Sep. 23—GREENVILLE — Parker Byrd has wanted to be an East Carolina Pirate ever since he was a kid. His mom, Mitzi Byrd, and his dad, Jeff Byrd, attended East Carolina University, and he wanted to continue the tradition. During his freshman year at Scotland High School in 2018, Parker Byrd committed to play baseball at ECU and was set to join their baseball team this upcoming season.
However, on July 23, he was involved in a serious boating accident while tubing in Bath Creek with friends. A rope, which was attached to the boat they were on, got caught in the propellers and drifted him toward the boat, damaging both of his legs. He was airlifted to ECU Health Medical Center, where he would have part of his right leg amputated and go through 22 surgeries.
Parker Byrd recalls the day of the accident.
"Me and my friend were on the tube, and he fell off first," Byrd said. "I went way up in the air with the tube, so I decided to fall off too. I was swimming back to the boat and after I got like two feet away from the boat, the driver put the boat in reverse. All of a sudden, I saw the boat coming at me. And, I felt it cut my legs. I pushed (away from the boat) with my left hand, and then, after that, the boat stopped because the driver almost ran over me. He put it in neutral and cut it off. And then, I saw one of my friends jump off from the boat. I was trying to swim back towards the boat. My friend was helping me and (my friends) pulled me up on the boat. And, I could tell something was wrong. It wasn't just a little cut."
Parker Byrd said his friends tried to get help for him.
"(My friends) tried to start waving down other boats. They waved down this one boat, and they were like sorry, we don't really have anything to help. They threw a first-aid kit, which really didn't help at all. (My friends) waved down a second boat and on that boat, they said (they could help) and there happened to be a nurse on that boat. So, (my friends) transported me to that boat. The nurse helped me get to the marina because at that marina was the ambulance. So, they took me to the marina and then they transported me to the ambulance. And then, the ambulance took me to (a hospital in Washington) because I was in Bath. As soon as we got there, we went straight to the helicopter pad and there was a helicopter. When I got on the helicopter, that's where it really hit me, like what happened. I just felt all my energy kind of dwindling away. The helicopter crew was trying to talk to me and I was trying my best just to stay awake. All of a sudden, we were at (a hospital in Greenville) and they rushed me into the trauma unit. From there on, I really don't remember a lot."
His parents were notified about the accident from Parker Byrd's girlfriend. Mitzi Byrd said when they both found out, they drove to Greenville. They were "the longest hours of our lives."
"It was sheer terror because it was hours before we were able to talk to physicians," she said. "We didn't know the extent of the injury."
When they arrived at ECU Health Medical Center, they had to wait even longer to get an update on their son.
"We waited for hours because Parker was in surgery," Mitzi Byrd said. "We didn't get to talk with the surgeons until later that afternoon because the surgery was intensive and long."
After his first surgery, Parker Byrd had trouble processing why the accident had happened to him.
"I was kind of in shock for a couple of days. I didn't really talk much," he said. "And then, after that, it was kind of why me? Like why did this have to happen to me?"
Parker Byrd soon realized he had to persevere and think positively to get better.
"I was like all right, you can either pout about it or just get better. And then, from that moment on, I just decided not to pout about the past and just continue to move forward," he said.
He was able to move forward with a quote that he repeats: "everything happens for a reason."
"I know everything happens for a reason. I've realized that there's going to be a lot more opportunities (throughout life) that I'm going to have now, that maybe I didn't have with two legs," he said with a laugh.
Parker Byrd also noted that he wouldn't be able to be as positive as he is now, without the support that he's received since the accident.
"My family and friends have played a really big role in (my recovery)," he said. "I've had a really strong support system through it all. And the ECU family, just in general, and Laurinburg family; they've all just shown so much love and it's kind of easy to keep a positive mindset when you have everybody showing you that love."
His support system has been especially strong in Laurinburg.
"That's my hometown. I love the people there. They mean a lot to me. And the prayer vigil they had when I was in the hospital, that just meant a lot. Everybody that ran that, I'm really appreciative of that. They've really just kind of been my stepping stone," he said.
In terms of recovery, Parker Byrd said that he plans on getting as close to 100 percent as he can, and playing baseball for the ECU Pirates eventually.
"I have to get a prosthetic first," he said. "I get fitted for one in three months, but as of right now, I'm doing drills and trying to keep up. I just have to get stronger again and then, hopefully, I'll be on (the baseball team) next year."
Parker Byrd's high school baseball coach Greg Wrape believes that Parker Byrd can put his mind to anything he desires, and knows he will have an influence on people in the future.
"I know that Parker will work his hardest to be the best he can be," Wrape said. "I look forward to seeing how he uses this moving forward. I'm sure he will use it to impact people in a positive way."
Throughout Parker Byrd's recovery, Mitzi and Jeff Byrd have rented a home in Greenville to be closer to their son. They said the decision was to benefit their whole family.
"With (Parker) being in (Greenville) and our (daughters) being back in Laurinburg, we just knew that we had to somehow put them all back together," Jeff Byrd said. "There's services (in Greenville) for amputees and different rehab services that we feel would benefit Parker. We just feel like this is where we needed to be."
When Parker Byrd was asked to give a message to those who may be battling a difficult time, he mentioned his faith in God.
"God has a plan," he said. "It really does get better. Just keep a positive attitude about it because everything happens for a reason."