DALLAS (CBSDFW) – Numb to the pain of having 90 percent of his body burned, ignoring the horror in his mom’s face and oblivious to the approaching CareFlight helicopter, Rayne Newby mustered a simple question.
“Mom,” he said, “will I be able to go to practice on Monday?”
The bad news: At 13 surgeries and counting, Rayne will likely never again play competitive sports.
The good news: He’s alive and, with the help of friends, family and Dallas Cowboys’ receiver Miles Austin, on his way to being relatively well.
“I got nothing but love for Rayne,” says Austin, who otherwise deflects publicity away from his involvement, and rather onto his new 14-year-old friend.
As Austin’s personal guest, Rayne will attend Dallas’ game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night Dec. 2 at Cowboys Stadium.
Considering the tragic episode last Thanksgiving, it’s a miracle he’s even alive.
Envision Garrison Rayne Newby’s family as a likeable, endearing spin-off of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Based in Millsap (just west of Weatherford along I-20), they are beer-guzzlin’, deer-huntin’, red-blooded Texans and Americans, through and through. And each Thanksgiving, they make the trek to a family house near Denison, not far from Lake Texoma and the Red River in far North Texas. The centerpiece of Thanksgiving eve is a bonfire in the backyard, where turkey is smoked, stories are told – and re-told – and family fellowship is fortified.
Around 6 p.m. last Nov 23 the bonfire had dwindled to only embers. Rayne, who had been riding his bike in and around the rural neighborhood, walked around back to re-stoke it. As he’d seen his uncle do numerous times, he rolled a few logs and tossed a couple limbs into the pit. He then began pouring a can of diesel fuel onto the wood through a long funnel, prepping the pile for re-lighting.
Instead, the fire’s smoldering heat ignited the fuel vapors and the funnel worked as a deadly backfire fuse, sending flames scorching toward the can … and Rayne. In an instant the can exploded in his hand, spraying him with a flammable cocktail of fuel and fire.
“It was an explosion,” said Rayne’s mother, Carrie. “that shook the ground. Neighbors five miles away said they heard it.”
Said Rayne of the accident, “I’m still not sure what happened. All the sudden I was just … on fire.”
Mom and five other adults ran to the back yard to find Rayne running, screaming, totally engulfed in flames. They yelled for him to “Stop! Drop! Roll!” They tackled him, covering his face with a sweatshirt hoodie while patting out the flames. In a minute that must’ve felt like hours, Rayne suffered 3rd-degree burns everywhere except the top of his head, bottom of his feet and groin area. His Under Armour shirt melted into what was left of his charred skin. His blue jeans literally vanished.
“I can’t … ,” said Carrie, words trailing off into tears. “It was just horrific.”
After calling 911 and summoning CareFlight, the gravity of the situation sent Carrie into seismic shock.
“I just started running around in circles screaming my head off,” Carrie said. “They finally had to grab me and give me that ‘shake’ back to reality. I totally lost it.”
It was at this point that Carrie calmed and lay down next to her son. Amazingly, he never lost consciousness. He somehow had the wherewithal to inquire about Millsap Middle School’s upcoming basketball practice.
“Yeah, baby, you’ll be at practice Monday,” Mom whispered. “Maybe a Monday a couple years from now. But you’ll be at practice.”
In the helicopter ride to the world renowned burn unit at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, Rayne kept chatting. Kept asking questions. Kept an attitude that belied his grave condition. How’s that exactly? Because his skin was so badly and deeply burned – a condition doctors refer to as “full thickness” – that most of his nerve endings disintegrated. He was in such bad shape that he was, yep, beyond pain.
“I didn’t know how bad it was at the time,” Rayne said. “I had no idea.”
He couldn’t feel it. But Carrie and the doctors could see it.
“Soon as we landed they intubated him,” she said. “The doctor told me he wasn’t sure if Rayne was gonna make it. His chances were less than 50 percent to make it past 72 hours. I thought my son might die right there.”
While the town of Millsap rallied around Rayne, raising money and his spirits via a spaghetti dinner, blood drive and delivering money and get-well cards to his family staying at Dallas’ Ronald McDonald House, he struggled around the clock.
Upon arrival at Parkland he was placed in a medically induced coma. He had a tracheotomy, kidney failure, pancreas problems, numerous infections and a bout with pneumonia. Early on a nurse told Carrie not to worry unless she saw a gaggle of doctors and nurses around her son. Then one day in February on her way to lunch at the hospital she got an urgent text, and ran upstairs to Rayne’s room only to have her view blocked by, you guessed it, that grim gaggle.
“He coded,” she said. “He stopped breathing and there were 20 people around him hitting him with the paddles and the whole thing. I was terrified. But he pulled through.”
Doctors didn’t remove Rayne’s respirator – trusting him to breathe on his own – until late February. He couldn’t feed himself without a tube until late March. He wasn’t released from Parkland’s Intensive Care Unit until March. He watched Super Bowl XLVI and “celebrated” his 14th birthday in the hospital.
“I’m tired,” he says, “of hospitals and doctors.”
Bottom line: Rayne has undergone 13 surgeries but faces countless more as he continues to grow and require new skin grafts as he stretches the old ones. So far, amazingly, he’s lost only the tips of two fingers.
“He’s going to walk again on his own for sure,” says Carrie. “He’s my little fighter.”
In late June Rayne did indeed walk on his own. Only about 20 feet, but it must’ve felt like 20 miles. In July he got out of the hospital, in August he got in his wheelchair and attended the Cowboys-Rams pre-season game in former quarterback Roger Staubach’s suite at Cowboys Stadium, and after Labor Day he went back to school in Millsap.
For now Carrie drives her son to Dallas for physical rehabilitation at the Zale Lipshy Center three times a week. Another three days a week a massage therapist works on Rayne’s face, attempting to get the scar tissue to release. It’s painful. It’s exhausting. It’s … progress.
“I’m doing much better,” Rayne says. “I feel better all the time.”
The teenager with the zest for football (he was Millsap’s star running back) and Jack in the Box tacos has plenty of support. His Facebook page has almost 2,500 likes, and with some of the $15,000 the town raised for him Carrie will take her son next week to the World Burn Congress in Milwaukee.
“It’ll help him mentally,” she said. “They teach you how to cope with the staring, and what to say to his friends who have questions. Things like that.”
When he gets back – and likely forever – he’ll have No. 19 in his corner.
Rayne’s family was eating at Javier’s Mexican restaurant in Dallas’ Uptown district recently when Carrie spotted Austin and hesitantly, bravely approached with a football, a pen, and her son’s story.
“Next thing I knew Miles is asking me for all the details,” Carrie said. “Then he shows up at the hospital to visit Rayne. He brought balloons. He brought a signed jersey and a football signed by all the Cowboys. He sat next to Rayne’s bed and they talked for 90 minutes. I can’t tell you how wonderful that was.”
Rayne, a life-long fan of the New York Jets, immediately changed allegiances.
“Miles is my favorite player,” he beamed. “And, yeah, I like the Cowboys now, too.”
Thanksgiving will never be the same for Rayne and his family. His aunt and uncle have sold the house where the accident occurred and Rayne has already asked “just to sleep through” the holiday. A lot of folks, of course, predicted the badly burned boy would never see another Turkey Day.
“I just want Rayne to be able to do anything he feels in his heart,” Carrie said. “I believe this accident happened for a reason. Sometimes we don’t know why. But right now it’s my job to help Rayne find his new normal. And, look, I realize that every day he’s here is a blessing.”
The summer drought may be over in North Texas, but do a favor for a good family, a great player and a special kid:
Pray for Rayne.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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