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Once-carefree boy struggles for life

Chances are you probably don't remember what happened to you June 22 this summer. But for the Clearwater family of Charles Bryant Jr., the day is indelibly etched in their minds. That was the day when Charlie, the only child of Arlayne and Charles Sr., was riding his bike on Sunset Point Road and was struck by a car.

It's amazing how a brief second can change the course of a life, but in that moment Charlie's life as a carefree 14-year-old became that of a critically injured child fighting for his life.

He was flown to Bayfront Medical Center and has remained there in and out of intensive care ever since.

I have been Charlie's Sunday school teacher for almost eight years now and have watched him grow from a small child to a tall, slender, handsome young man. Charlie was a typical teenage boy who liked what all kids his age do _ expensive sneakers, hanging out with his friends, girls, football and hard rock music _ which I found hard to relate to.

And yet I felt a special kinship with him, perhaps because I have five sons of my own, or perhaps because Charlie often stayed after class to talk and tell me about his dreams of playing high school football, owning a fast car and going to college to pursue a career using the math talents he had inherited from his mom.

Charlie was also a gifted artist, and as I attempted to teach him about God on Sunday mornings, I found myself competing with his love for drawing and doodling. I finally gave up trying to get his undivided attention and told him he could draw pictures if they had a religious theme and I could put them on the bulletin board after class.

He nodded in agreement and changed from wild hard-rock illustrations and football plays to sketches that portrayed the biblical characters I talked about. Charlie and I became friends as well as teacher and student, and I miss his presence in my classroom.

His mother and I have formed a special bond since that awful day in June. We have spent countless hours together standing beside Charlie's bed and praying for the miracle needed to make him well again. I come to comfort her and find instead that it is her strength that comforts me.

Since the accident, Charlie has had numerous surgeries, a cardiac arrest and, most recently, a bout with pneumonia. But still the incredible, indomitable strength of the human spirit continues to fight for a return to life as Charlie, the carefree teenager.

As I stand with his mother and watch his labored breathing and the machines that monitor his heartbeat and blood pressure, I am overwhelmingly aware of just how fragile life is and how incredibly blessed I am to have children who are well and whole. Any problem I experience seems small and insignificant compared with those of the Bryant family now as they continue their vigil at Charlie's side.

His mother has exhausted all her leave and finally resigned from her job in order to remain with Charlie. His dad is working two jobs in an attempt to meet the mounting expenses not covered by their insurance.

The Charles Bryant Jr. Fund has recently been started at the Republic Bank of Seminole, and anyone who would like to contribute may send checks to P.O. Box 7010, Clearwater 34618-7010, or to Charlie's church, Skycrest United Methodist, in Clearwater.

And while you think of it, give your kids an extra hug and tell someone you love them. Today is special.

Lynne Read is a Clearwater resident.

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