Anderson man learning to play guitar to honor his late son By Charmaine Smith-Miles of the Independent Mail
Trammell Byce speaks to Dr. Howell Lewis in an encouraging voice, telling him he's "doing very good." Lewis plays different chords on the guitar strapped around his chest. In this case, Trammell is the teacher and Lewis is the student — despite the fact that Trammell is 22 years old and Lewis is older. "I am an absolute beginner," Lewis said, laughing. "I think I'm too old for this. But Trammell's mom said, 'You are never too old.'" Lewis, an orthodontist in Anderson, is motivated to learn the guitar now so that he can honor his late son, Howell Joseph Lewis, known simply as Joe by those who knew and loved him. Joe died from a drug overdose at the age of 26 on Dec. 18, 2014. The young man, who had an incredible sense of humor and was known by so many because of his charm, had succumbed to years of battling a drug addiction. He died two weeks before he and his younger brother, Bill, were to record their first album with their band, Howell and the Broken Hearts. Lewis said he believes nervousness and anxiety about recording that first album may have sent his son into another downward spiral. This one fatal. "He was sweet and kind and honest about his problem," Lewis said. "He wanted to quit and tried very hard to do so." Joe's battle with drug addiction may have been the result of a deeper problem — depression, Lewis said. That depression stemmed from a lack of self-confidence. That may have been brought on by the fact that Joe suffered from dyslexia, which affects the way the brain processes the spoken language, Lewis said. According to the International Dyslexia Association, "Dyslexia can also affect a person's self-image. Students with dyslexia often end up feeling less intelligent and less capable than they actually are." The struggles he had with depression and addiction made it into Joe's song lyrics. "Every song was about that, about his struggles," Lewis said. That's because music is what Joe loved, Lewis said. It was his outlet, his way of expressing himself. Music was something he had grown up with his whole life — a legacy passed on to him through his father. Posters of music artists, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke and Arlo Guthrie, cover the walls in Lewis' dentist office. Lewis, who grew up in Greenville, always has played the drums. He grew up in the 60s, an era when, he said, "if you didn't love music, something was wrong with you." His first job was at a record store, and Lewis said he lied about his age on the job application just so he could go to work there. He said he was 16, when he was only about 14 or 15 years old. Lewis laughs when he talks about playing in bands as his two young boys, still toddlers, would listen along as he and his band mates played their songs. "I bought them their first drum sets when they were 2 and 3 years old, " Lewis said, laughing. "Most people say you are crazy for buying drums for your children." But that's just the way it was for the Lewis men. Music was their passion — their life. That's why, when Joe died, his father, his brother and the Broken Hearts, still went on and recorded that album, a collection of 10 country rock songs, called "The Beauty of Pain." Lewis said they went forward with making the album to honor Joe. Now Lewis's goal is to learn how to play the guitar so he can play the 50 songs that Joe wrote. Eventually, Lewis said, he and The Broken Hearts, are going to record four or five more albums, with Joe's songs on them. "It's hard to put into words why I want to do this," Lewis said. "I just want to play my son's songs." For close to two months now, Trammell has been passing on to Lewis what he knows about the guitar — an instrument that Trammell taught himself how to play. It was an instrument he picked up, he said, so that he would know how to play more than the harmonica. Like Joe, Trammell inherited a love of music from one of his parents: his mother, Linda. "She always had music playing in the background when I was growing up," Trammell said. "Music is a part of me. Something feels off when I'm not playing." And the lessons don't cost a thing for Lewis, because the two are working out a trade. For help with braces that Trammell needs, Lewis is learning how to play the guitar. It's how the two met, in fact. Trammell needed braces and came in to Lewis' office for an appointment after someone recommended Lewis. As the two talked during his first appointment, they realized that they had a shared love of music. And Lewis learned that his patient was also a guitar player, and already had a couple of students he was giving guitar lessons to. Now, the two meet once a week and they share stories about their favorite musicians and Lewis takes a few more steps to reaching his goal. "It feels like it's going to take me 10 years to learn," Lewis said, laughing again. "But it has worked out perfect, because I got the perfect teacher."
