Family, community pull together following serious accident

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For the Petersen family, especially 14-year-old Kevin and 27-year-old David, the sun rose on Dec. 30 on a lifetime changed with the squeal of tires. An early morning accident on Highway 395 south of Gardnerville left David in a neck brace and Kevin in a wheelchair, possibly for life.

"The help from the community has been overwhelming," mother Pam Petersen said Thursday in the living room of their modest home in Carson City.

"In a split second our lives have changed," she said. "Obviously Kevin's life has changed, but our lives have changed. Not just the family, but the community."

The family -- David, Pam, father Dave, brother Wayne and his wife Katie, plus sisters Charyl and Carol -- gathered to talk about life since the accident, the overwhelming help offered by the community and the help they still need.

Kevin is undergoing rehabilitation therapy in San Jose at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where he is expected to remain until March 7.

During an evening phone call, Kevin said -- in the typical short statements of teenagers -- that he was "adjusting" to the regimen at the center.

His days move along an institutional schedule of meals, occupational therapy (focused on self-care), exercise, education, physical therapy and more exercises to build stamina in his arms. Next month, his social workers will coordinate his studies with Carson High School so he can catch up with his classmates.

His own time comes in the afternoon when he has several hours to "hang out" with the other people in the center, talking and watching television. That social interaction helps him deal with this new life he must live.

Most of all, Kevin misses his friends.

According to his family, Kevin is known for his socializing. In fact, they quip, he'll probably do better in school now since his social life has been a distraction.

While he was at Washoe Medical Center immediately following the accident, a steady stream of visitors came to cheer him up.

"The Boys & Girls Club director drove from Yerington," sister Carol said. "Van loads of friends went to see him."

Although his friends are far away, Kevin is able to talk with them on the phone. The center gave him his own phone so that his roommate -- a middle-aged father with similar injuries -- wouldn't have to compete for phone time.

Communication with his friends and family has done much to keep Kevin's spirits up, but, his parents said, he's dealing with anger, frustration and, sometimes, fear.

Attention may be focused on Kevin due to the extent of his injuries and need, but brother David also faces some struggles. He expects to be in a neck brace for six to eight weeks.

Unable to work, he admits to "going a little bit stir-crazy."

"I may have complications of ligament damage," David said, "so I may have to fuse three vertebras. But that's not definite. I'm hoping for the best right now."

Kevin is in a neck brace, like his brother, David, from a fracture in his first vertebrae. More serious is the damage at the fifth and sixth vertebrae and below. Emergency surgery at Washoe Medical Center realigned his twisted column, fused his spine with a rod and 12 screws.

It appears that his spinal cord was not severed. The extent of trauma remains uncertain. For now, Kevin has no feeling or movement below his waist.

"The initial assessment by the neurosurgeon (at Washoe) was that he had up to a 5 percent chance to walk," Pam said. "We're hanging on to that hope."

Pam, who works at the Nevada State Library and Archives, and dad Dave, a driver for Sierra Chemicals, know Kevin's medical and rehabilitation bills will be monumental. But they have not asked how much. For now, they prefer to focus on doing what they can to make life easier for Kevin, who will most likely return home in a wheelchair.

They now look at their environment with a different view.

Pam's co-workers, people at Washoe, family and friends have all pitched in to determine just what needs to be done to help Kevin. People from area churches have offered remodeling help.

"That was how we first learned that the hall width needed to be so wide, the bathroom needed adjusting," Pam said. "This isn't going to work if -- and we're saying 'if' -- he's in a wheelchair."

"This home won't fit the needs," Dave said of the problems involved to structurally remodel their older mobile home.

Considering other options, Dave has applied for a Veterans Administration home loan.

"Our preference is to be able to have our family live where we want. It would be difficult for us to just pick up and move," said Pam, who has lived in the community for most of 30 years. Her children have grown up here. Charyl and Carol, seniors at Carson High School, and Kevin, a freshman, all hope to graduate with their classmates.

Transportation presents similar problems as housing. The family mini van can be remodeled but the floor would have to be removed and lowered to accommodate the headroom needed for a teenage boy in a wheelchair. That would present ground-clearance problems.

To help with Kevin's medical and rehabilitation expenses and with his housing and transportation needs -- whatever they may be -- friends of the Petersens have stepped in.

"I think everyone in the community has reached out with support and prayers," said sister Charyl.

A bank account has been opened at Bank of America to receive donations, which can be made out to Kevin Petersen, account number 004 965 334532. The Collectors Den on Williams St., a favorite hang-out of Kevin's, has put out a collection jar to help with expenses. Fund-raisers are also being considered but nothing definite has been scheduled as yet.


A bank account has been opened at Bank of America to receive donations for Kevin Petersen the account number is 004 965 334532.


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