On Thanksgiving, Juan Spence thankful, hopeful


It’s been a difficult year for Juan Spence. But he’s thankful for the opportunity to persevere in the face of trying times.

“I’ve been doing well,” Juan said. “I can’t believe I’m back in school. I’m really glad that I’m able to just go and see my friends again, because they all thought I was going to die.”

The Warhill High School senior spent more than two months at VCU Medical Center in Richmond after he was a passenger in a May 22 car wreck near the school. At the time, doctors said he had a 5 percent chance of survival.

“I thank God for how far I’ve been able to come,” he said. “I’m thankful that God saved my life.”

As Thanksgiving draws near, Juan said he’s also thankful for the community’s outreach and payers alongside his family’s presence through the experience.

“It’s just been a blessing,” said Elizabeth Butler, Juan’s mom. “He hasn’t really missed a beat.”

The senior said he’s enjoying his class, AP Government. He intends to apply to colleges, including the College of William and Mary, University of Virginia, Cornell and Columbia, following a Dec. 2 SAT test. Juan must also complete two classes in the spring prior to graduating in June.

Juan misses school only occasionally for doctors’ appointments. He had senior photos taken earlier in November. He still participates in extracurricular clubs; sports remain off the table, although doctors said collegiate sports might be a possibility.

In September, Juan’s classmates also voted him homecoming king.

Juan’s vision remains limited, but many of his wounds have healed substantially. His left arm, rendered unusable after the crash, is slowly healing.

He’s been working out at the gym with the help of his uncle. Palming a basketball was impossible for Juan just months earlier; now, it’s a sign of progress, hard work and more results to come.

Butler was grateful for the opportunity to witness her son overcome such odds, even if the thought of him moving to a far-off college does worry her to an extent.

“This has been a difficult year for us as a family,” she said. “It’s just great to plan for the future right now.”

During a time of year dedicated to thankfulness, Juan simply hopes his struggle might inspire others through whatever adversity they might face.

“I hope my story encourages others so that they won’t give up,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I fought through it. I couldn’t give up on myself.”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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