Megan White was a very proud mother as she looked on at her robust 18-year-old son, Hayden, throwing the discus for Lakeview Academy at the state meet on May 13.
There at McEachern High, White saw the culmination of his high school career wrap up at the Class A private schools championship, just two years after he survived a very serious car accident December 19, 2018, in Gainesville.
It was a day that would shape this family of five forever.
Fortunately, it had a happy ending for everyone involved, despite many restless nights when Megan and Andy White didn’t know if the oldest of their three children would survive or return to being the gentle and caring teenager he’d previously been.
“It was an accident that rocked our entire world,” Hayden’s mother said. “We lost all sense of security and that’s a feeling that lasted for about two years.”
Slowly, but surely, their soft-spoken son regained his health and returned to a normal routine with sports, friends, school and work.
At state, Hayden, a 2021 Lakeview Academy graduate, represented the first-ever track and field team for the Lions, with his best throw measuring 94 feet, 7 inches for 16th place.
His mother couldn’t have been any happier, given every obstacle he’d overcome in a full recovery from a two-car accident on Morningside Drive, just north of Riverside Drive. Hayden said he has no memory of the accident that also injured Harriett Susan Finney, 77, of Gainesville. Finney was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in stable condition, according to the accident report.
When made aware of the car accident, White said his thoughts were centered around the other driver in the accident.
For many years, sports were a part of Hayden’s life, primarily football.
And in recovery, track and field turned into the best way of satisfying that thirst for competition.
“It was huge for him to get to get to compete at state,” said Megan, a teacher at Lakeview Academy’s elementary school. “Most of the boys he was competing against had been doing the discus for four years.”
White’s was just one year in track and field, which likely would not have happened, had it not been for a traumatic car accident that resulted in him being hospitalized at Northeast Georgia Medical Center for almost two weeks.
For Hayden, who will attend Georgia Southern University to potentially study mechanical engineering, football was always his true passion.
At 6-foot-3 and about 225 pounds, he was a versatile two-way lineman for the Lions.
Yet, that split-second accident made running cumbersome, due to multiple fractures and titanium rods placed in both of his legs.
Hayden gave football a try his junior year, in 2019, but decided that he would have to hang it up.
He wanted to play football, but his physical limitations were too great to overcome.
Then in the fall of 2020, Lakeview Academy track and field coach Brian Smith approached White about taking part in their first-year program. Due to his natural upper-body strength, White was a natural fit for the throwing events. Smith said that White played in one football game his junior season, but it was obvious that the lineman was in too much pain.
However, track and field was a natural fit with White’s athletic ability, and provided him an outlet to compete again with his closest pals.
And White was good, too.
He would place sixth in the Class A private schools state sectionals with a new program-best 112-5 in the discus.
“Hayden really is a phenomenal person,” Smith said. “You talk with him, he’s really quiet and humble. A silent competitor.
White said he also enjoyed the shot put — a natural pairing with the discus — but gravitated to the latter once he mastered the technique.
“With the shot put, if you’re big and explosive, you can be good,” White said. “But in the discus, you need to get the technique down. I was about halfway through the season when I got that down.”
Megan said that the accident was, from best they could tell, her son’s fault and no drugs or alcohol were involved. She said his odometer was clocked at 36 mph at the time of his impact.
Hayden said his last memory of the day of the accident was returning to Lakeview Academy with his fast food lunch from Zaxby’s.
“I remember leaving school after my US History exam and I was hungry and really wanted some Zaxby’s,” Hayden said. “Then I woke up, in the hospital, and they told me I’d been in an accident.”
Megan knew her son was going to Zaxby’s and kept close tabs on the tracking device on his phone for his location. She became concerned when an adequate amount of time passed and Hayden still was not back at school. Then, she became alarmed when the Life 360 system in place showed he was at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Immediately, she called Hayden’s phone, but received no answer.
Then, she received the called that is every parent’s worst nightmare.
“The person on the other end said they were from Northeast Georgia Medical Center and that my son had been in an accident,” Hayden’s mother said. “I immediately left school with his sister (Hattie) and called my husband (Andy) and said to meet us at the hospital. Hayden was in an accident.”
Megan remembers arriving at the emergency room with Hattie at the same time as Andy, then they all three rushed inside to check on the status of Hayden.
She said it turned grim when they were ushered into a private room, but not sure what was going on.
“I was in sheer panic, shock, my face went numb, I couldn’t feel my lips,” Megan said. “I thought my son had died.”
Shortly after, a hospital chaplain walked in to introduce himself.
Hayden’s mother, thinking the worst, didn’t even remember hearing his name.
However, the hospital minister wasn’t there to inform them of a fatality. He was there simply to offer support, if they needed him.
Next, they met with Dr. Mohak Davé, chief of emergency medicine for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, to discuss the extent of Hayden’s injuries.
The list was long and terrifying for White’s parents and sister to hear.
From the accident, Hayden had a traumatic brain injury from impact, compound fracture in his right leg, facial lacerations, a broken hand, broken nose and skull fracture, among other serious trauma.
He was reliant on a breathing machine in the coming days.
“Those first 48 hours, we were totally panicked,” Megan said.
White’s recovery included numerous complex surgeries. White had titanium rods inserted in both legs and a titanium plate placed in his forehead, pins surgically-placed in his hand and work to repair his compromised sinus cavity.
They were very stressful days for the entire family, but one glimmer of hope came when they learned Hayden had sustained no damage to his organs.
His turning point, Megan said, came with a two-pint blood transfusion.
Slowly, over the next couple of days, Hayden said he could recall more of what was happening around him.
Still, his recovery was slow.
Hayden had adverse reactions to strong pain killers, his mother said, so he relied on Tylenol to remedy the pain.
After about two weeks, Hayden had made enough progress where he could return home.
Megan said they moved his bed to the main level of their home and had constant supervision of their son.
After missing only a short period of school after Christmas break, White was able to return to school, in a wheelchair, until he gained enough strength to walk.
Since the injury, Hayden said that his memory has remained strong and he doesn’t have trouble retaining information, even though he had headaches, off and on, during his recovery.
And everyone is pleased to see White back to full health and with a bright future in front of him.
“Our family, we’ve always been super close, but having this happen definitely made us appreciate everything more,” Megan said.