Turning tragedy into hopeMother, son work to help others after severe illnesses strike their family By Charmaine Smith-Miles of the Independent Mail
Most days, Linda Byce's husband, David, is trapped in the 1970s and has the mind of a child, thanks to brain damage that he suffered in 2006. But once in a while, she sees glimpses of her husband. "There have been about three times in the last nine years where he has seemed normal again," Byce said, her voice cracking and tears welling in her eyes. "One time was just recently, about a month ago. He grabbed my hand and he said, 'Thank you. I love you.' I could live on that for a lifetime." For the Byces, their life was full of the typical challenges of marriage and parenthood until 2006. But between 2006 and 2008, everything changed for them. And now, their family's story is one of tragedy, faith and what it looks like to turn the tough days into lessons on how to treat others. David Byce, a native of Greenville, and Linda Byce, who grew up in Williamston and graduated from Palmetto High School in 1978, met on a blind date arranged by her sister and the man who later became her brother-in-law. They were in their mid-30s. By 1991, the couple was married. And together, they have one son, Trammell, who is 22 years old. Linda was a professional model and David helped inspect construction sites to make sure they met federal safety regulations. Linda said she remembers their second date, when David had ditched his dress pants and button-up white shirt for his typical outfit of jeans and flannel shirt, and swapped out the car he'd borrowed for their first date for his pick-up truck. "That's what made me fall in love with him was that down-to-earth nature," Linda said. In March 2006, David suffered a massive heart attack. And by that Christmas, he was being rushed to the hospital — his body was in cardiac arrest and he was barely clinging to life. Now, David is bed-ridden, has no short-term memory, and — most of the time — believes it is the 1970s. And the Byces' only child, Trammell, is still recovering from being paralyzed from the waist down because of a rare virus, acute transverse myelitis, which affects the body's spinal cord. He was 14 at the time, and now, after years of therapy and exercise, he has gone from using a wheelchair to walking on his own again. A brace, however, is still visible on his ankle when he sits down. Most days, Trammell is the one who cooks. And if errands need to be run, Trammell usually does them, because they never leave his father at home alone. "I have had 109 nights in nine years where I have been able to sleep all the way through, uninterrupted," Linda said. "It is like the winning the lottery when I get a whole night's sleep." But through it all, Linda said they have had people praying for them and helping them. One couple helped give them a break on their rent, when they lived along South Carolina's coast, and then later helped pay property taxes for their home in Greenville so they wouldn't lose the house. And then, sometimes, they receive an unexpected gift card in the mail, money from a friend who held a fundraiser or much-needed supplies such as adult diapers and gloves. "Not long ago, we received $200 from a friend who had held a fundraiser for us," Linda said. "That's diapers for a month. In this house, we live on David's disability and miracles." The family of three sold their home in Greenville, and that money helps them when they need to hire a caregiver for a few hours or a day. They now live in a small condo in Anderson. Linda and Trammell spend their time, when they are not caring for David, reaching out to others the way that others have done for them. An empty glass pickle jar sits on a shelf in their living room that reads: "CHRISTmas Ministry Fund." In it, the Byces place their spare change for the year. And at the end of the year, they use the money to buy gift cards for people who need them. Linda said they bought $300 in Walmart gift cards this year. One card Linda sent to a friend in Florida who is battling cancer. Trammell bought the woman a toaster and sent it to her. Linda and Trammell also reached out to the Thorbourne family, who lived near Charleston at the time. Geneva Thorbourne worked as a caregiver for David, and during that time, Linda said she learned that Thorbourne was about to lose her apartment because it was being sold. "Geneva was raising her four grandchildren," Linda said. "They were going to be homeless. And I remember telling Trammell, 'We can't let this happen.' So we helped find them a place in Greenville. We loaded up everything we could live without and helped them get set up. Other people came out to help. And it was a huge surprise for them." One of the friends who the Byces have helped sent Linda a message thanking her. "You are my rock and my inspiration," the woman said. "I love your heart." But as Linda sees it, she and Trammell are simply learning from what others have taught them. She said she also wants to help local caregivers like herself by helping redecorate part of their home as a way of giving back. "God has let us walk this journey so that we know what is important," Linda said. "God has surrounded us with people who have went above and beyond. And we want to do the same in return."
