Former Durham coach Parrish has a lot to be thankful for

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2013 

On this Thanksgiving Day, Larry Parrish is thankful that his son Andy can swallow.

The former Jordan, Southern Durham and Riverside football and basketball coach is thankful that his son can comprehend instructions and can move his left thumb and forefinger enough to make an “O”.

Parrish is very thankful that his son is alive. He thought he had seen his son die on Aug. 15, 2012.

Parrish was parked across the street from the Harris Teeter on Highway 54, planning to help his grandson and Andy to the pool. Then Andy Parrish stepped out in front of a car.

“I was opening the door to tell him to wait,” Parrish said. “He must have been distracted. Maybe he was excited to be going to the pool. For some reason, he lost focus.”

Parrish remembers the collision, but mostly he remembers the blood.

“I thought he would bleed to death. There was just so much blood,” he said.

Andy was a special child in many ways. He was diagnosed with a learning disability when he was 5 years old. There were plenty of other tests and evaluations but the learning disability was the only diagnosis on which the doctors agreed.

He could do some amazing things.

Parrish coached for 44 years, and probably is most famous for coaching University of North Carolina basketball standout Curtis Hunter at Southern Durham. Years later Andy could recite most of the scores and the officials from most of the games he attended.

A newspaper reporter once spoke to Andy at the Harris Teeter and Andy immediately started talking about how the writer had phrased something years before. Andy once recognized a former basketball official and cited his name and the score from a game 20 years ago.

Andy, who turned 37 on Aug. 21, bagged groceries at the local grocery store for 18 years. In a world of near-anonymous shopping, he could remember the names of most customers and details many had forgotten long ago. Something said in polite conversation would be recited years later.

“He was amazing,” said Durham Jordan boys basketball coach Kim Annas, who had Andy on his bench for years. “He remembered everything. He was happiest, the friendliest and the best-liked fellow I know.”

Parrish coached the Jordan junior varsity boys basketball team for Annas for 12 years. Occasionally, Parrish would need to miss a varsity game. Annas’ reply was always the same: “That’s not a problem, but you need to get Andy here somehow.”

“I could get by without Larry, but I didn’t want to try to get by without Andy,” Annis said.

When Parrish finally stepped away from coaching in the spring of 2012, there was a question of whether Andy still would have his spot on the bench. “If I’ve got a job, he’s got a job,” Annas said. “As long as the school will have me, I’ll have Andy.”

Parrish said the emergency medical staff saved Andy’s life that day on Highway 54. The doctors at Duke said there was brain damage. Andy spent 16 days in the intensive care unit there. He was unconscious most of the time.

He was moved to another hospital for rehab, but that didn’t last because he became ill and returned to the ICU. On Nov. 11, 2012 he was transferred to Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro where he became more responsive. By late December 2012, though, it was time to make a decision between long-term care or going home.

“There didn’t seem to be much of a choice,” Parrish said. “I’m 66. My wife (Alana) is 64. We couldn’t care for him at home.”

But what initially appeared to be impossible became more and more of an option when Parrish and his wife considered the reality.

“We prayed about it and afterward there was no question. Andy was going home,” Parrish said. “Our son was going to go home.”

There have been complications. They soon discovered that Andy got motion sickness easily and transporting him to rehab was a problem. The medication for car sickness left him lethargic.

But despite the obstacles, he has made progress day by day. Doctors feared Andy would never be able to open his left eye. He can and he can see with it.

He couldn’t swallow for months and he still receives supplemental feedings, but now he sometimes takes the spoon and feeds himself for a bite or two. He can help brush his teeth.

Andy began making some sounds, an early step toward speech. Parrish got a call the other day.

“They told me Andy wanted to talk to me and handed him the phone. It was very soft, very raspy, but it was ‘Hi.’ It was miraculous,” Parrish said.

And Andy, the guy who never forgot a name or face, has not been forgotten.

Parrish’s daughter, Kendell, created a page for Andy on caringbridge.org. It seemed the logical thing to do because because so many people wanted to know about him. Almost 100,000 people have visited.

When the family needed a van to transport him to rehab, the site raised more than $40,000 in less than two weeks. There are thousands of people the family doesn’t know who check on Andy. Some are contributing now to help make renovations at home for a new machine that helps Andy stand. One day, it could help him progress enough to walk.

So amid what seems to be one miracle after another, Parrish has a lot to be thankful for.

“But most of all, I am thankful to have a son like Andy,” Parrish said.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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