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Local fathers tell how tragedy has shaped their lives

By Hannah DeClerk
June 18, 2011 at 5:36 p.m.

Today, people across the globe will celebrate those who have dedicated their time, patience, and unconditional love to raising and preparing their sons and daughters to go into the world. 

And although many fathers are aware of the burdens it takes to raise a child - diaper changing, finances, and the dreaded teenage years - some fathers' struggles go beyond the normal day-to-day fatherhood, and are true testaments of the heroic father figure.


On Aug. 25, 2010, Matt Skinner received a phone call that his 1-year-old daughter, Madie, had fallen into the babysitter's pool and was being rushed to the hospital.

"I try not to think about that day too much. I was at work when it happened. And usually Madie is with Kristin every day, but on this day she took her to the sitter's because she had a dentist appointment," said Skinner.

Madie was immediately rushed to Good-Shepherd Medical Center-Marshall; Skinner says the rest of the situation still remains bleak.

"I don't remember much about what happened at the hospital. I just remember trying to get there," he said.

After the accident, Madie was taken to Children's Hospital in Dallas, where she spent many months undergoing extensive treatment for her head injuries.

During that time, she also suffered from seizures.

"It was a growing experience, and it was difficult," said Skinner.

While Madie remained at the hospital, Skinner continued to work in Marshall, dedicating his time also to his father who was suffering from Alzheimer's in a retirement center in Longview.

"I felt like everything was stacking up against me, and it was debilitating, and draining," he said.

On Oct. 1, his father passed away. He said he felt blessed his father got to see Madie happy and healthy before her accident.

"No one wants to lose their parent, especially their father. But I know his quality of life was not well," he said. "I feel like Madie has a guardian angel who is watching over her."

He said he continued to rely on his faith, as well as his unconditional love for his family, to get him through Madie's recovery.

"It was the hardest period of my life, but we had such wonderful family and friends who encouraged me not to lose faith. It was in God's hands, and I know he had a plan for her," he said.

He said he is proud of his oldest daughter, Molly Michael, and his wife Kristin, for being so brave throughout the entire experience.

"Kristin and Molly Michael have been so helpful to get me through these rough couple of months," he said. "With Molly, we make sure she is a part of everything. Kristin does a wonderful job making sure she is an integral part, and that she likes to help."

Today, Madie has made tremendous improvements. She is mobile, and has all normal EEG scans. She is currently undergoing treatment at Baylor Medical Center.

"Little things are big monuments in our lives these days," he said. "And yes, she still has a brain injury, but our hope is that her brain will work ways around the injured area."

Skinner said the love for his girls, which is unconditional, has grown that much stronger in the past year.

"You hug them a little tighter. We spend more time with them. And I want to give them all the love in the world. And of course Molly Michael is a part of it. I just want to kiss and hug them all the time and tell them that I love them," he said. I miss Madie so much when she is gone. I get used to seeing Madie smile. She smiles all the time and I just want to pick her up and hug her."

He admitted he has become more of a "worry wart" about his daughters, and still gets apprehensive when they are around water.

"With all of this, it puts things into perspective for you. It makes your priorities straighter. And it makes you hug your children that much tighter," he said.


Steve Cantrelle lost his 27-year-old son, Clay Aaron Cantrelle, on May 8, 2010, in a tragic fire.

In order to continuously celebrate the wonderful person Clay was, his family decided to turn something tragic into something good - by giving back to those less fortunate.

"When he died, instead of flowers, which is a lot of money and can be wasted, we set up a scholarship fund at Texas State Technical College-Marshall for a student who could not afford to go to school otherwise," said Cantrelle.

Clay Cantrelle graduated from TSTC with a degree in computer technology. After a brief stint in Illinois, he moved back to live with his parents in Marshall where they ran a local mechanic shop.

After several reported break-ins, Clay built an apartment in the shop so he could permanently live there and also keep an eye on the place.

At about 3 a.m., an electrical fire caused the entire establishment to burn to the ground. Clay was trapped inside.

"The place had been there since the twenties and thirties, and we did not have any smoke detectors at the time," said Cantrelle.

Almost immediately after Clay's death, his family decided they would start raising funds in honor of their son.

On May 19, 2011, the family presented TSTC-Marshall with a $5,000 scholarship to use toward students who could not afford schooling.

"He graduated from there, and we wanted to recognize his life, because he was a giving person, and he would be tickled that we would have that chance to give to others," said Cantrelle.

Part of the funds raised came from a special golf tournament, the Clay Aaron Cantrelle Memorial Golf Tournament, which will be held every spring in order to raise funds for the scholarship.

"It has helped me cope. His memory will live on through the scholarship, and others will gain from him. He would be thrilled to death to know a boy or girl could get an education," said Cantrelle.

Memorial funds in Clay's name have been set up in Clay Aaron Cantrelle's name.

To make a donation to the Clay Aaron Cantrelle Memorial fund, visit at Compass Bank in Marshall and Texas State Bank and Trust in Longview.


When Drew Furrh took his daughter Charley Rae for a standard kidney operation, he had no idea that when she came out of surgery, his life would be changed.

On Jan. 24, 2011, a doctor at Christus Shumpert Hospital in Shreveport accidently removed both of her kidneys, leaving 1-year-old Charley Rae in critical condition.

She was then transferred to Children's Hospital in Dallas where she was prepared for dialysis and a kidney transplant.

A week later, Charley Rae was sent to live at the Ronald McDonald House in Dallas where she has remained since.

"It is really hard, really really really hard, especially because they have not been back since," said Furrh.

Furrh said even though he tries not to think about it, he still plays the day of Charley Rae's surgery over and over in his mind.

"I couldn't believe it. She had been in recovery for an hour, and after so long, she wasn't supposed to be in there so long. I wanted to see her, after a couple of hours, I knew something was wrong," he recalled.

He said in his mind he convinced himself she would get better soon, thinking it would just entail Charley Rae going to Dallas, getting a transplant, and being home in a week.

"I was angry, mad, scared. Really scared. We didn't know what to do; we didn't know what we are going to be facing," he said.

Furrh said since the accident he keeps himself busy, working 100-hour a week shifts, and looks forward to spending time with Charley Rae on the weekends.

"I love getting to go see her, and playing with her, and I love to see her face when we walk in to visit," he said.

He said Charley Rae is able to move around on her own, and should be home before the end of August, after she goes through with her kidney transplant.

He said the donor will more than likely be a close relative.

"She can't get around like she would be, her physical performance has slowed, but she is still smart as a whip," he said.

He and his wife now rent an apartment in Dallas to be closer to Charley Rae, his wife living there permanently and Furrh still living in Marshall.

"This is by far the hardest thing I have ever been through," he said. It has been hard, and I have been worried about my little girl, especially if she is going to be alright."



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