Time running out for faithful family
By Laura Hodges Poole/Special To The Independent-Mail
Time is running out as the Byce family tries to find a solution to the nightmare they have been living since Christmas 2006. With their house for sale in Greenville, Linda McAlister Byce recently moved to Anderson with her husband, David Byce, and son Trammell Byce, who are both disabled. As the Williamston native settles in to tell the family's story, Linda is aware of David's and Trammell's movements, anticipating anything they might need. She wistfully turns her wedding band on her fourth finger and then holds it up and smiles. "I have to tell you about this. If David had waited until Christmas morning, I would never haveknown about it." Life had been good leading up to the holidays. Linda, a former model, and David, a safety technician for Institutional Resources, lived in a three-story home and enjoyed a lifestyle similar to other middle class families in Greenville. David had undergone quadruple bypass surgery nine months earlier but had fully recovered and was in better health than before. They had no way of knowing that their lives were about to be completely turned upside down. On Christmas Eve, Trammell, who was 13, begged his parents to open their gifts instead of waiting until Christmas morning, as was their tradition. David, 49, had surprised Linda, 48, with the new wedding band a few days before. After opening their gifts, the three retired for the evening in anticipation of Christmas day. At 2:30 a.m. Linda awoke to find David in cardiac arrest. As Linda dialed 911, David stopped breathing. She spent the next 20 minutes performing CPR before EMS arrived and transported him to Greenville Hospital. The attending physician informed Linda and Trammell that David was not expected to live. Days later when life support was turned off, David surprised everyone by living. Three weeks passed before David went home but due to brain damage, he was not the same man with whom Linda had shared 18 years of her life or the father Trammell had grown up with. An even greater shock came when they discovered David's mind was stuck in 1975. He thinks Linda is his mother and Trammell the kid next door he played with as a child named Timmy. In addition to caring for David's physical needs, his family has the emotional trauma of his not knowing them, and each day starting over with his mind completely void of the prior day. Trammell gets frustrated when his father calls him Timmy. "Trammell will say, ?What's my name?' and David responds, ?Timmy,' " Linda said. "He'll say, ?My name is not Timmy. It's Trammell.' " The sympathy for her husband and son is apparent in her voice. On the rare occasions David understands that Linda is not his mother, he asks for his parents. "He says, ?I want to go home,' " Linda said. "I've quit telling him that his mother and father and two siblings are dead because each time I did, he suffered their loss again. The doctor advised us to be honest with him, but I couldn't take it anymore." Now Linda tells David his parents are on a cruise and he is happy with that. In the months that followed David's near death, Linda made some tough choices. Faced with a mortgage payment, no health insurance, a disabled husband who required 24/7 care, and a child to support, Linda leased her home to a man who planned to buy it and moved the family to Summerville in hopes of getting help for David from MUSC. Seven months later David's disability payments started, but the family's nightmare had just begun. On Feb. 3, 2008, at 4 p.m., Linda heard screams coming from Trammell's bedroom. She rushed upstairs to find him in excruciating back pain and unable to feel his legs. She drove Trammell to a small hospital less than five minutes away. The physicians sent him to MUSC, where he was diagnosed with Acute Transverse Myelitis, a rare neurological condition that leaves its victims paralyzed for months or years and sometimes for life. Linda could no longer manage David and Trammell alone in Summerville, so her sister Glenda and her husband Jim packed the family's belongings and put everything in storage in Easley where they waited for a handicapped access apartment to become available. Linda moved her family into the apartment and three days later, with David and Trammell, flew to Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia where she had secured treatment for Trammell. After a month of grueling therapy, Trammell became the first person with transverse myelitis to walk out of Shriners Hospital, though with leg braces and canes. He has sporadic feeling in his legs and cannot walk or