Fort Mill Times

The 'Bear' is back in the den

Conner and his mother, Karin, share a moment.
Conner and his mother, Karin, share a moment.

One hundred thirty five days.

That's how long Connor "Bear" McKemey was gone from his Tega Cay home. Then, last last week, the inspirational 14-year-old who suffered burns over most of his body came home.

"Driving in and seeing all the signs with 'Welcome Home Connor' and all the red ribbons, it was unbelievable," Connor's mother, Karin McKemey said. "He had the biggest smile on his face. He kept saying, 'Wow!'"

At the family home, a comfy chair greeted Connor.

"He said he wanted a comfy chair when he came home," McKemey said. "Some friends bought him a big, brown Lazy Boy chair. He went right to it, climbed in and said, 'It's great to be home.'"

That moment could only be eclipsed by a homecoming celebration last Thursday at Towne Tavern, where members of the Carolina Panthers took a back seat to Connor -- an avid Panthers fan.

"They're huge," Connor said with bright eyes as he glimpsed several Panthers players signing autographs and posing for photographs with fans. "It's phenomenal that they care to come out and do something like this."

Then Connor's eyes got brighter. He rose from his seat. His smile ran off the side of his face when Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme made his way to the teen's side.

"It's truly amazing the fact that the Panthers would come out and do something like this for Connor and the Tega Cay Fire Department," Karin McKemey said of the May 7 event. It was a dual homecoming for Connor/ fundraiser for the volunteer fire department and it drew scores of people.

Smiles were free for the taking. But last December a nightmare begin for the McKemey family when their outdoor fireplace erupted, burning Connor on more than 85 percent of his body. Karin McKemey also was injured when she rushed to Connor's aid.

For her son, the community offered up a mass of prayers as Connor begin his journey down the recovery road. He endured 25 surgeries to get where he is now, Karin McKemey said.

"He's got a lot more to go, but those will be reconstruction," she said.

And he's out of harm's way.

"By the grace of God," Karin McKemey said.

George, Connor's dad, added, "This is a Father's Day/Mother's Day gift, just having him here."

For 15 months, the family's life hung in limbo, but the trip home ushered normalcy.

"When I laid down to go to sleep (last) Tuesday night, I panicked because I left my cell phone downstairs. Then I realized everybody was home and I didn't have to run downstairs. ...It was such a huge relief. All of us were under the same roof for the first time in 15 months."

For Connor, coming home mandated a house tour.

"I walked around the entire house to see everything again," he said. "Then I sat down to take it in again. It's just been a long journey. Pretty much, this is the last step."

A last step Connor's brother, Tripp, is excited about.

"I know when I go downstairs and I see him sleeping that everything is all right," Tripp said.

And for the brothers, time apart did little to kill their competitive football video gaming, Tripp said.

"We're rivals," Tripp said as Connor smiled. "Now, it's on!"

Last Tuesday, the two went at it.

"He won," Tripp said of Connor.

Across the overflowing room, George took in the scene. While some came for autographs, many came for Connor.

"It's overwhelming seeing how the community rallies and how people you don't even know step up," George said. "It's very heart warming."

Then a mother who credits Tega Cay firefighter Dan Tucker for saving her life and that of Connor looked at the people who prayed for her son.