Staff Photo: John Bohn Beth Gayle has authored a book about the experiences of her family, after her son Richard "Gip" Gayle became the victim of an accidental gunshot wound during a hunting trip.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Just three weeks after sending their oldest son off to college, Beth and Richard Gayle received the call no parent ever wants to get.
Their son, 19-year-old Gip, had been accidentally shot in the head while dove hunting, and his outlook didn't look good.
While surgeons performed brain surgery, the couple began a five-hour journey from Lawrenceville to a Savannah hospital, the closest trauma center to the Vidalia accident.
"Our lives were shattered. 'And then came the angels,'" Beth Gayle said, echoing the title of her story, a book about the local family's recovery and determination now on sale at Amazon.com and, in days, at select bookstores, just in time for the anniversary of the accident, Sept. 6, 2003.
While the Gayles' lives are steeped in faith in God, it is the "earthly angels" that Beth Gayle wants to illuminate in her story -- the special people who kept believing and even those whose names they do not know, the ones who mowed their lawn and brought dinner, who cleaned younger brother Taylor's football uniform and left it hanging on the doorknob.
The angels appeared as quickly as the gunshot that altered Gip's course. On that ride to Savannah, it began, when Beth Gayle called friends and family and the prayer chain spread wide and quickly.
"We prayed leaving the driveway," she said. "We prayed for Gip to be alive ... and we prayed that we could get to him safely."
Even the doctors, they were assured, were praying over Gip, as a chaplain performed the traditional last rites.
"They meant it to give us good news," Beth Gayle said of learning about the ritual. "It comforted us to know people were praying for him, but we were horrified to hear it."
Four hours after they arrived at the hospital, the family learned that Gip survived his surgery, but doctors made no promises and gave no deadlines. It was a bleak time, but every hour that Gip lived, his chances improved.
After six weeks in the hospital, Gip was transferred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he had to relearn everything from walking to feeding himself.
"He had to learn such simple things you would think you wouldn't forget, like how to shave," Beth Gayle said. "This was a long journey to get to where we are today."
The next two and a half years were harrowing. There were setbacks, infections, seizures.
"It was our faith that saved us from despair, but we had many moments of despair and heartache," Beth Gayle said.
But even during the most trying times, the Gayles felt angels all around them.
The two most prominent, Gip said, were Chuck Scott and Dr. Donald Leslie.
Scott, one of Gip's high school football coaches at Collins Hill and mentor in the program Young Life, was quick to rally prayer.
Beth Gayle recounts in her book the way Scott had to battle AOL, when he was labeled a spammer for all the emails he sent seeking support for the family.
Dr. Leslie, now the medical director of the Shepherd Center, led Gip's rehab and medical team.
"You never had a doctor this invested in you," Gip said.
His mom agreed. "He became like family to us," she said. "He made sure Gip never lost hope."
In May, both men were by Gip's side as he received his diploma from Kennesaw State University, a feat some wondered if would ever be possible when he lay in a hospital bed clinging to life.
Younger brother Taylor received his diploma at the same time, and now -- after an internship at Shepherd -- he is beginning a doctoral program at Mercer for physical therapy, inspired by his brother's journey to health.
Gip, who returned to the athleticism of his youth, is coaching little league football and working at a fitness center.
"We still are overwhelmed that so many people reached out," Beth Gayle said of the people who touched the family during their trials. "It was because God touched their hearts.
"I hope that's the message (of the book), not only that miracles are still happening, but that we can all be earthly angels and help others when they are in need."