It was early on Mother’s Day when Amanda Fraser-Gray took an urgent call from America that turned her life upside down.
Her 20-year-old son Will was undergoing surgery in a US hospital to save his life after being involved in an horrific car crash on a night out to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Will was one of eight young people in an SUV Honda Pilot which had crashed in Georgia, rolling over and throwing the former Lancaster Royal Grammar School pupil from the vehicle.
Will was among five of the passengers not wearing a seatbelt – something which is not required by law in the rear seats of vehicles in some US states.
He was the most severely injured of the group, suffering a serious brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and liver and spleen damage.
The other seven, all aged between 18 and 24, miraculously suffered no worse than a broken wrist, with those wearing seatbelts walking away with barely more than a scratch.
The accident, in the early hours of March 31, left Will in hospital for three months, undergoing five separate operations and learning to walk again before he was allowed home to Galgate on June 25.
“It’s a miracle really,” he said. “I remember getting into the car to go home, and I can’t remember anything after that until probably a week later, even though my eyes were responding and I apparently gave a thumbs up.
“I had to teach myself to walk again.
“There’s still some swelling on my brain and I will have another brain scan in August, and I am on anti-seizure medication for another year, but I have been incredibly lucky.”
Will was in the States on a soccer scholarship at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, alongside studying for a four year business management major.
Talented sportsman Will, who attended Ellel St John’s CE Primary School, has previously played football for Lancaster City, Storeys and Lancaster Boys Club.
While at LRGS, Will was also prolific in other sports including athletics and cross country, and as a Year 7 pupil was registered with Preston North End FC’s Centre for Excellence and played football for Lancashire Schools.
Will played for Liverpool FC at Under 9/10 academy level alongside current young star Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The club sent Will a flag and card signed by all the players to wish him well.
Will was also in the Preston North End academy until the age of 16, when he decided to continue with his education.
He completed his A-levels at LRGS in 2017 and was in his Freshman year in America when the accident happened.
Will has now been told he cannot play football until next April due to the brain injury he suffered, and he will then have to use protective headwear.
However, his scholarship will continue and he will work with the team in other areas.
Following the crash, Will spent 10 days in intensive care at Piedmont Regional Hospital in Athens, Georgia, where surgeons removed part of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain. This was later inserted back into place using four plates and pins.
He also underwent surgery to repair damage to his liver and spleen and drain his stomach of three litres of blood.
In addition, he had two operations to correct damaged neck vertebrae.
Will remained in the hospital for a further two weeks before being moved to the Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital in Atlanta that specialises in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation with spinal cord injury and disease, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular problems.
There, he learned to walk again with the help of intensive physiotherapy, as well as improve his speech, which had also been affected by the brain injury.
“He is a walking miracle,” mum Amanda said.
“It was Mothering Sunday and I had just come out of church and I got a message to call the soccer coach,” she said.
“I was told Will had been in a serious car accident and he was in theatre because of his extensive injuries.
“The surgeons rang me as soon as they came out of theatre and explained they had removed part of the skull and put a drain in.
“He also suffered a lacerated liver and spleen and his stomach had filled with three litres of blood.
“He underwent two major operations to save his life.”
Amanda flew to Will’s bedside immediately, alongside his dad Paul.
“It was every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said. “We couldn’t get flights until the next day.
“It’s an eight-and-a-half hour flight and I don’t think I stopped praying the whole way.
“I wouldn’t let the thought that he might not make it into my head.
“Because of his age and being an athlete I was told they were confident of him making a full recovery.
“If anything good comes out of this, it’s that young people need to think about wearing a seatbelt even if it’s not compulsory.”
The family has now praised the support of friends throughout their ordeal both in England and America.
“The amount of support has been incredible,” Amanda said, “not just from American friends but even from people we don’t know and also from over here, such as our church St John’s and the local community and the primary school and LRGS.
“Had it not been for the fundraising we wouldn’t have been able to cope, especially with flying back and forth and living out there for months on end.
“We just want to say a massive thank you to everybody, we have had lovely support from everybody and we are so grateful.”
Amanda also praised Will’s 15-year-old sister Hattie, a pupil at Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School.
“She has coped incredibly well,” she said.
Fortunately for the family, Will had taken out a high level of insurance due to his soccer scholarship, and as a result the extended hospital stay should not cause a financial headache.
At one stage his medication was costing around $1,000 a month.
Friends set up a fundraising page to help towards the costs involved in Will’s treatment, as well as towards the accommodation for his family, which raised more than $22,000.
Amanda, who works as a physiotherapist at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, said: “The whole American heathcare experience was fantastic.
“We were so fortunate that this happened in America. He has gone from being catastrophic injuries to kicking a football around and returning to college in a matter of months.
“People should be grateful for the health system we have here because it works for everybody but in America you definitely get what you pay for.
“I cannot believe how quickly he has gone from being in such a mess to sitting here and talking about going back to college again.
“It could have been so different, it’s incredible.
“The car crashed outside someone’s house in a fairly remote area, and the fire station was just three minutes away.
“Any further delay in the circumstances would have resulted in a very different outcome.”
Will is now set to return to the States on August 1 for follow-up hospital appointments before going back to college later that month to start his second year.
“I just want to thank everybody in America and back home for their support and donations and messages,” he said.
“The whole Emmanuel College football team and everyone at the university and anyone who donated and supported me, I am so grateful.
“The football team was amazing; the accident was at 4am and they were all at the hospital by 6am.”
Will added his thanks to his football coach Scott Borchers and his wife Audrey and their three sons, Cole, Kale and Ian.
The coach was given permission to act as Will’s parent until his own family arrived.
“I am so grateful to them,” he said. “It kept me going knowing that I am going to be able to repay what my coach has done for me.
“All the doctors and therapists said they rarely see a recovery like mine.
“My attitude and the support I got from everyone were a recipe for success.
“I am just looking forward now. There’s so much I can do; I want to go into schools and talk to kids about wearing seatbelts.
“I have got a lot of positives out of this; it’s changed my outlook on life massively.”