The life-changing phone call came at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.
Tina Adams, shaking off sleep, heard the words “your son has been injured and is in the hospital” and quickly handed the phone to her husband, Hugh, next to her in bed.
The news was more than she could bear — it was like waking into a nightmare. She didn’t like Sean’s decision to join the Marines, and the phone call confirmed her worst fears.
“I was hysterical,” she said in an interview last week. “I vaguely remember it all, but what was going through my mind was I knew something was going to happen. I knew it from day one.
“All parents have fears, but mine was one I just knew something bad was going to come from it, and I couldn’t make anybody understand my fears.”
The West Hall family’s roller-coaster journey of emotions and faith began on Feb. 10, after learning that, the day before, then-Marine Pfc. Sean Adams had stepped on a homemade bomb in Afghanistan while leading a patrol of other Marines.
Injuries included a shrapnel wound to his left eye and bruised lungs. Doctors amputated his right leg above his knee and his left leg past his knee, as well as the pinky finger on his right hand and the thumb on his left hand.
Sean has little memory of the explosion.
He said it “threw me up in the air and then I landed on the ground.”
A Navy corpsman and a friend of Adams’ “came running up and pushed me back down on the ground and (put) tourniquets on my legs and my right shoulder,” he said.
Adams said he was placed on a Black Hawk helicopter and taken to a hospital, “then I blacked out for five days.”
“When I woke up, I was amazed I did wake up,” he said. “When I blacked out, the chopper medic put his hand on my chest and told me I’d be all right. I made peace with dying.”
In the months following the explosion, the Adams family has met the president and first lady, made new friendships and watched as area residents rally around the 19-year-old 2011 Chestatee High School graduate.
Most of all, they have watched a battered and bruised Sean, at one time lying close to death in his hospital bed, recover from injuries and start rehabilitation with such speed that, family members have said, is nothing short of a miracle.
“God is amazing,” someone wrote on Sean’s Facebook page.
Hugh and Tina Adams spent a recent afternoon recalling those early days and Sean’s progression during an interview at their home off Trudy Circle.
Sean, home on 30-day leave, was outside in the heat, seated in his wheelchair, talking with other visitors.
Tina recounted that first phone call and the waves of shock that rolled over her and Hugh.
While Hugh was on the home phone speaking with a Marine sergeant, Tina was on a cellphone trying to reach other family members, including their two other sons, Curtis, 26, and Joshua, 28.
“After I told Tina all (the sergeant had said), we were just in tears,” Hugh said. “We didn’t know what to do.”
“It seemed like it took forever for any (family) to get here,” Tina said. “My fears were I thought (the military) was lying to us. I kept thinking they’re lying to me ... and that he had died and they weren’t telling us.”
Hugh said he did thank God that Sean was still alive, “but we later found out that he had died twice coming over from Germany to the United States. Some way, they revived him.
“But he was at death’s door when we walked in that room” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
By early the next week, Adams’ parents had flown to Maryland.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day,” Tina said. “We got there and he was in surgery. I don’t know what they were doing, but we couldn’t see him.”
When they finally were able to see Sean, they had to wear protective clothing.
“He was very contagious. Even the doctors and nurses were wearing it,” Tina said.
Insurgents use chemicals and other toxic materials in putting together the bombs, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“When (a bomb) hits you, you are automatically infected,” Hugh said.
The couple recalled the scene when arriving at Sean’s room.
“He was convulsing,” Tina said. “The whole bed was shaking.”
She said the chaplain entered the room with her and said, “Do anything you want to.”
Tina laid her hands on her son and began to sing “Sheltered in the Arms of God.”
“That’s been his song ever since the day he was born,” Tina said. “It’s the song I sang to him when he was in the incubator in the hospital.
“As I sang, it was just like something had calmed him down. I could hear people talking in the room and they were like, ‘Look what’s going on.’ I heard the chaplain say, “You all are watching a miracle. You’re watching God’s hand at work.’”
Hugh said he wondered what caused Sean’s convulsions.
“He would jerk like he was trying to get out of the way of something. I imagine he was reliving the blast,” he said.
Sean doesn’t remember any of it, Tina said.
“From the moment I got to him, I stayed with him. They would make me — at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning — leave the hospital as best they could without being rude about it.”
