he’d grab my arm and say, ‘Come on, you don’t want to stay inside today.’ If it was sunny, he’d do the same.”
The sunny young man with the infectious grin turned 23 in March. Now he’s fighting to live as his family is crushed under a mountain of medical bills.
A semitrailer slid off a Wyoming road on April 12, jackknifed and landed on his car, crushing part of his skull and causing other traumatic injuries.
Chase Clark was flown to a trauma center in Utah, where he remained for several weeks before he was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
At $25,000, that flight wasn’t cheap.
Medical flights also aren’t covered by insurance, one of many hurdles faced by Rebecca Clark and Chase's father, Jason Clark; Chase's mother, Chris Wilburn, and stepfather, Blount County Sheriff’s Lt. Danny Wilburn.
“We had to pay upfront for the flight,” Rebecca Clark said. “They had just taken him off of a ventilator, which made it easier. It was originally going to be about $52,000. I don’t even know how much the bills amount to now.”
Expenses already topped $700,000 last week, according Donna Carver Sloan, a member of Danny Wilburn’s “extended family” at BCSO.
Sloan and another BCSO employee, Sarah Boring, are spearheading a country-flavored community fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 20, at Springbrook Park, 1561 Dalton St., Alcoa.
Food, drinks and cotton candy will be sold. A rain date is July 27.
“Take your own chairs,” Boring said. “We’ll have singles and doubles cornhole. Anyone who wants to play baseball can sign up. We’ll also have basketball for ages 9-13, 14-17 and adults. We’re even going to have musical chairs and an old-fashioned cake walk that will appeal to the older crowd. The little kids can take part in the fishing game or the sack race. We also are going to have a dunking booth.”
Local companies, including Home Depot, Little River Trading Co., Chick-fil-A and Jewelry Television, have donated services and silent auction items.
“We have a big grill that was donated that we’ll auction off,” Boring said. “All you need is the meat to put on it. Home Depot also donated a big toolbox.”
One thing they really need: More helping hands. Those who want to volunteer or donate items can call Boring at 423-715-8556.
No amount of effort has been too great, the BCSO women explained, because they consider Chase Clark as part of the family.
Sloan and Boring smiled and recounted stories as they shared a photo of Chase Clark holding a small nurse shark he caught off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Rebecca Clark remembers that trip well. He sent her a photo of his boat after it capsized.
“He had never sailed a boat, but he read about someone who did, so he came back here and he bought one,” Rebecca Clark said. “He ate baked beans on the trip so he could save money. Someone cooked him a lobster dinner one night and he said he put mayonnaise on it. I think he would have rather had his baked beans.”
Most folks would have given up on the boat and left it, according to Boring.
“He stayed on the boat for seven days by himself until he patched that boat,” Boring said. “He didn’t know how to do that when he took the boat out.”
“He came back here and he sold it,” Rebecca Clark said. “He even made money off of it. Not many people could do that. I look back on it and I did worry a lot when he went on his trips, but now I see how things turned out and I’m glad he got to do it.”
Chase Clark survived two emergency brain surgeries within days of the accident, followed by complications that included a blood clot.
Family members take turns staying with him.
Things are easier now that he’s in Knoxville, but he’s also been shuttled back and forth between UTMC and another facility after potentially deadly complications.
“He’s not been left alone,” Rebecca Clark said. “At one point, we had 16 people in Utah helping out. You never know if they’ll turn him or do things the right way. Plus, you never know when he’ll wake up.”
Chase Clark opened his eyes three weeks ago. He’s starting to eye track, or follow activity with his eyes, but hasn’t regained other movement.
“Any movement he makes is just exhausting,” Rebecca Clark said. “We’ve learned to take care of him as we’ve gone along. A lot of this stuff, I never wanted to learn.”
This week they’ll learn if he will be placed in Atlanta’s Shepherd Center for spinal cord and brain injury treatment.
That also leaves them facing more expenses for a ground or air transport as they wait for a final prognosis to reveal itself.
“They don’t know at this point what will happen,” Rebecca Clark said. “With a brain injury you have to wait it out. We are all struggling but we are trying to be strong for his sake. We break down by ourselves, but we have to be strong for him.”