Community support carries family through ordeal
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
When police officers showed up at Pam and Jim Young’s door in the middle of the night on a Sunday, just days after their son Matt had graduated from high school, Pam immediately knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
There had been an accident, they said, but the driver of the car had not been identified. They were there because the vehicle was registered in their name.
It was Matt’s car. When Pam asked if her son was alive, the officer dropped his head. All he could tell them was that Matt was in bad shape and was being transported to Marcum and Wallace Memorial Hospital, where he was to be flown to UK.
Police escorted Pam and Jim to the hospital, where they arrived before the helicopter got there to fly out their son.
The news they received there was not encouraging either.
“They couldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear,” Pam said. She pleaded with the staff at Marcum and Wallace Memorial Hospital to let her go back to see Matt.
“He has to hear me…if he hears my voice, I know he’ll fight,” she begged them. But as hospital staff worked feverishly to save his life, she and her husband were not allowed to see their son.
They were told only that he had a bad laceration to the neck, and they thought one of his eyes was gone.
Medics worked with Matt for 40 minutes to get him stable enough to fly. He had to have three units of blood. He was combative, and they had to administer a paralytic drug to keep him still.
When Matt was wheeled out of the hospital to the helicopter, Pam only had time to briefly touch his foot as he went by.
She remembers falling to her knees, overcome by the most desperate feeling she had ever felt in her life. She pleaded with God to save her son.
I can take care of him, she prayed. Whatever shape he’s in, please don’t let me lose him.
She said she felt like she was drowning at the bottom of the ocean.
Within hours, at the University of Kentucky hospital, friends, family and Matt’s JROTC buddies gathered in a waiting room.
In a fog of fear and desperation, the conversations of some of those around her began to penetrate her mind. She heard people saying that their church had had special prayer for Matt hat morning.
She took some comfort in knowing that so many people were praying.
For long hours, there was not much good news coming from the emergency room where teams of medical professionals continued to fight to save Matt’s life.
Pam said she eventually stopped asking how he was because, “They couldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.” She had asked about “when he wakes up,” and a doctor had said, “If he wakes up.”
The Youngs were told that Matt had been without a pulse for four and a half minutes, and they couldn’t tell if he would have brain damage from the lost oxygen. In a last resort effort to bring him back, doctors had cut through his ribs to reach in and massage his heart, a procedure typically prepped for in the operating room. One medic told them he’d never seen it done in the emergency room.
Matt eventually stabilized somewhat. Doctors first thought one of Matt’s eyes was destroyed in the accident, but a piece of wood he had hit during the wreck had pushed it deep into his head.
After three excruciating days, the Youngs finally received some positive news. They were told that their son would make it, but doctors couldn’t tell them how much he would recover.
Whether he could walk or talk again, they didn’t know.
The Youngs stayed by their son’s side day and night. Pam was encouraged when she would lean over to tell her son where he was, that he had had an accident, but they were there for him, and he would squeeze her hand.
He wouldn’t always respond to the nurses that way, she said, and they were told that Matt would likely be in the hospital and in rehab for months.
Finally, there came a period of time when Matt’s improvements were rapid. Five days after the accident, he woke up.
Two weeks after the wreck, Matt was released from the hospital to Cardinal Hill for rehabilitation.
A week later, he was released from Cardinal Hill, able to walk and talk.
Pam said some of those who worked on him during the hours after the wreck dropped in to see him, incredulous that he made it. A flight nurse told her that the work done on the ground likely saved his life.
Pam struggles to put into words the appreciation she feels for the first responders who worked at the scene of the wreck, many of whom volunteer their time. She is also grateful for a local hospital.
“I cannot express how much our hospital [Marcum and Wallace] means to me,” said Pam of the level four trauma center.
It worries Pam that changes in health care are being debated that might cause rural hospitals to lose funding. She said some make the argument that “you take them somewhere else anyway.” To that, Pam’s response is, “They have to have a pulse, first.”
Pam also becomes very emotional as she expresses her gratitude for the community at large and the way they rallied around her family during the ordeal.
She has a new appreciation for Facebook, where she received about 300 friend requests from people wanting to express support and check on them.
The entire experience has changed Pam. She says she used to be a “deal with it on my own” kind of person, but the support from the community has taught her the value of being there for people and reaching out to them-and of the power of prayer.
Through the ups and the downs, Pam said she could literally feel the prayers of the people, that it “felt like arms were around us.” She remembers a conversation with her husband when she marveled that she “felt so blessed” during the most trying time of their life.
“I feel like we have been picked up and taken our of our old life and put into another life.”
And for all those mothers who have lost their sons, she has new sympathy. “I don’t know how they get up every day and be productive,” she said.
At the end of the day, Pam is “thankful to be here,” in this community, despite its problems, which she adds, “are everywhere.”
“I don’t think I will ever get over how amazed we are at our community,” said Pam. She’s more convinced than ever of the power of prayer and the potential for the community to overcome its problems when they come together.
Graduating from the Estill County High School just days before his accident, Matt was a dedicated member of the JROTC, had already joined the Army and completed basic training.
His JROTC family “camped out in the waiting room for a week.” Pam and her husband got to know Matt’s friends in a way they never had before, as they shared stories of his kindness, his character and his support of his JROTC comrades. They call him “Matty.”
When “Matty” finally gained full consciousness, his friends were asleep in the waiting room. Her husband quietly hung up a sign which simply said “Matty woke up.”
Since the accident, Matt has been somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention he has received. He doesn’t remember any of it, and they still don’t know what caused the accident, but Pam tells him, “You’re like a miracle…God has plans for your life.”
Nearly all of Matt’s injuries were from the neck up, said his mom, who also noted that Matt had to have about 1000 stitches both inside and outside his neck. His carotid artery and his esophagus were exposed but not touched by the large gash in his neck.
The extent of the damage to his eye is still not completely known, but he has some vision in it. He recently saw a retina specialist, and Pam said they will monitor him closely to watch for changes. There is a chance that, with glasses, he will have 20/50 vision in his eye eventually.
Since the wreck, Matt has lost a lot of weight and a lot of the muscle strength he had built during training for his military career. Pam said he is facing some reconstructive surgeries to his face, but despite his setback and his eye injury, Matt’s career in the Army is not over. He had already passed the necessary tests and had been through basic training.
A representative has told them, “Young is a good soldier…we will find a job for him.”
As Matt’s healing continues, all his JROTC buddies can vouch for this: Matt does not quit.
He’s already exercising and walking several miles a day.
Pam says he will soon meet with EKU to discuss taking some classes next spring.
As their life settles down, the Youngs are considering ways to give back to the community. They have become aware of a need that first responders, many of them volunteers, have for equipment, and they are considering organizing a fundraiser of some sort.
More than anything, they want people to know how much they appreciate the support of those who prayed and supported them.
With her voice thick with emotion, Pam said, “I am so, so thankful.”