BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — An inspirational movie is almost complete about a beloved Shelby County grocery bagger named Joey Hale.
What makes him so special?
It’s a story that starts with a little boy who cheated death at least twice.
“Joey has trouble walking. He has trouble talking. He doesn’t hear well. His vision is not the best, but he makes it through everyday, and he does it with a good attitude,” Jeanne Hale, Joey’s mom, said.
I first met Joey about 17 years ago. I was a stressed out mom of two. Joey was always smiling.
“I remember your kids when they were young. I pushed them around in the kiddie car,” Joey recalled.
Over time Joey shared his story with me. When he was 5, his family was involved in a crash with a drunk driver. His dad and sister had to learn to walk again. Joey had a skull fracture. But the tough times did not end there.
When he was 12, Joey ended up back in the hospital after doctors found a brain tumor.
“It was very tough not knowing if your kid is gonna live or not. It was tough,” Darby Hale, Joey’s father, said.
He survived, but could not walk or talk. It was a daily struggle.
“I just wanted to get back to normal,” Joey said.
This is where the San Diego Chargers come into play. Joey was a huge fan and his dad mentioned it to family friend Terry Henley, a former Auburn football player who had a friend at the Chargers. Henley made it happen, and the Hales’ flew to San Diego.
“He couldn’t even walk. He was in a wheelchair, but he had so much pride. When players came out of the dressing room, he wanted to stand and be like them,” Terry Henley said.
The team had a challenge for Joey for his next visit.
“‘Joey, if you walk out onto the field next year, I’ll bring a limo to pick you up at the hotel,” recalled Joey.
Former Auburn standout Lionel ‘Little Train’ James remembers that second trip a year later.
“We see him and he’s walking, not in a wheelchair. The whole team turned around and looked. Dan Fouts said ‘I can’t believe it! I can’t believe he’s walking. That ain’t the same guy!'” said James.
He beat the odds, walking and talking a year out from tumor surgery and inspired NFL players while doing so.
The film in the works about his life? It happened from a chance meeting in the grocery store parking lot with a customer turned filmmaker.
Here’s a sneak peak of the documentary:
Dana Abercrombie was in third grade at St. Rose Academy when Joey was diagnosed with his brain tumor. She remembers him always smiling, always happy.
“It had been 20 years since I’d seen Joey. I knew him because we went to grammar school together,” Abercrombie said.
“Kids even referred to Joey as the Lazarus kid. He came back from the dead. He defied all odds. He proved everybody wrong,” Dana added.
Dana followed Joey around for 12 years, getting video and gathering a binder full of notes and pictures. As an amateur filmmaker she learnt as she went.
“A stay-at-home mom Publix customer who started this project and had no idea the cost associated with it. So, what I’ve done for several years is take it as far as I could take it on my own. Now, I just need support from the public who loves and embraces Joey as I do to make this happen,” said Abercrombie.
John Lee Bruno is using his nonprofit, United for Life, to get support to finish the film in its last stage of production. They need to cover a musical score, final editing, colorization and distribution.
“It’s not just for me. I want people to see my story, but I want them to see the way God has worked in my life,” Joey said about the project.
If you’d like to support the movie, go the Facebook page A Walk With Joey.