Sean’s body temperature stayed at 104.4 degrees for a month, Hugh said.
“He slept on ice. You’d go over and touch him and he was just burning up,” he said. “That infection about got him.”
Finally, Sean’s condition took a turn for the better.
In a March ceremony, President Barack Obama pinned a Purple Heart on Sean while the Marine lay alert in his hospital bed and surrounded by family.
“We witnessed a miracle in Bethesda, Md.,” Hugh said. “He healed in two months what it takes usually six months to attain. The doctors were astounded. If he hadn’t taken this 30-day leave, he would probably be walking on his prosthetics.”
As it is, Sean has returned home three times since the accident — the first time over Mother’s Day weekend in May.
Arrangements were made to sneak Sean into Hall County on that Saturday night.
On May 13, a Sunday morning, a slideshow featuring pictures of Sean’s progress, from early days at the hospital to his condition that day, was presented to the congregation at Rejoice Baptist Church in South Hall.
Sean was then wheeled into the sanctuary. As he was coming up the aisle, someone nudged Tina to look in Sean’s direction.
Tina hurdled over people to get to Sean, Hugh said, with a hearty laugh.
And then Sean, by now a lance corporal, returned for Memorial Day to a hero’s welcome at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.
He served as co-grand marshal of the Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7’s annual Memorial Day parade in Gainesville, along with Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic. He also was recognized during a Memorial Day ceremony at Memorial Park Cemetery.
Sean “always has been very independent — all my children have been,” Tina said. “We’ve always let them make their own decisions.”
As far as joining the Marine Corps, “everybody who knew him tried to slow him down,” she said. “The Marines were pushing and we were pulling him.”
“He was so gung-ho about it. There was no stopping him,” Tina said.
“This kid would put a 60-pound pack on his back and run,” Hugh said.
“Around the neighborhood,” Tina added.
Looking back over the past few months, much like the wrestler that Sean was at Chestatee High, his parents have had to grapple with their son’s choices and new way of life.
“Sean did what he wanted to, and we gave him the permission,” Hugh said. “He’s a grown man. He’s made his decisions and he was hurt in combat. And he fully understands that. Now, he makes jokes.”
Tina said she “relives everything that has happened.”
“If I could ask God one question, it would be explain this to me,” she said. “Everybody keeps saying there’s a reason for this. I can’t find the reason.
“I know he’s going to go far and he’s going to succeed, but I can’t find the reason. ... We can’t figure out why this has happened.”
She admits to her faith being shaken.
“My prayer every night before bed since the day he joined was, ‘Send him home to me. Send him home somehow.’ And when this happened, I went ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I shouldn’t have asked that one,’ ” Tina said.
“I’ve always been one to believe that you talk to God and he’ll take care of it and, after this happened, I quit.”
Tina worked through that faith crisis, however.
“The Lord himself showed me he has taken care of Sean since he was ... a tiny child,” she said. “I brought him back to you several times then and I brought him back to you several times now. What more do you want? I’ve always said that God talks to me like my father did.”
She doesn’t know where her faith would be if she had lost her son.
“I don’t know if I could have made it through it,” Tina said. “My children, my husband and this house ... have been my life.”
Sean’s absence from the home “is the hardest time,” she said. “The loneliness and wondering sets in.”
Tina said she is ready for Sean’s permanent return home, after his retirement from the Marines, and beginning the next chapter of his life.
“He’s getting impatient. He wants this behind him. He wants to go on with his life,” she said.
Sean talked about what the future holds.
“From here on and out, it’s going to be more or less about just getting me ready to transition out of the corps, back to home life and getting me up and walking more stabilized than what I am,” he said.
How long that process takes isn’t known.
“Everybody’s different. It depends on how long it takes the person to get their balance back,” Sean said.
The road has been a tough one.
“I still want to get out of bed, like I used to,” he said. “But I ... guess it’s better to happen now than in a car wreck 20 years from now and I (wouldn’t be) able to walk ever again.
“There’s a small list of things I won’t get to do again, but there are so many other doors (that) have opened. There are so many opportunities that have opened up to me,” Sean said.
He doesn’t mind all the publicity that has surrounded his heroism and courage in the face of adversity.
“But I am getting to the stage where I’m just ready to get back to life as it was, the best I can,” he said.