After near-fatal accident, young athlete’s fighting spirit helped him on road to recovery

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Life can change in an instant. In the time it takes for a car to come to a complete stop, for example. That was the case for then-11-year-old Nasaiah “Bubba” Shelton on June 13 of this year. As he walked home from middle school with friends on Newport Avenue in Pawtucket, Bubba’s life changed forever.

“A lady was letting me go at a stop sign,” Bubba recalled. “I was crossing the street and saw a gray car swerving, and that’s all I can remember.”

Bubba’s next memory is waking up in Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in a bed surrounded by doctors and concerned family members. He had been hit by a car that lost control, then slammed into a business on Newport Avenue. Bubba suffered a collapsed lung and severe lacerations and bruising all over his body.

But he’s always been a fighter – literally. Bubba is a national youth boxing champion and running back for Mount Hope’s peewee football team.

“He’s been some sort of incredible kid since he was 2 years old,” said Bubba’s dad, Ernest Shelton. Ernest is also his son’s boxing and football coach. He says the moments following his son’s accident were some of the worst of his life.

“I went down to the scene,” Ernest said, “and I saw an ambulance and a car lodged into the building and I was scared. To be honest, it was like watching Superman go down. He’s done so many amazing things. For all of that to be over, I was in tears, crying. Saying ‘please God no.'”

When asked what hurt the most, Bubba answered, “Mainly my right leg. It really hurt.”

The pain was so bad that first day, his dad had to carry him to the bathroom in the hospital room.

“He was always by my side,” Bubba said of his dad. “It felt good to have people there with me going through everything.”

Ernest says he woke up the second day in the hospital to something amazing: his son struggling but standing, and walking around the room.

“He wanted to go home,” Ernest said. So when a series of tests showed no broken bones or brain injuries, the family checked out of the hospital that day.

Within five days of the accident, Bubba was determined to get back into the routine that had made him a rising boxing, football and track star.

“He didn’t want to lose his step,” Ernest added. “He didn’t want to lose his spot on the track team. He didn’t want to not be able to play football. And he didn’t want to fall off in boxing. So, every day he got stronger and stronger.”

Bubba says sports and support fueled his recovery.

“It felt good,” he said. “I came back in the gym four days after and everyone was like, ‘oh it’s Superman.’ It felt good though, having everyone back. Seeing everyone.”

Ernest says during recovery, he could see the pain in his son’s eyes. But he also saw his desire to fight again.

“It’s just as amazing to me as it is to other people,” he said. “I just got a front row seat for all of it.”

When asked how he was able to recover so quickly, Bubba shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Just my dad pushing me, my family pushing me, and I pulled through.”

It’s a scenario that’s been all too common in Rhode Island this year. We check with the Department of Transportation, and found there have already been 15 fatal pedestrian accidents through September. That’s the most in the past six years; and there’s still three months left in the year. The average over that time period is 11 fatal accidents annually.

There were also 34 serious pedestrian injuries statewide through August, according to RIDOT.

Bubba was one of the lucky ones. And his dad says they’re ready to put this terrifying experience behind them.

“If anything, it’s made him even stronger,” says Ernest. “Which is crazy. Even though he’s worked hard for everything that he’s got, but how easily it can be taken away.”