Paralyzed by injury - teen remains moved by faith

By Terri Hutchins-Indianapolis Star/News- INDIANAPOLIS (Thu, Apri 9, 1998)

It has been six weeks since an innocent act on a basketball court left 16-year-old Matt Ware paralyzed below the shoulders. The boy who wanted to be an NBA player, or maybe a cop, now can't even walk. He's not bitter. He's not sad. He hasn't lost his faith that God will do what's best. Matt Ware is adjusting. "I would like to think that someday I will be able to walk again or maybe even play basketball," said the Heritage Christian High School sophomore. "But if this is permanent, and I'm never able to walk again, I'm OK with that, too. I still have my friends and my family, and nothing will have changed except for the fact I won't be able to walk. "Some people have been like that all their lives, and I should be thankful that I had 16 years to walk," he said. "What you have to remember is that there's always something to look forward to when you have Christ in your life. "Friends and family who have visited him in the hospital marvel at his outlook on life. Strangers do, too. Indiana Pacers guard Chris Mullin learned of Matt's accident through the team's front office and went to visit. "Usually when you go to a hospital you're somber, and you're walking on eggshells because you're not sure what you're going to say," Mullin said. "But that kid raised me up. He gave me a good feeling about everything when I left. He and his mom and his sister. All of them. "I thought I was going there to help them, and they helped me. "Mullin has three children under the age of 5. He viewed Matt's accident through a father's eyes. Mullin said the Ware family taught him a valuable lesson. "The feeling I got from them was, 'Don't ask why,' but rather just try and take care of it, and I believe there's a lot of truth in that," Mullin said. "They just made me feel so positive just being there. They gave me strength.

Neck struck a wall

The innocence of the act that changed Matt's life cannot be ignored. There was a dive for a loose ball and an uncontrolled slide across a slick gymnasium floor. The back of Matt's neck slammed against a padded concrete wall. After blacking out for about 10 seconds, Matt awoke to alarming new rules governing his body. Outside of a throbbing ache in the back of his neck, Matt was feeling no other pain. Nothing. Today, as he lays in bed at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, Matt is faced with the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Self-pity? Not for this kid. "What you have to remember is that things are going to happen in God's time, not when you want them to happen," Matt said. "I have to wait until God decides whether I will walk again or not. If I don't, I know it's because He has a greater plan for my life." Matt Ware comes by his faith honestly. "My dad has always been so dedicated to living his life for God and being a living example for all of us children," Matt said. Charles Ware is president of Baptist Bible College of Indianapolis. "I've always been amazed at how much love he has for God," Matt said of his father. "He's the perfect role model for me."

Hours of therapy

A typical day for Matt at the rehabilitation hospital, on the Far Westside of Indianapolis, includes nearly six hours of physical therapy. There's also a daily spinal cord education class. By the time 5 p.m. rolls around, and visiting hours begin, he's often exhausted. Any spare time he had in March was spent glued to the NCAA basketball tournament. "The week of my accident was the Big Ten tournament, and then the following week was March Madness," he said. "I guess in that way it was pretty good timing." Matt's NCAA tournament pool form is still taped to the wall behind his bed. He didn't pick Kentucky to win. Two of his Final Four choices were Purdue and Cincinnati. "You can't win 'em all," he said with a chuckle. Besides basketball, Matt said that what makes him happiest is spending time with his friends. He likes watching movies. Stacked on top of the VCR in his hospital room are Independence Day and Men in Black. "When I was at Riley (Hospital for Children), I had more time to watch movies during the day," he said. "But here they keep me so busy, that when I finally get to bed, I'm here to sleep." Matt also enjoys fishing. Last summer, he and his friend Josh Bartemus would fish nearly every day at a pond near his Northwestside home. His best fish story came from a fishing trip last summer to Minnesota with his father and some friends from College Park Baptist Church. They had a contest to see who would catch the biggest fish. Matt won with a 27-inch pike. "Mine was the biggest by far," he said. His father smiled at the retelling. "He got lucky," Charles Ware said. Eager to go home While Matt longs for a peaceful day fishing, he said he would give anything just to be home again. Last week, he was able to go home for a few hours. One of his biggest fans was waiting for him. His sister's dog, a small sheltie named Lucky Larry, climbed up on Matt's lap and gave him a face-licking welcome home. Matt said, "When he got up on my lap, he just went crazy. He was licking me something fierce. It's neat knowing that even a little animal like that can have so much love for you. " The doctors have told Matt he might be able to go home for good in three weeks. As for returning to school, Heritage Christian Principal Al Leinbach said the target is for a return sometime in May. The last day of school is May 28. "Matt was able to stop by on the Thursday before spring break, and we were able to take him around to all of the different classes in his wheelchair," Leinbach said. "Everyone was really uplifted by his presence." At the request of the family, doctors are still not discussing Matt's condition. According to Charles Ware, Matt's prognosis - complete paralysis - hasn't changed. Still, Matt's faith in God remains secure. "The only thing you can do in a situation like this is to totally trust God," he said. "None of the doctors really know what will happen, and they can't, because God is in control. "I just have to be patient and remember it's His time, not mine." A fund has been established to help defray medical expenses. Anyone interested in contributing should make checks payable to: Matt Ware Trust Fund, NBD, 1092 E. Third Ave. SW, Carmel, Ind. 46032.

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