Monday, March 5, 2012


When John Kelly Stevens caught a ride home from the party that Friday night, it wasn’t with the friends who had brought him there. Kelly wasn’t ready to leave when his ride wanted to go, so he took a chance on bumming a ride, later on, with someone else.

That, it turned out, was a costly decision. Only moments later, he was pinned into the passenger seat from the impact of an unexpected crash. The engine block, propelled by the tree the car had struck, landed on Kelly’s legs, becoming both the blessing that kept him from launching completely through the windshield, and the curse that rearranged his internal organs and broke his back.

Though the ambulance whisked him to the most modern facility the city boasted at the time—Albuquerque’s Presbyterian Hospital—it was not likely that this state-of-the-art facility was even prepared to address Kelly’s needs. This was an era that pre-dated the region’s adoption of the knowledge we’ve accumulated about treating the body’s reaction to trauma. Each independent medical need was addressed promptly and effectively, but the concept of treating the body as a complete whole, capable of vacillating from one extreme to another when put under such stress, was not yet a widespread practice.

During that night—and the ensuing four days—Norma watched her son being rolled back and forth into the surgical suite, addressing a series of physical components as if performing patchwork on a pin cushion. Kelly’s back was broken. He needed heart surgery. He lost his spleen. He lost a leg.

And ultimately, he lost his life.

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