The simple embraces between 13-year-old Owen Lockaby and a team of paramedics who saved his life were enough for him to say "thanks."
“I’ve been wanting to meet them ever since I woke up in the hospital,” he said.
As he stood in the Manatee County EMS Lakewood Ranch Station on Feb. 22, with a healthful appearance and a welcoming smile, there was no indication of what Lockaby had been through Dec. 12.
The accident happened when Lockaby, a resident of Heritage Harbour, was visiting Greenbrook. While he sat in the backseat of a golf cart, his friend took a sharp turn, and Lockaby was flung off the cart and onto the sidewalk. He hit his head on the pavement.
EMS District Chief Christian Elsworth had heard the 911 call and the description of bleeding from Lockaby’s ears, nose and mouth. Elsworth ordered the helicopter at the ready.
“When you hear a helicopter’s coming, it kind of kicks you into high gear, especially if they're coming before we even get on the scene,” paramedic Nicholas Barion said. “It makes you think, what could you be seeing?"
He said he and his partner Chris Roshka nonetheless “got there and did what we had to do.”
Tracy and Jay Lockaby, Owen's parents, rushed to the scene and watched as their son was treated before being flown to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Tracy credited the paramedics’ quick intubation of her son to help him breathe with saving his life, but its success was initially not so clear. She began to believe he was not going to make it.
“I don’t know how we survived that first 24 hours because it was terrifying,” she said.
Finally, his eyes opened, and when she saw the look of fear in them, she knew Owen was still there.
“What happened?” he mouthed.
Owen said he doesn’t have any memories of the accident. “It was weird seeing pictures of myself with blood all over my face and not remembering anything,” he said.
Tracy said her friend, an employee at the 911 dispatch center, said she never had heard of an accident victim surviving a Glascow coma score of 3, which Owen was rated. Tracy began doing some research.
She discovered a 10-year study on head trauma with a GCS of 3. “I just couldn't believe it,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mildest GCS score is 15, and anything below 8 is considered severe. Tracy said 7% survive (with a rating of 3) in a vegetative state, and only about 4% recuperate.
She wanted to reach out to the first responders.
“I think that they're so underpaid, and they're so underappreciated," she said. "We have all these TikTok stars and reality stars and all these people that are held up in society, and the true heroes are people like these guys who do a job like this and save people's lives every day.”
Owen said the thing that truly inspired him to reach out to the EMS staff was how happy his mother was to see that he was O.K.
“That made me understand how lucky I was and how grateful I should be,” he said.
On Feb. 22, Owen, Jay and Tracy, and Owen’s sister, Layla, met and spoke with Ellsworth, Barion, and Roshka at the Manatee County EMS Lakewood Ranch Station. They greeted each other warmly, formed a circle and chatted.
“I've been doing this eight years,” Roshka said, “This is the first time where I've actually seen something like this — where we actually find out what's going on, how he came out and how everything progressed."
"It means a lot that Tracy set this up," Barion said.
Tracy said she wishes she could do more for the EMS workers and other “good Samaritans.” She said two women at the scene held her son's head with a towel around it to keep him stable.
“I actually went knocking door to door around where the accident happened and was never able to find them,” she said. “I would love to say thank you to them, too.”
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Owen made a surprisingly speedy recovery. Together with the holiday break, he missed only a week of school and a few days practice with his Manatee County Youth Rowing team. Tracy said that aside from some hearing loss in his right ear, everything is “fantastic.”
Surprised by the number of medical staff members she encountered who commented on the frequency of golf cart accidents, Tracy has devoted time since the accident to raising awareness about golf cart safety.
“They’re often worse than motorcycle accidents because motorcyclists usually at least wear helmets,” she said.
She said golf carts should have quality seatbelts and that their use should be instilled in kids the same way as it is with cars. She is currently writing local representatives on the topic.
Owen said now that he’s living life normally, going to school and talking to people about what happened, “it doesn’t feel real.”
“I try to be as thankful as possible,” he said, “I've been more outgoing, more appreciative. Everything is more significant. Getting home and having a meal that wasn't from the hospital was great, and so was going to rowing, back to school, seeing my friends — stuff that I was taking for granted.”
At 13, with his whole life in front of him, where does Owen think he will go next? A piano, clarinet and self-taught guitar player who likes to make up his own songs, he’s hoping to one day become a musician.
“He definitely has the talent,” Tracy said.
But there’s another thing she's grateful for about her son. “He's himself,” Tracy said. “He still has that dry, witty sense of humor, and he’s still Owen.”