stand on his own, but he hopes one day to do so. A quiet but bright boy, Trammell is home schooled and in the ninth grade. He plans to attend culinary school one day. "Trammell is my hero," Linda continues. "With all that child has been through and is still going through, every day he is upbeat and makes me laugh." It is obvious that Trammell is very protective of his father. When David suddenly stands during the interview, Trammell quickly drops his video control to ask where David is going. David seems to be drawn to the sound of the heavy equipment delivering and spreading mulch outside the condos. Many days David refuses to get out of bed, so this is a moment his wife and son savor. "He's just started this since we moved here and the weather has gotten nice," Linda explains as she settles David into a chair on the balcony so he can watch the men work. "He normally stays right where you leave him until you move him again." Linda smiles through the tears that well up in her eyes. "There's something familiar about it, I guess." In August 2008, the buyer for the Byces' house backed out of the deal. To keep from going under financially, Linda moved David and Trammell back to their house and lived on the first floor. It soon became apparent that the arrangement was not going to work. "We only have a half-bath on the first floor," Linda explains. "It was a nightmare." By December, Linda decided to return to familiar surroundings. She put the remainder of their savings toward a condo in Anderson and put their Greenville home back on the market. If the house does not sell by April, she cannot close on the condo and will begin paying $700 a month for rent. The Byces' monthly disability checks total $2,000. They owe 18 doctors and hospitals for the family's medical expenses. Once their monthly medical and living expenses are paid, they have about $100 a week to buy groceries and other necessities such as diapers, which can run $300 a month. They often rely on the generosity of donors for diapers. Trammell recently got Medicaid, but David's Medicare does not start until June 2009. Anderson Interfaith Ministries has begun to send volunteers from their Women and Children Succeeding (WACS) program to help with David's care. This will allow Linda to seek therapy for Trammell, which she has been doing herself. "I met Linda recently and was so moved by her circumstances that I wanted to get others involved in ministering to her family," WACS coordinator Laurie Thompson said. As desperate as her situation is, Linda is vigilant about helping others in need. HIS radio personality Kristin Roberts has known the Byce family for four years. She recalls Linda and Trammell volunteering at the radio station for various causes and David helping out at the Bi-Lo Center during one event. "David was one of the first to pitch in and carry the heavy boxes," Mrs. Roberts said. "This family had a heart for helping others before this happened, and Linda is amazing. She's held an incredible faith through everything and continues to help others despite her situation." Since David and Trammell's illnesses, Linda started a group called Families Helping Families in Need. Although she has helped several families, her goal is to pair families together to provide support for each other. Right now she is assisting a Navy veteran who is blind, his wife and grandchildren who live on a small military pension and are trying to get a home through Habitat for Humanity. In turn, they help her with David's care when they can and both provide emotional support for each other. "We each have a broken wing, but together we can fly," she laughs. "God has chosen to make me completely dependent on him," Linda explains. "I can't work; I can only take care of my boys and try to help others." She recalls times when she gave all that she had to God, only to open the mailbox in the days that followed and discover a check or money order from a church or an anonymous donor for more than what she gave away. "I've learned you can't outgive God," Linda said. "He always comes through for us, no matter how bad it gets." "God has put us here for two purposes," she continues passionately, "to serve him and to help others." Linda taps her fingers on her laptop on the table in front of her to drive her point home. It is her link to the outside world, and she often fires off e-mails to elicit help for those she considers more desperate than her family. Recently a friend told her she was sorry Linda was having a bad day. "Oh no," Linda told her friend, "We're living a nightmare, but this isn't a bad day. A bad day is when I haven't helped someone else."