Bus crash victim struggles with brain injury

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)--Maggie Lee Henson, a seventh-grader who was trapped under a church bus that crashed in Mississippi, continues to struggle with a brain injury, and her parents are requesting urgent prayer on her behalf.

Henson, whose father John Henson is associate pastor for emerging ministries at First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., is being treated at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, a level one trauma center where the more serious cases were taken after the crash July 12.

Her parents set up a Caring Bridge webpage to provide updates and allow people to leave messages. As of Thursday morning, more than 23,000 visits to the site had been logged.

"With the coma-inducing medication removed, Maggie Lee is showing off with some incredible brain waves. We know that she is very, very, very much here with us," her mother, Jinny Henson, wrote July 15. "I relieved John bedside a little after midnight and have been reading all of your precious words and scriptures to Maggie Lee since then.

"I know she can hear it and because I am SO LOUD, this entire END of the Critical Care Unit is, as well :)," Henson wrote. "God's word is going out in this place thanks to you, the nurses and drs. hear your prayers for them as well."

The students were en route to a camp in Georgia Sunday morning when a tire blew out and caused the bus to overturn near Meridian, Miss. One boy, Brandon Ugarte, was killed and several others injured.

On Wednesday night, First Baptist Shreveport posted an update on the church's website regarding the status of those involved. Chase Johnson, one of the injured teenagers, was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon. Jason Matlack, the church's youth minister, was transferred to a private room at a hospital in Meridian and was expected to be moved back to Shreveport by the end of the week.

Kyle Kelley, a counselor on the trip, also was moved to a private room, the update said, and Sarah Smith, who received neck and upper back fractures, was expected to be released from the hospital in Jackson on Thursday.

Lauren Murchison "was having surgery this afternoon to clean out a facial bone fragment that was affecting eye movement. Prior to surgery, she was alert and communicative."

The church remains most concerned about Henson, who is in need of "seriously urgent prayers [for her] brain swelling to subside before any more damage is done," her mother wrote.

Bill Patterson, pastor of the Jackson-area First Baptist Church in Richland, told Baptist Press he learned of the bus crash early on from his sister, whose husband is minister of music at First Baptist Shreveport. When some of the victims were airlifted to the university medical center, he was there to offer support.

"I've just been visiting over there to see if they have any needs," he said.

Patterson led his congregation in prayer for the victims and families Sunday night during a worship service.

"It was particularly touching, I think, for us because we had a youth group of 50-something leaving on a bus at 6 o'clock the next morning," Patterson said.

Several ministers in the Jackson area have been visiting the families at the hospital, he said, and many people have brought food baskets and other items.

"When I was over there yesterday, I noticed there were packs of food all around the floor in the waiting room where folks had come by. They hurt for them so badly and want to do something, so they just reach out with some food or whatever they can do to show their love and care and that they're praying for them," he said.

Tragedies such as this one are opportunities for believers to demonstrate their faith in tangible ways, he added.

"Church does its best when people are hurting and we're reaching out to folks in the name of Jesus just like He reached out to us when we were hurting," Patterson said.

News reports have quoted people who believe God provided a charter bus carrying 47 Alabama National Guard soldiers who were traveling less than a mile behind the church bus when it crashed.

The guardsmen were heading home from a three-day training exercise at Camp Shelby in Mississippi where they had trained to respond to rollover accidents, The Shreveport Times said.

The Meridian Star noted that National Guard units are made up of people who have full-time civilian jobs, and in this case the charter bus was carrying highway patrol troopers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, nurses and newly trained combat life savers.

"All the wounded were seen by soldiers before anyone arrived on the scene," Sgt. 1st Class Ike Gipson, who was in charge of the soldiers that day, told The Times. "So when the local agency got there, all they had to do was transport. The wounded were already categorized as to who would go first."

Because two children were trapped under the overturned bus, the guardsmen worked together to place it upright, finding strength they didn't know they had, one soldier said.

"Those men and women saved lives," Shelly Batts, whose daughter was on the bus, told The Times. "It's just that simple. There aren't any words to express the thanks we all feel for every one of them. They sat there and held their hands, comforted them and cried with them. They took care of them as if they were their own children, and we love them for that."


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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