Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wonder of Wonders

We have experienced miracles upon miracles in our family over the last 3 1/2 weeks.  I wanted to document them here to have a record of the events, as well as to share the miracles and testify to others.  This time has bonded our family and reminded us of the most precious things to us. . .our family, and life. 

On the evening of November 17th, I was finishing up at book club eating some yummy treats at a friends house.  I got a phone call from Matt in which he explained that our brother in law (his sister Tyley’s husband), had been in a serious car accident in Mexico.  I asked if he was ok, and Matt’s words were, “well. . .he’s alive.” 

I headed straight to Tyley’s home where I hoped I could be there to comfort her and her 6 year old daughter, and only 10 week old son.  The house was full of family when I arrived. 

James and his family are members of the First Free Evangelical Church, and from the time he was in high school, he has gone on mission trips to Mexico.  His mother helps organize these trips and often they did these missions as a family, as their family vacations.  They are an amazing, loving, Christian-minded family.  Big huggers and jokers too.  On this particular trip from their family was James, his brother Andy, and his mother Sue.  They were helping in an area just outside of Ensenada, Mexico, at a Men’s Alcohol Rehab center.  As one of their first tasks, James and his brother Andy headed out to get water.  They were on a dirt road.

The Baja 1000 road race is famous around the world.  It is one of the longest, toughest road races.  It takes place every year in November, and involves several different races (motorbikes, buggys, trucks).  The beginning of the race was the next morning.  Several racers will ride the course in the days before to get a feel for it.  It should be noted that this is not a specific “track” course, it is simply a race on the roads near Ensenada.  The family tells us that they had no specific notice of the race, and they were never warned to be careful on the roads.  This is the story we have of what happened.  James and Andy noticed a truck coming toward them and pulled as far as they could off to the right in the mini van James was driving.  There was a race truck coming over the hill, and it jumped the hill and when it came down it hit the van on the drivers side sending it backward and flipped them onto the top some 100 feet away.  Andy was able to get out of his window with several cuts and minor injuries.  The van was tipped and weighing down on James side, trapping him underneath the steering wheel.  He had a severe cut to his upper left arm (almost severed), a bad cut to his right leg, and a cut across his neck (jaw angle to jaw angle).  We would also find out later that he had a broken hip. 

Here’s where the miracles begin. . .following shortly behind the first truck was another race truck.  In this truck were 3 US Marines--Kent Kroeker, Jeremy Graczyk, Colt Hubbell and Jeremy’s father. 

The word was that they were trying to get James out of Mexico and med-evac flown to San Diego.  We arranged flights for Tyley, her daughter, her son, and Matt’s other sister Jordan to go and help with the kids.  We received word during the night that he was not stable, he had excessive bleeding, a collapsed lung, needed more surgery and they were not flying him out.  Tyley doesn’t have a passport, so the work the next morning was to get an emergency passport and get her to Mexico.  She flew out with a friend from the First Free church that helps arrange these mission trips that would help her get a passport in Denver and get her directly to James in Mexico.  Another miracle was that due to the race being that next morning, they actually had a flight available and within 24 hours James was on his way to San Diego. (We have heard from several people that that sort of thing just doesn’t happen in Mexico.)  Tyley was able to reunite with him that very evening.  We have plenty of family here in Lincoln and we all agreed to pitch in to help with the kids.  Jordan specifically offered to sleep at  Tyley’s with the 6 year old, and she quickly earned her “mommy certificate” after caring for their 10 week old son for what would be 3 weeks (all while going to school FT and working).  Another miracle is that their son was actually born 4 weeks early, so just a week before, Tyley had gone back to work, and daycare was already set and going for their son.

The following is an account given of the events.  This is from a website devoted to the off road racing community.  The descriptions are graphic.

