Saturday, November 08, 2008

Man stricken with seizures and more...lives his dream!

Tommy Williams pushed aside an Auburn University umbrella before he lifted the wheelchair of his friend, James “Sam” Colburn, out of the trunk of his car.

Staff photo Dan Lopez Greensboro residents James “Sam” Colburn, right, and his friend Tommy Williams leave Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday after the Alabama-Mississippi game. It was Colburn’s first UA game.

“You know [Williams has] gotta have a special place in his heart for Sam to take him to an Alabama game,” said Arthur Thomas, 63, while pointing to the Auburn fan’s umbrella as a chuckle escaped from his lips.

Williams, 60, snickered and walked around to his car’s passenger side to help Colburn get into the wheelchair.

The group had just arrived in Tuscaloosa at about 11 a.m. Saturday after making the one-hour trek from Greensboro.

They had come to town for the reason that most people come to Tuscaloosa on fall Saturdays — University of Alabama Crimson Tide football.

But this trip wasn’t just another game-day trip.

It was Colburn’s first time ever to see the Tide play live. It was a milestone he’s waited for since 1962 when he first decided to roll with the Tide.

“I’m excited about being here for the first time,” said Colburn, 61. “I’ve been an Alabama fan for a long time. I just like how they hold themselves and play.”

Thomas, Colburn’s brother-in-law, said that when Sam was born, he weighed 2 pounds and was diagnosed with rubella, also known as German measles.

The infection caused Colburn’s immune system to weaken, and he contracted paralytic polio. The virus enters the bloodstream and attacks the nerves governing muscles in limbs and the muscles necessary for breathing. The virus makes breathing difficult and can paralyze a person’s arms and legs.

“Besides the polio, at the age of 5, Sam started having what’s called grand mal seizures,” Thomas said. Grand mal seizures cause a person to lose consciousness and have violent muscle contractions, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“He had to avoid coming out in crowds because any sudden sight, like a bird flying by, or a sudden sound, like a clap, would cause him to drop to the ground, black out and have a seizure,” Thomas said.

The grand mal seizures, along with the paralytic polio that affects the entire right side of Colburn’s body, made it unlikely that he could ever attend an Alabama football game in person.

Fate intervened in 1990.

“Sam’s mom died in 1989 and he moved in with us,” Thomas said. “The next year my wife,
Jo Ann, found a doctor in Tuscaloosa that found a way to stop Sam’s seizures.”

With his seizures under control, Colburn’s dream of going to an Alabama game finally seemed attainable.

But Colburn’s plans were set back when he found out he had to have surgery to replace both knees.

He recovered from the surgery, but then, because the polio had made the muscles in his legs weak, the bones in his legs became brittle and broke.

Colburn had to use a wheelchair.

“After his legs broke in 2003, Sam told us he wanted to be put in a nursing home at Colonial Haven Care & Rehabilitation Center in Greensboro,” Thomas said. “We did what he asked, and he’s been a blessing to everyone there since.”

Colburn settled into his new lifestyle by cheering up the other nursing home residents and taking on responsibilities, such as being the public spokesman for the residents.

But Colburn began to feel that his dream of watching a live
Alabama game was slipping away.

“I don’t think he ever thought he would be able to go to a ballgame,” said Jo Ann Thomas, Colburn’s sister.

Perhaps it was divine intervention or just a coincidence, but Colburn met an old friend in the nursing home who restored hope in attaining his dream.

“My mother was in the nursing home where Sam is,” said Williams, who went to high school with Colburn. “In fact, Sam is in the room next to her. I saw that his room had a lot of Alabama stuff in it and was crimson and white, so I used to go over there and fuss with him about football after visiting my mom.

“So one day, about a year ago, I asked him if he had ever been to an Alabama game and he said, ‘No,’ ” Williams said. “I promised him then that if we both were still in good health, one day I’d take him.”

About a month ago, Williams made good on his promise and secured tickets for the Alabama-Ole Miss game.

But Colburn recently had surgery to remove a kidney stone.

“I thought his surgery would throw a monkey wrench into our plans, so I asked Sam if he was going to be able to still go,” Williams said. “He said to me, ‘There’s no way I’m not going to go.’ ”

Williams said he wanted to take Colburn to an Alabama game because Colburn is a good guy who kept an eye on Williams’ mother.

“He’d check in on her when I couldn’t be there to visit and let me know if she was doing good or having a rough week,” Williams said. “Sam’s a nice guy. I’ve never not seen a smile on his face.”
Colburn said he’s thankful for what Williams has done for him. It’s been a dream come true for him.
“I sure appreciate him,” Colburn said. “I tell him that every time I see him.”

Colburn said he’s now just waiting for the Alabama-Auburn game so he can brag to Williams about how bad the Tide will beat the Tigers.

“Tommy’s tried to get me to switch over to Auburn, but I told him today that I have an extra Alabama hat he can wear at the game,” Colburn said, laughing.

Reach Jamon Smith at or 205-722-0204.


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