GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gideon and Erin Brewer cherish every step their 8-year-old son George takes these days.
There was a time this year when they thought he may not live, let alone walk again, after he fell from the top of a 24-foot climbing wall at Navy Pier in Chicago in July. The family has sued Navy Pier, saying it was negligent because while George was wearing a harness, it wasn’t attached to a safety line.
George is still in outpatient rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and has emotional and mental struggles to overcome.
“He still has a lot of separation anxiety, not sleeping well at night and nightmares. They’re so dark, really scary, disturbing (nightmares), like being held underwater, things like that,” Erin Brewer said of her son.
But there is good news: George is walking again and was cleared two weeks ago to try running and jumping.
His mother said he remembers the day he climbed the wall, up until the moment he fell.
“He does remember letting go and then he said it’s just black until later on, well into the hospital, where he starts to have some memories,” Erin Brewer said.
She said George doesn’t remember asking his parents if he was dying, if he was going to die or if it was all a dream.
He was unconscious right after the fall but eventually responded to a prompt about his favorite team, the Michigan State University Spartans.
“I kept saying ‘Go Green!’ and the he gave me a ‘Go White!'” Gideon Brewer said, “and that was a little more comforting, but again, he’s not moving so we don’t know if it’s his spine or neck.”
Erin Brewer was recording George’s climb on her phone when he fell.
“It was just sheer panic because it was silent after he hit the ground and I thought he was dead. I couldn’t even bring myself to even go over there,” she recalled. “The attendant that was working immediately picked George up and handed him to Gideon — which I think I’ve watched enough episodes of ‘ER’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to know that you shouldn’t move somebody that’s just had a fall like that. But I couldn’t even unlock my phone to call 911. I started screaming as loud as I could so that other people would hear me and come over and help us.”
She said strangers comforted her 6-year-old twins, who were asking, “Is Georgie dead?”
The Brewers were on vacation when it happened and had visited the climbing wall at Navy Pier more than once that weekend — George didn’t fall until his seventh climb. Because everything had been fine previously, they didn’t expect any problems. Erin Brewer’s video shows George climb the wall and then jump, apparently thinking he would be slowed by a safety line. Instead, he fell to the concrete below. He suffered a broken femur and pelvis and a concussion.
Erin and Gideon Brewer said the hardest part was seeing the change in George after the fall.
“He was a different person,” Erin Brewer said. “He went from this happy, normal, active, 8-year-old boy to now he is in agonizing pain, he can’t move and we’re in a strange city we don’t know. It’s just he two of us; his brothers weren’t allowed to come up to the floor he was on because of their age. It was really hard. He was angry and just like a completely different person.”
George progressed from being stuck in a bed to using a wheelchair to eventually taking steps with a walker before being able to move on his own. Gideon Brewer said George had just made a travel soccer team before the fall and has been wearing his soccer uniform around now that the doctors gave him approval to try running and jumping.
In spite of the challenges, the Brewers said this has made them stronger as a family.
“Talking with you guys and reliving this has really reminded me of how far he has come,” Erin Brewer said. “We had really dark days in the beginning, but it’s good to see that we’ve made progress.”
“You hear to live one day at a time. I think sometimes, if something like this doesn’t happen to you, you don’t really know what that means,” Gideon Brewer said. “But having that happen, it just gives gratitude and perspective.”
The Brewers are also grateful to their family, friends and strangers who gave their time and other gifts to help get them through the last four months. MSU wide receiver Jayden Reed even sent George a video, sending him prayers and wishing him well from the whole Spartan football team.
“It makes you feel really grateful for having the people we do in our life,” Erin Brewer said.
George has another surgery scheduled in January, which will keep him off his feet for six weeks. Depending on how his growth plates adjust, he may need more surgeries in the future. The Brewers plan to take all of that one day at a time.
Navy Pier said in a statement that it does not comment on litigation. A spokesperson would not comment on the safety measures at the climbing wall or any plans to adjust them. The attraction is outdoors and is closed for the season.