Deena C. Bouknight, Contributing Writer
Franklin High School rising junior Devyn Blackburn was in the ICU at Mission Hospital in Asheville for several days following a serious car crash that occurred in Franklin on May 19. Blackburn, a wide receiver for the Panthers Football team, was driving on US 441 during the day when his car was t-boned by an 18-wheeler truck.
By the evening of May 19, according to his mother, Renee Blackburn, Devyn was in critical but stable condition with such injuries as broken ribs, facial fractures, broken scapula, and more. Renee changed her Facebook profile photo to one of her Devyn as a child and began providing updates to friends, family members, and the Macon County community at large.
On Tuesday evening Blackburn updated her Facebook page, “They are trying to get another ng tube in now. Devyn is still resting quite a bit. Prayers for him and our family I am definitely not doing good. I think it is all really starting to hit me.”
Since hearing of the accident, the Macon County community has surrounded the Blackburn family with love and support, conveyed Renee. “The support from this community is amazing and that’s helping more than anyone knows,” she said. Comments on Facebook expressing support and commitments to pray numbered in the hundreds.
“Prayers said multiple times a day for you and your baby boy,” was just one of the many comments offered to Renee. Many of the comments shared on social media have been from people who did not know Devyn or the Blackburn family, such as: “I’ve been checking hourly to see how your precious son is doing. I don’t know you or your family but I am certainly praying for you all. My church has him on our prayer chain.”
Devyn’s teammates called for a public prayer every day at 10:14 a.m. and p.m. to signify Devyn’s football  and basketball  jersey numbers. Renee learned that more than 100 students gathered one evening in the rain and prayed for an hour.
To assist the Blackburn family with additional and accumulating hospital bills and future physical therapy expenses, a GoFundMe was established: https://www.gofundme.com/f/devyn-blackburn. “People who did not want to go through GoFundMe have given me over $1,000,” said Renee. However, various community entities are also raising money. Franklin Golf Course began a campaign, with donations collected at its pro shop. It also held a raffle with tickets selling for $20 each and all proceeds donated for medical expenses.
Scheduled for Saturday, May 30, is a “Dogs for Devyn” fundraiser hosted by Bi-Lo, Store #5011. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the store at 245 Macon Plaza Drive will offer two hotdogs, chips, and a drink for $5, with all proceeds going to Devyn’s medical expenses fund. And, Renee learned that leather bracelets are going on sale featuring metal medallions sporting Devyn’s athletic numbers. Plus there are t-shirts. “I’m wearing one right now,” said Renee on Tuesday. “On it is ‘Devyn Strong and Panther Strong.’ I think those might also be available for sale at some point.”
Besides fundraising efforts, Renee said a couple in the community informed her they are putting together a video of well-wishers and community efforts so that Devyn will have it to watch when he recovers. And, Joe Brooks, a family friend and manager of Franklin Golf Course, decided to honor Devyn by using his football number on golf balls throughout this year’s golf season. Some of Devyn’s friends also gathered together to paint the spirit rock in front of FHS to include Devyn’s athletic number as well as the message “We love you Devyn! Panther Strong!”
Renee said, “I cannot wait for the day that I’m able to show Devyn all of the amazing things that our community has done for him.”
Over the first few days after the accident, Devyn remained unconscious while his vital signs were constantly monitored and Renee shared daily updates via social media. By May 21, Devyn was improving. At first, due to precautions regarding COVID-19, only Renee was allowed to sit with her son in ICU at Mission Hospital in Asheville. However, a few days later, Renee was able to rotate some bedside time with her daughter and Devyn’s sister, 21-year-old Haley.
“I’m super thankful they have made this exception and Haley is able to be there with her brother, but I’m also broken-hearted knowing that she is sitting in there experiencing all sorts of emotions alone,” Renee said.
On May 22, Devyn’s 21-year-old brother, Josh, was also able to visit. Devyn’s chest tube was removed, and Renee provided a Facebook update at 6:36 p.m.: “Devyn continues to move in a positive direction minute by minute.” An hour later she posted: “Devyn looked in the direction of my voice and made eye contact!! He also wiggled his toes on command.”
Reflecting on the moment a few days later, Renee said, “I started ugly crying. You know for him to be alive … every step is like a baby doing something for the first time. It’s an incredible feeling. He’s strong and he’s going to do so much … and I’m patient.”
By Memorial Day evening Devyn was out of ICU, and at 10:20 p.m. Renee shared: “His vitals remain good; they are still talking about putting him in rehab in the next day or two. … He has woken up a few times in the last few hours and does squeeze my hand and hold it tight. Thank you to everyone for all you are doing and please continue to pray.”
According to Renee, doctors have decided that no surgery, including plastic surgeries, are necessary. Yet, she realizes the process of healing and restoration for her son will be long. Devyn most likely will be moved to a rehabilitation facility in Atlanta, Ga.
“There is so much still to go through. I haven’t really sat back and thought about how I’m going to do it and what I’m going to do.” Renee was supposed to return back to work as part of the wait staff at Wild Thyme Gourmet in Highlands when the state’s stay-at-home mandate was lifted. “The monies that are being raised will definitely help to get us through this uncertain time. Insurance … everything, it’s all up in the air.”
What is not uncertain, however, is just how unwavering Macon County has been in support of Devyn and his family. Renee shared, tearfully: “I love our town, but all this has changed my perspective in some ways. In one of the posts, I put that I would never have imagined people coming together in the way they have. I’ve fallen even more in love with this town. Sports were Devyn’s life. He really wanted to go on to college playing sports. While this is all so terrible, I’m excited to see what kinds of person he’s going to become now because people in this community are showing us there is so much more that God can do and there is so much that Devyn can become and will become.”