January 2016
Homeplace & Community

A Rocky Start

Dr. Rocky Lyons prepares to meet a patient at his medical clinic in Wetumpka.  

A traumatic experience in his childhood inspired Martin (Rocky) Lyons’ career in medicine.

Picking a profession can take unexpected twists and turns, but Dr. Martin (Rocky) Lyons Jr.’s selection resulted from a harrowing experience at the bottom of a steep embankment in Marengo County.

It happened in late October 1987 as his mother was driving him home following a Halloween party at a friend’s house.

Rocky was 5 years old and sound asleep in the passenger seat of his mom’s pickup truck when the vehicle struck a deep pothole or rut on a road near Demopolis.

Kelley Parris tried to control the truck, but Rocky’s foot became lodged in the steering wheel and she couldn’t. There was little she could do but hang on, pray and focus on her son.

As the truck began to plummet down the steep slope, she made a split-second decision – covering Rocky’s little body with hers to cushion the collision she knew was coming.

  Dr. Mike Coleman, left, Prattville, and Rocky Lyons with perdiz (quail-like birds) in Argentina.

Seconds later, the vehicle stopped flipping over and over, ending upside down at the bottom of the hill.

Parris’s body absorbed the brunt of the crash with her face suffering the most damage. She would undergo extensive reconstructive surgery for a year after she had fully recovered from the accident.

Dr. Reese Holifield provided emergency care that night, needing more than 200 stitches to close Parrish’s facial wounds. He was also worried about the rest of the damage to her body.

Before treatment could start, mother and son had to get to a hospital. Traffic was flying by, drivers unaware of what had happened at the bottom of the hill.

Rocky was fully awake by then, but so shaken that he could not comprehend the meaning of "accident." That was the word his mother used to describe what had just happened.

"I remember Rocky saying ‘Momma, you’re gonna die if I don’t get you to a hospital,’" Parrish recalled.

Their only option was to get to the top of the hill as fast as possible, but that was a tall order for a little boy and his badly injured mother who was crushed inside the truck. Rocky wasn’t hurt at all.

Freeing himself from the wreck, he managed to pull his mother out. It took a while, but not nearly as long as it took the two of them to get to the top of the hill – about two hours as he pushed, shoved and coaxed Kelley not to give up.

  Dr. Martin (Rocky) Lyons Jr. with (from left) his wife, Lindsay; daughter, Liv, 3; and mother, Kelley Parris, while celebrating Liv’s 3rd birthday.

They kept going, crawling inch by inch and digging their fingers into the dirt and grass to keep from sliding back down to the bottom. Rocky also began using his favorite story as encouragement for her.

The story was "The Little Engine That Could" and he kept telling his mother she could do it if she just kept repeating "I think I can, I think I can" to herself.

Getting to Whitfield Memorial Hospital after being rescued was a start, but, when Rocky asked that Holifield be called to help his mother, he ran into a problem.

It was after midnight and a nurse told him the doctor was home and couldn’t be disturbed. He kept insisting that Holifield be called "because he knows our family."

Awakened and apprised of what happened, Holifield rushed to the hospital and worked for eight hours. He was able to stabilize her condition so that additional medical efforts could continue in the days ahead.

Holifield, who passed away in 2004, left an indelible mark on Rocky. The doctor’s efforts that night provided the impetus that, one day, would lead him to medical school and a successful family practice today in Wetumpka.

Rocky with two red snappers caught off the coast of Gulf Shores.  

It hasn’t taken long for Dr. Lyons to become an important part of the town’s medical community, so much so that one of his casual comments about liking pecan pies resulted in an overwhelming response.

"The first Christmas I was here you couldn’t sit in my office for all the pecan pies I received," he laughed. "I finally quit telling my patients what kind of food I liked."

Hundreds of patients can create busy weeks of intense examinations and treatment for country doctors, so Rocky, 33, relaxes in fields and streams as he hauls out his hunting and fishing gear.

He shot his first deer at a young age as he accompanied his mother into the woods. She’s a crack shot and when they spotted two deer they decided to count to "three" before shooting. Both hit their targets. Although he has several rifles, his hunting preference is a bow and arrow.

Rocky and his mother recall that first successful hunting trip and get a laugh out of it, especially the "count to three" arrangement that had little Rocky exclaiming, "Dad would have shot on two."

Fishing provides another stress reliever for Lyons and he can’t wait to get down to Gulf Shores to see what he can catch.

"I’m president of the Happy Hookers Fishing Club," he said. "We’ve got about 15 members right now, but hope to get more to join us."

Rocky has applied for a tag to become an alligator hunter, but wasn’t successful the times he’s tried. He plans to keep trying.

In the meantime, he and his friends find other venues to hunt and fish. They once flew to Argentina and spent a week in a country called the "Wing Shooting Capital of the World." He said the experience lived up to Argentina’s recreational nickname.

"Those of us who grew up in Gallion spent our free time hunting and fishing," Rocky said about his roots in the little Marengo County community. "We had about 300 head of registered cattle and I was up around 4:30 every morning to feed the calves before I went to school."

When he wasn’t looking after cattle, he was an athlete in high school. He preferred basketball to football – the sport that made his father a household name around Alabama and America.

Marty Lyons Sr. was a defensive end who starred for the University of Alabama on teams that won national championships in the late 1970s. He went from there to the New York Jets where he starred in the same position for more than a decade.

With a thriving practice that keeps him busy throughout the week, Rocky uses outdoor activities as ways to relax and mentally organize his patient load.

He may not be a medical specialist, but he finds general medicine just as rewarding, especially when it comes to helping patients with perplexing problems.

One patient’s concern turned out to be a tongue-twisting muscle weakness that was eventually solved by a specialist. Lyons had researched the situation and sent his patient to an expert.

"Hey doc, you were right,’" the patient told Rocky, who was happy to see that his research had paid off.

"Something like that makes what I do worthwhile."

The traumatic experience nearly 30 years ago provided Rocky with a profession. He first got a bachelor’s degree at Huntingdon College in Montgomery and moved on to UAB in Birmingham where he worked on his medical degree.

Marty and Parrish divorced years before, but continue a close relationship since that time. The two wouldn’t think of missing Rocky’s big moment.

They were in a packed auditorium as each new doctor walked briskly across the stage after they were introduced. Their formal names were used – all but the last one.

"Now … herrree’s Rocky," the announcer said, as Dr. Martin Lyons Jr. proudly walked across the stage with a big smile and a wave to his parents.

Marty was as happy as his namesake that day and stays in touch with Rocky as often as possible.

"No father could be as proud of their son as I am of Rocky," said Marty. "We’re more than father and son. We’re best friends."

Rocky has never forgotten Holifield, not after that night so long ago. He often reflects on it and mentally praises the man who saved his mother’s life.

"Seeing the respect Dr. Holifield received in Demopolis as I was growing up and what he had done for my mother helped me decide on my future," Rocky said. "I knew right then what I wanted to do with my life."

Most careers can’t be complete without a family to make it all worthwhile. In that regard, Rocky once again scores a bullseye.

Lindsay Lyons was attracted to him as he was to her the moment the two got out of their vehicles at Huntingdon College. Both were registering at the same time. Liv Lyons arrived three years ago to make the family complete.

The special relationship between mother and son couldn’t be stronger and they always speak to each other on Halloween – the night they both came close to death in a lonely road in Marengo County.

"It doesn’t have pleasant memories for us, but we talk to each other as many times as possible during the week, especially on the anniversary of what happened," she said. "And, we can’t help but cry."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.