Garrett-Hammett learns to walk again after violent wreck

Published 8:30 am Saturday, April 18, 2020

In 2016, Fannasy Garrett-Hammett finished her high school career the way that everyone dreams — on top. She was one of the driving forces that propelled Springwood School to a 30-0 season and a state championship in girls’ basketball.

Also that year, she committed to West Alabama to continue her athletic career. Going to play in college wasn’t tough for her since Springwood had prepared her for the academics and travel ball had prepared her for playing at the collegiate level.

Garrett-Hammett’s freshman year was different from all the other years of playing basketball. Her parents Tessica and Vacher both coached her in travel ball and her sister, Tazsa, had been her teammate for almost her entire career either at Springwood or on her travel teams.

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“It wasn’t a lot different,” Garrett-Hammett said. “The hardest part was not being around my family.”

In her first year at West Alabama, Garrett-Hammett mainly provided depth, as the Tigers had eight guards on their 2016-17 roster. Garrett-Hammett was the only freshman of the group.

The Tigers finished their season on Feb. 25, 2017, with a win against Mississippi College. Forty-one days later everything changed.

On April 8, 2017, Springwood held its prom. Garrett-Hammett went back to LaGrange, Georgia, so she could see her sister Tazsa off for her senior prom.

That night, Garrett-Hammett and her boyfriend were driving back to West Alabama. When they were driving through Selma, her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel. The pair both awoke and tried to overcorrect the car, causing the vehicle to flip three times. Garrett-Hammett was ejected from the car.

After she landed, she tried to get up, but she couldn’t move.

Before the ambulance arrived, two different cars stopped to try and help them. In the second car, there was a preacher, who prayed over Garrett-Hammett while they waited. When the paramedics arrived, they put Garrett-Hammett on a spinal board to stabilize her.

“I wasn’t in pain until they put me on the [spinal] board,” Garrett-Hammett said. “I had to roll over, and that’s when I knew something was wrong because that was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

She felt cold, so she asked for blankets. She couldn’t feel the blankets on her, so she kept asking for more, thinking that it was just because she was numb from the cold.

“If I had never looked down, I would have never known that I had legs,” Garrett-Hammett said.

She was airlifted to UAB where her parents met her shortly after. She was diagnosedcas paralyzed from the waist down and told that she wouldn’t walk again.

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” Garrett Hammett said. “I kind of panicked at first, but I’m the type of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to prove you wrong and do it.

“I made a promise to my dad because he knew that basketball was what I love to do and that was my livelihood. I promised him that I would walk again and that I would try and play again.”

She stayed in Birmingham for three months. Every day, she went to doctors’ appointments and rehabbed.

Every day for three months, the two rehabbed twice a day.

The morning session was physical therapy to help her strengthen her muscles, while the afternoon session was occupational therapy, which helped her learn how to live paralyzed from the waist down.

The therapy process was grueling, as she had to relearn how to first crawl and then walk.

For most, walking is second nature, and we don’t even think about it. Garrett-Hammett had to focus on where to put her foot when trying to walk in a certain direction.

“That was really tough for me,” Garrett-Hammett said. “It was really tough relying on my mom to do a lot of stuff for me because I’m really independent, but I was really determined to do all that by myself again because I didn’t want her to take care of me.”

Tessica was with Garrett-Hammett the entire three-month stay in Birmingham.

“She stayed the entire time,” Garrett-Hammett said. “She was the strongest one throughout the whole process. She never cried in the room with me. She always cried outside the room. Mothers are just strong beings period.”

Once Garrett-Hammett was able to, they left the hospital and stayed in an apartment in Birmingham since LaGrange is too far of a drive from Birmingham to make every day. In that apartment, Tessica rehabbed her daughter every day, no matter what.

“She didn’t care if I cried, she just wanted me to be okay with where I was going to be at,” Garrett-Hammett said. “I think that’s what I needed.”

When she started her rehab process, Garrett-Hammett didn’t have any feeling in her legs. She described it as having two 10-pound weights on both legs.

One of the first exercises she had to learn was glute bridges, which is where you lay on your back and push with your heels to lift your glutes into the air.

“It was tough. Everything felt heavy,” Garrett-Hammett said.

One day after returning to the apartment from the grocery store, Garrett-Hammett was feeling good about where she was in her rehab process. She looked at her mother and told her she thought she could walk the short distance between them.

“It wasn’t a perfect walk, it was sort of how a penguin walks,” Garrett-Hammett said.

She fell on the bed before reaching her mother, but she had walked on her own again.

The pair kept that fact a secret from the rest of the family, as they wanted it to be a surprise. At Tazsa’s graduation from Springwood in 2017, Garrett-Hammett decided it was the perfect time to share the secret. When Tazsa was getting ready for a picture, Garrett-Hammett got out of her wheelchair and walked to her sister.

“She started freaking out,” Garrett-Hammett said. “She’s like ‘Fannasy, get back in your wheelchair, you’re going to hurt yourself!’ It was funny because she was just so crazy about it to be protective.”

Garrett-Hammett returned to school in August. Getting around was tough since she didn’t have walking down just yet. She used her wheelchair and walker to get around campus, but she would often trip with the walker and jam her fingers when using the wheelchair. After talking with her mother, she decided to walk around campus.

“I just wanted to quit and come back home. I called my mother and said ‘I don’t think I can do it.’ She said ‘you’re not supposed to be in a wheelchair anyway. You’re not supposed to be using your walker,’” Garrett-Hammett said. “That’s when I stopped using the wheelchair and the walker and started to try and walk normally in my room.”

By September, she started to develop her normal walking motion.

The difficulty she faced during her freshman year of not having her family around wasn’t a problem in her sophomore year since Tazsa committed to play basketball for the Tigers.

“We always said that we were going to sign at different schools in the same conference, and we were going to play against each other,” Garrett-Hammett said.

“She signed at my school for me.”

One of the drawing factors for Tazsa was the way the team treated her sister after the wreck.

The team visited Garrett-Hammett a couple of times when she was in Birmingham and head coach Rusty Cram signed her back on scholarship even though she wouldn’t be able to play.

Garrett-Hammett is still working on returning to the court. By the end of 2017, she was able to start jogging again, but she doesn’t have full mobility in her ankles to be able to play. Right now, she doesn’t have a dorsiflexion movement, which means she can’t tap her foot and has no feeling from the middle of her shins down.

She wears braces on her shins that help stabilize her ankles. Recently, she stopped wearing the right brace so she could start doing everything on her own.

‘It’s better for me to try to wean myself off of them and just try to be as normal as possible,” Garrett-Hammett said.