By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
part 1 of 2
The first week in October was hell on the traumatic amputation specialists at University Hospital. Within 36 hours they received three emergency cases: a detached arm and two severed legs.
On Monday, October 4, Mike Thurby of Arvada was hauling the day's last load of trash to the dump when his compactor truck got caught in an accident on I-25 near 120th Avenue. When the truck came to rest against the guardrail, Mike was fully conscious--and realized that his left leg had been severed. His buddy from work, who'd been following the truck, made a tourniquet out of his neckerchief to keep Mike from bleeding to death. Once Mike was extricated from the wreckage, the Flight for Life helicopter took him to University, where he spent the next two hours in surgery.
On Wednesday, October 6, Bill Jeracki of Conifer was trying to get in a final day of trout fishing before cold weather set in. He lost his footing in an unstable boulder field in an isolated area near St. Mary's Glacier and wound up with his left leg crushed beneath a large rock. After waiting hours for rescue and watching the weather turn cold and cloudy, he decided anything would be better than staying trapped there and began to remove the leg at the knee. He made a tourniquet out a piece of nylon rope from his tackle box and, using his fishing knife and fly-tying clamps, cut under the kneecap and through the muscles and cartilage holding the two halves of the knee joint together. Then the hard part began. Bill crawled across the boulder field and drove--in his manual-transmission truck--to the aggregation of house trailers known as Alice, a few miles back up the four-wheel-drive track. There Bill was found by a group of Good Samaritans who called 911, then transported to University by Flight for Life. The helicopter made a return trip to pick up Bill's leg. By the time it arrived at the emergency room, however, the surgeons had decided against reattachment.
That's how two healthy thirtysomething guys, out doing normal guy things, became members of a group made up almost exclusively of healthy young guys who like to do guy things: traumatic amputees. And this is the story of how they and their families have coped in the six months since the world went spinning out of control.
I'm in a unique position to know. When I'm at home, I'm Mrs. Bill Jeracki, aka Victim's Wife.
Mike Thurby went straight into the Navy after graduating from high school in Kentucky in 1979. He was stationed in San Francisco, where he learned to be a boiler technician. After a four-year hitch, he spent a year in Austin, then moved to Boulder, "just checking out college towns." He supported himself by working construction jobs and driving trucks. His supervisor on one of the jobs introduced him to Carla Gonzales, who worked in the same hair salon as the supervisor's wife. In 1988 Mike and Carla married.
Their son, Alex, was born in 1990, daughter Emily in 1992. When the kids came, Mike decided to enroll in night classes at Denver Aero Tech, completing the course to become an airplane mechanic in 1992. But he continued to work as a commercial truck driver, since the available airline jobs paid far less. The schedule was hectic, and he and his wife saw each other "in small doses," Carla recalls. Her part-time schedule at the shop was flexible; that's why she was home that Monday afternoon when Mike's supervisor called.
"It was about 3:15," she says. "All he said was that Mike had been in an accident and they'd taken him to the hospital. It was such a shock, because he'd called about two to say he was on the last run and he'd be home soon.
"I didn't know what exactly had happened, because they won't tell you anything over the phone," Carla continues. "All he said was that Mike was conscious and he'd hurt his leg."
(If she'd been watching TV, she would have known more: Not only was the accident--which tied up rush-hour traffic on southbound I-25 for quite a while--televised, but so was the fact that the driver of the truck had lost his leg.)
Carla dropped the kids at her mother's house and headed for the hospital. Because Flight for Life had transported Mike, his supervisor assumed he'd been taken to St. Anthony's, where the service is based. But when Carla got there, she learned that Mike was at University, on the other side of town. "It was a good thing my girlfriend found me at St. A's," she says, "because I wouldn't have made it if I had had to drive."
When she finally arrived at University, Carla still had no idea what had happened to Mike. And she wasn't going to find out all that soon.
"By the time I got there he was in surgery, and there weren't any doctors available to tell me what was going on," she remembers. "So I sat with the chaplain for about an hour, and he talked to me, but he couldn't tell me what was going on. I was half-hysterical; I felt like I was going to throw up. It was a really weird feeling."
When they finally came out of surgery, the doctors told Carla that Mike had lost his leg below the knee. They planned to save the knee if possible. They suggested she go home. She didn't.