“Surprised that nobody has told the story of this incident. Robby Gordon alluded to this story during the driver’s meeting. I wasn't there but according to people who were, this is the story:
The evening before the race, General Tire/KORE’s Kent Kroeker, his co-driver Jeremy Graczyck, KORE’s Colt Hubble and Jeremy’s dad, Jim were prerunning the start in KORE’s “TRX 4” – an uncaged, Ram 1500 moderately equipped with a radio and decent suspension. They were out to slowly recon the start a final time in order to identify booby traps, program some waypoints and make note of anything new.
About 20 miles from Ensenada, a trophy truck came up on them, hard on the horn at 70% race pace. Kroeker moved over in time and let them pass, remarking that, “****! The ****ing race is tomorrow morning.”
Five minutes later they crest a blind hill and find the TT rolled and, for the most part, destroyed. Another vehicle is also crushed and almost unidentifiable. Civilian traffic – some kind of mini van. An obvious head on collision, the result of the TT cresting the blind hill, as the co-driver stated, “going only 50 mph”.
The TT driver and co driver are wandering around, unhurt in a zombie daze. The mini van is upside down, smoldering. Kroeker and Graczyck climb into the smoking vehicle, shouting orders. Jim and Colt secure the area from oncoming traffic, call EMT/Police and disconnect the battery.
Inside is a guy trapped in the crushed metal. He’s upside down with the dash and firewall crushing his legs. He’s bleeding out fast from his left arm which has severe lacerations, is 7/8 amputated with exposed bone and muscle just below the shoulder, brachial artery pumping him out. Kroeker gets under the guy and applies upward pressure on his torso with one hand, so he can breathe and compresses the open amputation with the other. The only thing holding the arm on was some tendon, the artery and some crushed bone.
Graczyck uses Kroeker’s knife to cut some seatbelt, throws it to Kroeker who tourniquets the artery. Colt tosses Kroeker a large screw driver to torque down the tourniquet. Graczyck makes a time hack, gets the guy’s age and name, vitals from Kroeker and writes it in his notebook. Kroeker talks the guy through – “hey buddy, you’re going to be fine- no big deal. Where are you from? I’m going to touch your ass – it’s not because I’m attracted to you, I’m checking your pelvic girdle for some things (crepitus) – just seeing where we need to keep pressure- you’re going to be fine…”
Most of the guy’s lower chin is torn off, Kroeker is laying under him in the broken glass, applying upward pressure, Graczyck is tearing apart the dash, ripping the seats out. Kroeker is a pilot and a FAC and Graczyck is a special operations JTAC – same school – ground Marines - close air support – from inside the car (still smoldering) they’re shouting orders to establish a DZ in the nearby field, get our VHF radio frequency to the supporting agency and start a fire with wet wood to give signal for a talk on.
Kroeker and Graczyck are the only Americans on scene who speak Spanish.
The locals comply. Colt (another Marine Officer) tells them they won’t launch a life flight from Brown Field for some reason or another. Somehow some O2 shows up and Colt gets it on the guy’s face.
Jeremy and Kroeker’s hands and arms are covered in cuts from pulling apart the car. The guy’s blood is everywhere. Smells like a fresh gut pile. They continue to pull the car apart. Mexican Police arrive first, then Mexican EMT. This is about 1.5-2 hours after the Marines arrive on scene.
Up to this point all this is pretty standard expeditionary, combat medicine. Stop the bleeding, start the breathing, protect the wound, treat for shock – ingrained in every Marine from day one- totally routine, JV-level stuff, all happening in a permissive environment (i.e. nobody is shooting at them while this is happening).
This is where it gets weird: At least six Mexican EMTs show up and stand around scratching their heads and assessing for about 30 minutes while Gracyzyck and Kroeker are telling them what to do in Spanish from inside the vehicle. Finally Kroeker gets out and tasks the TT co driver with holding up the vic’s body, so he can breathe. Kroeker then finds the Mex in charge, tells him to shore up the vehicle, find the jaws of life, pry bars etc. Colt and Jim actually show them how to use the equipment – where to attach the pneumatics etc. Kroeker places the jaws, gets back in the vehicle, moves his hands up the guy’s legs to his ankles and holds his hands on his feet while telling the jaws operator how far to expand. He gets one leg free and the guy is screaming in pain. Kroeker is now laying under him again, bench-pressing his torso up while freeing his leg and applying pressure on his armpit.
From inside the vehicle on the opposite side, Graczyck is backbriefing the EMT on time of incident, vitals and telling the EMT where and how to insert an IV and what meds to administer. Finally they get the other leg free and a back board inside the car. It takes Graczyck, Kroeker and two EMTs to move the vic upward onto the board and get him into a cervical collar.
They get the guy into the Ambulance and help the EMTs clean up the scene. The vic’s mother is on scene, Kroeker briefs her on what to do – there are two good hospitals in Ensendada and several clinics. Make sure he gets to a hospital and not a clinic. Permit the indig doctors to get him stable and wounds clean then immediately extract to San Diego. Do not permit the Mexicans to do surgery.
Robby Gordon is watching. This is what he was talking about at the meeting.
Anyway, that’s what happened. The latest news is that even though the guy's arm was hanging by a piece of meat the size of your thumb for many hours, it looks like it will be able to be saved. The guy is going to lose most if not all of his triceps however. He's not out of the woods yet. Broken pelvis, numerous open fractures, etc.
Here is a link to the website

I have a firm testimony that Heavenly Father is in control and know of each of us individually.  Tragedy happens, and we are asked to walk on roads that are agonizing, but I also know that the Holy Ghost is there to guide and direct and comfort.  I know that these Marines were lead by the Spirit to be prepared and to be ready that evening.  They of course, will accept nothing of this “angel” and “heaven sent” talk.  They say it was just what they already knew to do.  An everyday thing.

