It wasn’t the Christmas Eve Mark and Donna Young were expecting in 2016.
The Port Orange Police called the South Daytona couple that evening and told them to come to Halifax Hospital. Their only child, 23-year old son Billy had shot himself.
“They didn’t think he was going to live,” Mr. Young said.
That was almost five years ago and even Billy will tell you he’s come a long way since then. It’s the same thing many health professionals and friends will tell you as well. But they expand on this a bit. When people talk about Billy, now 27, phrases like “He’s an inspiration” and “Everybody loves Billy” come up.
According to Mr. Young, his son had been depressed for several years and, in fact, had attempted suicide before. Things were piling up on the young man, who worked installing stereo systems for a car salesman and also worked at several restaurants. His new car was totaled in an accident that wasn’t his fault. He was robbed at gunpoint in the Port Orange home he purchased when he moved out of his parent’s home.
“I lost a lot of stuff, and after that, I lost a lot of money partying,” Billy said. He also had “girl problems” and legal problems. He was drinking heavily.
He decided to take his own life. He put a bullet in his head. The bullet is still lodged in his brain, too risky to remove according to the doctors, Mr. Young said. Fortunately for Billy, the bullet didn’t damage his mental abilities, but it did paralyze his right side.
“He’s a very smart guy,” Mr. Young said, “And he was an exceptional athlete.” These are attributes helping his recovery. Mr. Young, a retired electrical engineer, goes to the Port Orange YMCA every week with his son while he works out.
Billy was in band at Warner Christian Academy. He played four kinds of saxophone and also played trumpet, all self-taught. Then he attended Father Lopez and was a good student. After that, he attended Daytona State College.
Billy was a cross country runner in school. He ran a lot, up to 100 miles a week. He started swimming while in elementary school for Kristen Lochte, Ryan Lochte’s older sister, who became his coach. Billy said, “I knew Ryan before he won medals in the Olympics.”
He excelled in both swimming and running, but when he turned 18, he got into trouble and was expelled from school. He earned a GED and, by age 22, had his own home in Port Orange. He was about to turn 23 when he was robbed in that home. By the time the Christmas holidays rolled around, he says he “took a gun, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
Doctors said he “wasn’t expected to make it through that first week,” but Billy said he “cheated death.”
He was told he would never sit up on his own again. When he got out of rehab, he had a breathing tube. He couldn’t dress or feed himself. Yet he told his dad he “wasn’t going to sit in a wheelchair” for the rest of his life. He started going to the Port Orange YMCA, to DME Williams Center in Daytona Beach, and Brooks Rehab in Jacksonville, then as an outpatient at Brooks in Port Orange.
I couldn’t do anything at first,” Billy said, his speech still slowed by his injuries. “I was a vegetable.”
Now he works the machines at the YMCA, still getting around in a wheelchair, but easily getting onto the exercise machines to work out. Many people come by and say hello to him. He is a familiar – and inspirational – figure at the Y.
Billy wants to go back to DSC, earn his associate degree and then plans to help others “to not do what I did.” He’s already given some speeches, one at Halifax Auditorium, and he has talked to people at Halifax Hospital, referred through licensed counselor Mark Spivey. Helping others who have suffered like he did has become his goal. He wants to give his message to large groups.
“There’s never a reason (to do what I did). Time heals everything,” he said. “Now that I’ve turned my life around, I want (people) to learn from my mistakes. It’s never too late to turn (your life) around.”
Billy lives with his parents for now, but he spends weekends with his girlfriend Stephanie in Orlando. The personable, nice looking young man is becoming more independent, and more driven to help others. Both he and his father credit Elizabeth Murphy, coordinator of Adaptive Sports and Recreation at Brooks Rehabilitation, for “bugging him” to get involved in the adaptive sports program.
“When I first met Billy, I told him how he could get involved, and at first, he gave me a strong no,” Ms. Murphy says. “But after I persisted, he finally said yes. He got involved in yoga, then adaptive water skiing, biking (and other sports). He’s a popular guy and he’s mentored a lot of people. He’s the impetus of why I keep doing what I do. He’s a remarkable young man.”
Mr. Young reiterates what Ms. Murphy and his son have said. Billy has come a long way.
“I had this picture in my mind that the Lord came down and picked Billy up and said, enough of this,” Mr. Young said. “I’m sure the Lord has something more in mind for him.”