Tyler Maddox works furiously at a small table in his living room. He punches knobs on a machine, pausing only to adjust the paper. • When asked what he's creating, the 8-year-old looks up without stopping and offers a mischievous smile, but he doesn't answer. He isn't ready to reveal his masterpiece. • Tyler's father, Reggie, looks on with pride. • "We've been blessed. He's very independent," Reggie said. "The only thing he can't do (that he could) before is see."
• • •
It has been a little more than a year since Tyler's world went dark.
Reggie worked nights at the post office, so Tyler's grandmother, Linda Maddox, kept a gun near her bed in the family's modest five-bedroom house in Town 'N Country.
That night, she heard scrapes against the wood floor outside her room. Thinking it was an intruder, she grabbed the gun and fired a single round.
But it wasn't a burglar in the hallway. It was Tyler.
Reggie remembers the frantic call from Linda. "I came home and there was a line of police cars," he said. "I knew that wasn't right."
Next, he saw Tyler being wheeled out of the house.
"It didn't take long to start praying," he said.
The prognosis was grim. To help reduce the swelling on his brain, doctors placed Tyler in a medically induced coma for several days.
Reggie, and Tyler's mother, Tanya Maddox, were flooded with questions: Will Tyler be able to walk? Talk? Take care of himself? Have any independence?
Doctors had no answers.
After he awakened, Tyler could recognize voices "just like that," Reggie said.
But Tyler quickly realized he could not see faces to match the voices.
"He said, 'All I see is black. Why?' "
• • •
A prominent vertical scar near his right ear is the physical evidence of Tyler's accident. But it's hard to see other signs of his disability.
A rambunctious boy, he is quick to hop around a room and roughhouse with his brothers, his twin Tyrique, and Quentin, who is also 8.
Tyler still does many of the activities he enjoyed when he was sighted, such as playing basketball and tossing a football.
He even plays video games — and sometimes, he wins, Tanya said.
No one blames Linda for the accident, and she and Tyler still share a close bond, said Reggie. (She declined to comment for this story.)
"For us, the story is where we're trying to go," he said. "We'll keep moving forward."
Tyler starts his day at 6 a.m. and is in bed by 9 p.m. He uses a walking stick to get around, although he doesn't need it much at home, Reggie said.
He learned to read Braille and can write it on his Braille machine, which he also uses to create pictures.
His favorite things to draw: "hearts, squares, triangles and circles," he said.
Normalcy and routine have been crucial to Tyler's recovery. He still does chores — washing dishes, sweeping floors, and shaking out the bathroom rugs on Saturday mornings.
Most important has been encouraging his independence, Reggie said.
"With him not being able to see, it's natural to want to coddle him," he said.
Tanya said she struggles to balance helping her son with being careful not to do things for him that he could do for himself.
"You do realize that you have to look at the future and do what's best for him," she said. "The babying had to stop."
• • •
Since the accident, the family has been inundated with support.
For three years, Tyler and his brothers participated in a basketball club at the Skills Center, a sports-based youth development program.
When the staff learned about the accident, they began discussing how they could help, founder John Arroyo said.
"It's not just a kid in our league," he said. "(The Maddoxes) are family now."
In recent months, the center held two fundraisers, including a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Tampa Bay Sports Youth Sports Expo.
As a result of Tyler's story being shared on the Internet, strangers from Iowa, Maine and New York have mailed the family letters and left kind words on Facebook.
"It's amazing how with the social media that we have, people can help you heal and grow," Reggie said.
He and Tanya have reached out to comfort others, especially families whose children have experienced a tragic accident, and they are buoyed by their religious faith.
Tyler has given them all reason to hope.
During a recent doctor visit, he revealed that he could see light. It's a small thing, but it fuels their faith that his condition is not permanent.
"One thing we believe is that Tyler will see again," Reggie said.