Kent Kroeker wrote a post about the conversation he and Jeremy had before leaving for their practice.  Jeremy asked what they should pack, and Kent made some mention that is was just a routine thing, that is wasn’t going to be any big deal.  Jeremy laughed at that and they decided yes, they should pack some basic survival stuff.  The truck already had a medical kit but they were obviously guided to be prepared.  Kent said that Jeremy will certainly never let him forget about this “no big deal” night.  We are so grateful that these specific men were there that night to help James through this moment.  Kent has said several times since then that he did nothing more than what he does every day, that it was specifically James that had the fight and the courage and he was just there helping.  Kent said specifically that it was crucial to make sure that everyone there believed that he would survive, it was important to those helping and espeically important for James to know that. 

“After James was stabilized, I took his pulse. He had lost so much blood/pressure that I couldn't get a reading from anywhere on his body. At that point it was all up to his courage/will and those around him to calmly believe he was going to be OK.”

In the next few days, James endured many surgeries trying to repair his arm and leg.  He was trapped for over 2 hours so without good circulation, he also had a lot of dead, damaged tissue.  About a week after the accident, they official said that he would be able to keep both his arm and leg, that the Doctors were amazed at the healing, and that they were also able to close up the wounds without skin grafts.  Initially the wounds were so infected and swollen, with the pictures that were sent they had to tell us what we were looking at.  Just yesterday they removed the stiches and staples from the leg, and the Doctor that removed them said that someone must have been “showing off”.  They were time consuming type stitches that help the skin heal and look the best! 

Wiped out!

Tyley has been amazing.  She will not leave James side, even at night.  She slept for 17 days in a chair/bed and finally when they were moved to rehab they had regular bed she could stay in.  James has told her that he knew he would not have survived had she not been there.  I’m sure that she would not have survived had she not been there with him. 

James was also able to have the surgery on his hip as scheduled.  The Doctors were surprised how fast the surgery went and without complication.  He now has a 5 inch plate and screws holding him together.  He will have to be non weight-bearing for 3 months, but in physical therapy they have him up and moving some already. 

He has struggled with low blood pressure and has recently struggled with vertigo due to a calcium crystal that dislodged in his ear, but all is slowly getting better.

More miracles: 

--Skype-ing with their children (it certainly doesn’t make that mommy and daddy heart ache any less, but it makes them smile!)

--Employers that are amazing and generous

SaraMae, Tyley, Kent and James

--A visit from Kent (one of the marines) and his wife on Thanksgiving day.  They were also visited by Cole, another marine.

--prayers and fasting

--A visit to San Diego from the driver, a man that is obviously feeling pain over the whole event, but he was able to meet with James’ parents and has provided so much support including paying to have their house (all carpet) wheel chair ready with laminate flooring, etc, and offering a private jet to fly them home when he’s ready.

--Happy kids!  Those two sweet babes are certainly watched over right now by a loving Heavenly Father.

--Oodles of support, volunteers!  We have been working on the house, painting, flooring, cleaning, organizing, and have had a houseful every night to help!

--an article in the local paper

That’s just the beginning of what we have received.  One of the most important things for me is to see how it has affected my own children.  At this time of Christmas and giving and Thanksgiving, they understand what is most important in life.  They both have offered to give their own time and money to Tyley and James.  Madison offered any babysitting money that I would pay her to go directly to Tyley and James as well. 

The future is unclear for James as far an employment goes, we hope he’ll be ready to work in some capacity at his old job (Construction/Home Energy), but most of all we’re grateful that he is here, to be with his wife and children.  They are hoping he can be flown here next week to a wonderful rehabilitation facility right here in Lincoln, then home SOON! 

I am completely aware that amongst trial and tragedy that things do not always turn out the way we would want them to, but I do know that they turn out the way Heavenly Father needs them to be, for us to grow and change, and to help us serve each other. 


I know you’re thinking the exact same thing someone commented on about this picture. . .”How are you both still the best looking couple even in a hospital?”

Here’s a link to James’ site where you can get updates.

If you are able to give, here is a wonderful site that is matching .20 to the dollar on any donations before December 23.  I know that even the smallest of amounts will make a huge difference.


~j. said...

Wendy. Oh my goodness. I'm speechless. Bless your family.

Lisa said...

Amen. I love to hear stories of faithfulness amid horrible tragedy. It's hopeful and strengthening. What a string of blessings chained together. . . from a Marine knowing what to pack to where to drive to doctors and donations. . . wow.

Amanda said...

Wow, Wendy. Thanks for sharing. Miracles do happen.

Lori said...

That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. Our prayers have been and will continue to be with them.

Anonymous said...

Amazing story and I hope James is recovering. I just stumbled onto this blog becasue I was looking up information on fellow Marine Jeremy Graczyk-- he died BASE jumping the North Face of the Eiger this week. Thought the family would want to know. Maybe you could pass along and ask for prayers for Jeremy's family.

wendysue said...

Anon--thank you for letting me know. I'm on vacation, and had not talked with my sister and brother in law. I contacted them and she said that one of the other marines, Kent, had contacted James just after he heard the news. I will absolutely be thinking of and praying for he and his family. He was an angel to our family in James' time of need.