April 13, 2012 Gary’s life was forever changed. I received a call that nobody ever wants to answer. On that day I instantly went from having an independent, healthy, outgoing, 18 year-old son to having a son who was barely holding onto life. I didn’t even know the accident happened and I was only three blocks away from him!
He was airlifted to UNM Hospital after being involved in a tragic motorcycle accident. When I arrived at UNMH and after waiting about 7 long, painful hours, I was told Gary was injured severely, and would not likely survive through the night. I’ve heard of stories and have known of people involved in accidents but I never ever imagined it could happen to me…not to my son. I am a living testament that it can happen. My world was turned upside down, Gary’s little sister Kenidie was devastated, and all of our entire family’s lives were forever changed on that day as well. No child, no family should ever have to endure the pain and suffering we have gone through.
This is Gary’s story…
The next couple weeks immediately following Gary’s accident, he was given no hope of survival. Several specialists and surgeons said Gary would not live and if he did, he would be alive only with the use of machines that would be keeping him alive. I was told to consider organ donation as that was Gary’s choice which was noted on his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear the thought. I was told at one point that “Gary’s spirit was gone and only his body remained,” all in an effort to help me make the decision to donate his organs. The doctors didn’t know Gary’s strength and perseverance like I did; they didn’t know that he would never give up! I was not ready to give up on him either despite what I was told.
One morning I heard the words I desperately longed for. Gary’s neurosurgeon told me of recent activity in his brain. That was the best news I heard since the accident. I knew from that moment on, I was not alone in Gary’s fight to keep him alive. It was going to be the biggest fight of our life but we were ready to fight and we would never give up!! We had a huge mountain to move. If it took us moving it one granule of sand at a time, we were going to move it!!!
Gary had multiple internal injuries; he had a traumatic brain injury, his lungs were punctured and collapsed and he required a ventilator to breathe, he had numerous broken bones and a crushed pelvis. He has had over 30 surgeries and procedures including removing the left side of his skull and having it replaced with a titanium mesh plate, reconstructing of his bones, and having many plates and pins permanently attached to his body. The accident left Gary with a TBI and right hemiparesis.
I stayed with Gary the entire year he was hospitalized and watched as machines breathed for him, as they poked him hundreds of times for blood draws and IV’s, as they came in every 15 minutes, then 30 and so on to check his vitals, as they gave him medications, fed him through his G-tube, and as they shined a flash light in his eyes to check for pupil dilation. My sleeping Angel just lay there unconscious, without any movement for months.
After Gary was stable enough to leave the trauma unit at UNMH, he was sent to a long-term acute care facility. I was also given very little hope there and was told to consider the possibly putting Gary in a nursing home. They said he would not progress any further, and that he “plateaued.” That is a term used when a patient will no longer make any improvement and or progress. I vowed to give up my life to take care of him before I’d even consider such a thing!!
A miracle happened one morning when the doctor walked in and told me Gary was going to be transferred to Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital. Carrie Tingley is an inpatient rehabilitation hospital where Gary would finally be able to start getting the therapy he needed. I couldn’t believe what I heard after hearing such disappointing news every time I spoke with the doctors. My prayers were answered! For the first time since his accident I was given what had never been given to me before…HOPE.
Gary was hospitalized at Carrie Tingley for five months. We had a great experience there as he was treated though he WAS going to recover and everyone around us shared in my hopes of recovery for Gary. All of the staff was wonderful! And Gary’s therapists, OT/PT were amazing beyond words. They all helped Gary progress and helped me heal as well. It was the most difficult time of my life. Miraculously, Gary started to smile again at Carrie Tingley Hospital.
Eventually Gary transferred to Craig Hospital located in Englewood, CO. Craig Hospital specializes in neuro-rehabilitation for patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries and Spinal Cord Injuries. He was able to go there once he had made a significant amount of progress and was able to participate in the extensive therapy Craig Hospital offers. He stayed at Craig hospital for another five months. That hospital was also an excellent facility. The staff, the environment and the therapy Gary received was phenomenal. The extensive therapy Gary received helped him progress even further and the plan was for Gary to go home rather than having to go to yet another hospital or medical facility. Craig helped me to learn more about Gary’s injury and by giving me the proper training to be able to care for Gary when the time came to actually go home. It was a very exciting but scary time for us. But after a year of being in the hospital, we were very anxious and ready to go home. We were going to be faced with many challenges, have many obstacles along our journey of recovery and somehow I was going to have to prepare for life transforming changes once we got back home.
Today Gary is 19 and it’s been almost two years post injury. He still continues to make progress. He is still undergoing a tremendous amount of therapy on a regular basis and he is in school preparing to graduate as his accident prevented that from happening. Although Gary cannot talk, he can communicate by various means. He has been learning sign language and thanks to the use of technology, he can communicate with the use of his iPad, a laptop and a Dynavox. His favorite pastime is being with his family and friends. He adores his little sister Kenidie who will be turning 6 very soon. He loves listening to country music and going to live concerts. He enjoys caring for his pit bulls that he has had prior to the accident and most recently, he has been very happy, with a non-stop smile from ear to ear with the courageous act his Cousin Katrina performed for him at this year’s Pro Bowl.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about Gary and reading his story. We would also like to thank you for all the prayers, support and love you have sent us since his accident and during his recovery. We still have a long way to go…as I was told, “This is a marathon, not a race.” I will continue to do everything possible to see that Gary receives the best care, therapy, and technology to help him further progress. I will continue to be the best advocate for Gary and together we will move our mountain, regardless of what it takes!!! And most importantly, this is a learning process and we may not always get it right but, we will NEVER GIVE UP!!!!
Much love and blessings to you all!!