A local trooper will spend this Christmas in the hospital.
Five months ago, a regular day on the job, ended with Trooper Chris Wooten’s life forever changed.
For the first time, Wooten allowed a TV camera into his Atlanta hospital room, where he and his wife spoke to Channel 9’s Allison Latos about the crash that left him paralyzed, and his gratitude to be alive.
In July, Wooten was hit by a truck while on his motorcycle during a chase in Charlotte.
He was critically hurt and has no memory of the crash.
“I don't even remember going to work that day,” he said.
But his wife, Sharon, said she will never forget the moment another trooper came to her door to tell her that her husband had been in a crash.
“The only thing that I asked is, ‘Is he going to live?’ and he said, ‘He is very sick and we're doing everything we can.’ And that's when it really hit me all of a sudden that he could not make it,” she said.
For the past five months, Wooten has been at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, which treats patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.
“I am paralyzed from the neck down. I can't feel anything from the neck down,” Wooten said. “Unfortunately, I can't move anything.”
He now breathes with a ventilator and gets around in a wheelchair that he controls with his mouth.
Every day, Sharon is by his side.
“He is my best friend,” she said.
Both said the life-changing accident has made their marriage even stronger.
“I'm just trying to accept that it's a new normal, a new way of life and we're going to make the most of it,” Sharon said.
“I'm happy to be alive. I get to see my daughters,” Wooten said. “That alone is worth more than all the money in the world to me.”
But some of the simplest acts, like giving a hug, are what he said he misses most.
“I feel like I hugged my wife and kissed her every day before work before, but you wish you had done it a little more,” he said.
Still, the Wootens are determined not to live with regret.
They're learning to adapt and to use technology.
Special glasses connect to Wooten's phone so he can make a call, or even scroll through social media using a tool in his mouth.
In his room, photos and messages from the Carolinas and beyond fill the wall.
His community, and even complete strangers, have rallied around his family in big ways.
“I want to thank everybody because it means so much to our family that they care so much,” Wooten said.
It’s not clear when the couple will return home to Cramerton, but they said they are taking it one day at a time.
“You can let it defeat you or you can embrace it and try to move forward,” Sharon said.
Wooten said he can’t wait to spend a Friday night listening to music with Sharon, sitting on their front porch in Cramerton.
But before they can go home, their house must be renovated to become wheelchair accessible.
“We can do this, we can live a normal life. It’s just going to be different,” Wooten said.
The couple’s daughters are spending Christmas with them at the hospital.
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