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Robbie Phillips' family is simply thankful

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Three months after Robbie Phillips was given stem-cell treatment in an attempt to battle his brain damage, his family is seeing remarkable progress.

By Lisa King

Just being able to sit up with minimum assistance and to pay attention when something is being read may not seem not a big achievement at all for a teenager.

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But for the family of 17-year-old Robbie Phillips, it’s something to be extremely grateful for this Thanksgiving.

 “I am just elated,” said Debbie Phillips, Robbie’s mother.

You know the story about Robbie Phillips, a boy who was left with a severe brain injury in November 2008 when he tried to commit suicide by hanging himself at the age of 14.

He had no pulse, but he was revived. The incident left him in a wheelchair, on a feeding tube and with severe incapacitation.

His prognosis was extremely dark, and the only hope was a delicate and expensive stem-cell treatment at a hospital in Phoenix.

Then last July, the community came together with a fundraiser called “RobFest,” an all-day entertainment event at Clear Creek Park, which raised more than twice as much as the Phillips’ needed to get that hopefully miracle medical treatment.

On Aug. 11, Phillips underwent that procedure at the Stem Cell Rejuvenation Center in Phoenix, where doctors removed stem cells from Phillips’ own body and re-introduced them back into his bloodstream in the hope of regenerating undamaged brain cells and regaining brain function.

The results have been nothing short of magical.

“We are in the third month, and they said this is when you’re supposed to see the most progress, but we were able to start seeing progress within the first two weeks,” his mother said. “His eyes are more clear, he seems more alert, and he seems to be attempting to communicate more.

“And sometimes, when I read him a book, his eyes actually follow the book. He doesn’t do that all the time, but he never he did it before the procedure, so I am just thrilled.”

Phillips said that one thing she wants to see come about is a teen suicide prevention program put in place in Shelby County.

“They talked about doing that with maybe ten percent of the proceeds and I don’t where that’s at right now, but I hope they can do it, because it is very much needed; my son is proof of that,” she said.

Gary Walls, co-founder and past president of Shelby County Community Charities, the organization that put on the fundraising event, said that plan for the program is in the works but is not yet off the ground.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do on it, like documentation by health-care professionals,” he said. “The program will talk about the warning signs [of suicide], and the hope is that we will be able to work with the school board on this and get parents involved as well.”

Walls said that he was glad to hear that Phillips’ procedure went well.

“Since his stem-cell procedure, Robbie has demonstrated some milestones evidenced by his parents and grandparents,” he said, adding that the teen’s triumphs include the ability to follow things with his eyes and sitting up with assistance.

Walls said he is deeply grateful to those who attended RobFest, which included many volunteers and 12 bands who gave generously of their time and talents, as well as those who attended the event, paying the admission price and donating even more through a silent auction and other activities.

“Thousands supported Robbie and his family during this medical challenge,” he said.

When the receipts were tallied, Walls and members of the Phillips family said they were overwhelmed and overjoyed to find they had not only met their goal of the $15,000 needed for Robbie’s procedure but had doubled it, bringing in $30,267.

“The outpouring of generosity has been just magnificent,” Walls said. “We are touched, committed and steadfast, especially at Thanksgiving, that so many people realize that their generosity does make a difference.”

Debbie Phillips said that doctors have said it would probably take more than one treatment, but she is optimistic.

When asked what her ultimate hope for her son is, she instantly replied, “We have prayed from day one for a full recovery.”

Then emotion crept into her voice as she said softly, “Doctors have told us that he will probably not be the same Robbie that he once was, once he comes through this. “But I don’t care. I just want him to be happy.”

Phillips said that when her family gathers around the Thanksgiving table on Thursday, it will be their most joyous one since the tragedy that almost took their son from them three years ago.

“We want more [improvement] of course, but we are very thankful,” she said. “And I truly feel like God has a plan for Robbie, because he is still here.

“And he has touched so many people’s lives, in so many different ways. We are so thankful to everyone who has made this possible for us.”