WARNER ROBINS -- Plenty of thoughts were racing through Sam Lester’s mind on the night of July 6, 2000.
But writing a book was not one of them.
It was a Thursday, two days before his 31st birthday day. He had been divorced for four years. He was on his way to meet his ex-wife, Julie, and pick up his two young sons, Marshall and Lewis. The boys were going to spend the weekend with him in Byromville.
Sam was doing graduate work at the University of Georgia in Athens, and Julie and the boys were living in Waynesboro. They agreed to meet at the Huddle House in Milledgeville.
His cell phone rang. It was the phone call every parent fears. There had been an accident near Louisville. Julie and Lewis had been hurt, but Marshall’s injuries were severe. He had been thrown from the vehicle and suffered a traumatic head injury. They all had been taken to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital in Augusta.
It may have been a clear summer night, with the crickets chirping and air conditioners humming, but Sam spent the next several hours in a fog.
He called friends. He talked to family. He said a prayer with his preacher. His heart was pounding. His palms were sweating.
“That ride was the worst of my life,” he said. “I didn’t know if my son was going to be alive or dead when I got there.”
Samuel Marshall Lester III had been named after him, the same way he had been named after his father. The Lesters were a well-respected family in Dooly County. Marshall, 6, was the first grandchild and was supposed to start first grade in the fall.
When Sam arrived at the hospital, he began to piece together what happened. Marshall had not been wearing his seat belt. He had unbuckled it to help his little brother, who had dropped something from his car seat. The SUV flipped over, and his head hit the pavement when he was ejected.
At one point, a doctor told Sam his son was in critical condition and “closer to dying than to living.” He required extensive brain surgery and was kept in a drug-induced coma for 19 days.
Sam credits his faith and the power or prayer for pulling his family through the 32 days Marshall was in the hospital. He would urge his family and friends to keep praying because “you are saving his life just as though you were pulling him from a burning building.”
He e-mailed daily updates to several people, who forwarded them to others. Soon, there was a prayer chain stretching across the country. And Sam never missed the opportunity to thank them for lifting up his family.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that these prayers for his healing, these prayers for the doctors and nurses, have kept my boy here,” he wrote in one e-mail. “This has made me realize the importance of family values that are passed down for years; for family traditions of honor and good will for neighbors. Several people prayed for Marshall who did not know who he was, but knew my daddy and momma or my grandparents or even great-grandparents. And because they were the kind of people they were, and made enough of an impact on their friends still here, these people prayed.”
Marshall would later recount an experience to his father. He claimed to have “seen angels” while in the hospital.
Sam taught accounting at Middle Georgia Tech in Warner Robins, which is now Central Georgia Tech. He would send his e-mails to Anne Sartain, who taught nursing classes. She often shared them with her students.
A young woman who was studying to become a dental hygienist would sometimes cry when the letters were read.
Amanda did not know Sam but would later introduce herself when he returned to campus.
“I met you before I even saw you,” she told him.
They started dating after she graduated and will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary this year. They have a son, Eli, born in 2007. Sam is now the professional development director at Central Georgia Tech.
Marshall is now 20. He graduated from Houston County High School in 2012 and is working for the Department of Transportation in Thomson.
Sam saved his e-mails in a three-ring binder. Every July 6, he would pull out the notebook he kept. It was his way of being reminded -- and thankful.
“I thought about writing a book,” he said. “I’m not a writer, but I like to write -- the same way I’m not an artist, but I like to draw. I wanted to put this down for Marshall. I let him read it his senior year, and he read it again this past Christmas. It was very emotional.”
Sam has published an eBook at Smashwords.com titled “Marshall’s Story: The Boy Who Saw Angels.” It is available for download electronically.
Sam said he hopes to see it in print one day, perhaps on a shelf at a bookstore. But, for now, it was more important to share the story.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.