Whit Marshall laid down a map on a table before Tish and Devon Gales showing the Traditions of Braselton neighborhood that would become their future home.
Though months in the making, the Gales family still couldn’t believe they were actually looking into the prospect of live in Braselton — and they could pick whichever lot they wanted.
“That right there was a blessing from God,” said Tish Gales, Devon’s mother. “People don’t just volunteer to do this.”
But there was Marshall, a former University of Georgia football player, extending a hand to Devon, a former Southern University receiver who was paralyzed during a game against UGA in 2015.
Now CEO of Paran Homes, Marshall is working with Mike Elrod, a realtor with Tara Properties Inc., to get the Gales family into a new home come summer 2019.
Devon is still adapting to a life changed forever on Sept. 26, 2015, when, during a kickoff return in the second half of a game with the University of Georgia, Devon and Georgia placekicker Marshall Morgan collided.
Devon crumpled, unmoving, onto the field after the impact.
“I hit him in the shoulder and instantly everything was limp,” he said. “And my mind said, ‘This is it.’ So basically, I‘m laying there not able to feel anything or get up, and I was wondering what was going on.”
Removed from the field before a stunned audience, Devon was transported to a nearby hospital.
And on the way, someone had to call Devon’s family — it was the first game the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, residents had ever missed.
“I knew they were going to be panicking so they took me to the hospital and they asked if I wanted to talk to my parents,” Devon said. “I talked to my dad and it was probably the most emotional thing I’ve heard because he was just crying. And then I started crying.”
He went through a four-hour surgery after doctors realized he had shattered his C6 vertebra. Sitting just above the C6, the C4 and C5 vertebrae were pinching his spinal cord. Ultimately, he received 20 screws to hold the vertebrae together and two rods inserted to help stabilize his spine.
He remains paralyzed from the waist down. Since the injury, he has been working at the Shepherd Center to regain strength in his upper body. He can now navigate the world using a wheelchair.
During Devon’s recovery, the family moved to an apartment in Atlanta to be close to the Shepherd center, then a condominium in Gwinnett, but it’s been a struggle for Devon to get around those homes. There’s simply not enough room for him, his mother and his two siblings. His father is still living in Baton Rouge.
That’s where Marshall came in.
“They’re just a terrific family and great folks,” Marshall said. “So it’s good to help them out.”
He has about 300 lots in the Traditions neighborhood and wanted to join in the support of Devon and his family. Marshall isn’t the only pair of hands from UGA chipping in to help the Gales: The University itself has supported the Gales family since the moment he was carried from the field in Athens.
“From the point that he was on the ground to this point today, they’ve supported us in every way they could,” Tish said.
Marshall’s way of helping was providing the land for a brand new home to be built for the Gales — free of charge.
“I was excited about this because I know how difficult it’s been for them these last few years,” Marshall said. “It’s a great thing for the Gales and it’s a great thing for this community.”
The home will have nearly 6,000 square feet of living space for the family, a major upgrade from its 1,300-square foot condo in Gwinnett. The main level will feature two master suites, a great room, kitchen, and breakfast area. On Devon’s side of the home, there will also be a therapy room, outfitted with equipment similar to what is at the Shepherd Center, where he can continue his rehabilitation at home.
“It will give me more freedom, more independence,” Devon said. “Just having my own little space will be a total blessing.”
Upstairs, Devon’s siblings will have a room and bathroom to themselves along with an upstairs living room.
Everything on the main level of the home will be accessible for Devon, and the home is an easy drive to the Shepherd Center. He said he’s making that trip with his mother three times each week.
“If they could only understand the burden that this has taken off,” Tish said. “I’m constantly saying thank you … because it’s not every day someone volunteers to give you a home or give you a choice of where you want to live.”