A Tragic Accident and Lives Changed Forever

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Everyone has a date that is forever etched in their mind. For some the date marks a joyous event such as a birthday or anniversary. Others remember the date of a tragic event such as an accident or death of a loved one.

The date I will forever remember is April 2, 2009.

About 4:30 on that beautiful afternoon, my husband and I got a phone call no parent wants to receive. We learned that our 15-year-old son, Connor, was involved in a dirt bike accident. As my husband and I drove to the home where the accident occurred, we were unaware of the severity of the accident. I thought he might have broken an arm or leg., but as we neared the scene of the accident, we noticed a helicopter ambulance flying in the same direction we were driving. My heartbeat quickened and my stomach turned.

These kinds of helicopters are only dispatched in extremely serious accidents, and this one belonged to Parkview Hospital, a Level II Trauma center in Fort Wayne, Ind.  Connor was “hot loaded” into the helicopter, a term medics use to refer to a condition so critical that there isn’t time to turn off the engine.

My husband and I were not allowed to approach Connor before he was loaded into the helicopter and flown to the trauma center. We were located 20 minutes from the hospital and had to contend with rush-hour traffic. Although we drove quickly to the hospital, it felt as if we were moving at a snail’s pace. The friend Connor was riding with didn’t see the accident happen, but knew Connor had no movement or feeling from his chest down. I kept telling myself, he was wearing full protective gear, so he couldn’t be too seriously injured, could he?

Some say when something bad happens everything is a blur.  In my case, I remember it all crystal clear.  We sat in the waiting room with Connor’s friends, their parents and members of my family.  There was no need for conversation; all that was going through my mind was when I would get to see my son.

Finally, the doctor took the three of us into the emergency room to see Connor. As I looked at my UNCONSCIOUS son I noticed he did not have a single bump or bruise on his body.  He was stripped of all clothing and covered with a small towel. He looked perfectly healthy. His chest and arms were muscular from sports and regular trips to the gym. The neck brace was the only thing that would cause you to think he was injured.

I told myself that he just had the wind knocked out of him. After all, I had seen it in football. Eventually the player who took the blow stands and walks off the field.

As my daughter Kylie, Steve and I gathered around Connor, the neurosurgeon informed us that Connor had broken his neck. When his neck broke, particles of bone became embedded into his spinal cord. My family and I knew nothing about spinal cord injuries, but there was one question we all wanted, but were afraid, to ask. In the end, Connor was the only one brave enough to ask the doctor if he would ever walk again.

With a voice lacking any compassion, the doctor told him he would not walk again. It was at that moment I noticed a tear running down my son’s cheek, the only one I saw Connor shed in the days ahead. I would shed thousands.

Our minister arrived and we spoke and prayed. I told him that Steve and I were always worried about how much money we made, whether our  401(k)s were growing, if our house was nice enough and so on. None of those things mattered. We would give it all away if it meant Connor could get out of the hospital bed and walk.

Maybe miracles come in ways not everyone notices. We had a tragedy on April 2nd 2009 but we also received a miracle. My son was alive! He made it through an accident that cracked his helmet, yet he didn’t suffer brain damage. Over the next few months we truly learned that our most precious possession is family.

Connor had more than 100 visitors. His father and I had one rule for every visitor … NEVER cry in Connor’s room. Visitors should laugh, joke and talk as they always had with Connor. We wanted him in good spirits for what lay ahead. Teens, mothers and grown men were brought to tears in the waiting room, but all respected our one rule.

My emotions went back and forth from despair to denial and anger. I could only wonder what Connor was feeling.

Looking back the doctors were correct. It would be a marathon, not a sprint. Each day we get a little farther along in our marathon. If we could turn back time we would do everything in our power to prevent the accident. Of course, we can’t, so we adapt and move forward.

As a mother, I understand some of what other parents feel after a critical accident. I hate the thought of another teen having to endure the pain and limitations involved with severe injuries. Seat belts, protective gear and being an excellent diver, does not make you invincible. Please realize that being cautious and considering the danger that could occur from your action is wise. That wisdom can help to protect you. Think before you drive without a seatbelt. Think before you dive. Think before you make a risky jump.  Maybe that next jump will be the best and highest ever. Maybe it will be the worst of your life.

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