There’s so much each day that we take for granted. You are going along in life with just a few bumps in the road, but when something happens that shakes you to your core, what do you anchor to in those times? Even those with a strong faith know that it’s easy to praise Him in the good times, but when life falls apart and the storm comes, is God there in those times, too, and how do you praise Him then?
The Perfect Storm
On February 4th, 2017, life was going along as usual for the Fishel family. Mom, Karen, was out running errands with her mother; daughters Clara and Melanie were busy with their lives; and son, Wesley, 16 years old, was competing in the NC High School Rodeo with his dad, Neil, looking on. Life was about as normal as it comes, until at 12:50 pm, when the bull that Wesley was riding threw him off and then, with Wesley face down in the arena, the bull’s back legs came down on Wesley’s back. In an instant, life as the Fishel family knew it changed. But the Fishels were well aware of the dangers of bull riding…this literally wasn’t their first rodeo….
“Our family has always enjoyed rodeos and livestock shows; we raise cattle and Wesley started riding calves at the age of 8, and then moved up to bulls. It’s accepted that there are going to be accidents in bull riding; it’s not if something is going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen. In the past, Wesley had had bruises and torn jeans and a concussion before, which was scary, but nothing prepared us as a family for what happened that day,” recalled Karen Fishel, Wesley’s mom.
As Karen looks back a little over a year after Wesley’s accident, she can see that day was “a perfect storm.” Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, but for every wrong, there was a counter action. “That day at the Lone Hickory Arena, they moved the bull riding, which is usually the last competition, to the first, so the crowd was in place. There were no paramedics or transport on site that day; one had not been scheduled and the Board Member who had possession of the association’s medic bag was home sick. When Wesley was thrown and the bull landed on him, almost immediately, everyone knew Wesley was in trouble. There were seven people, including a 30-year EMT, judging the competition, who came to Wesley’s aid. Among those seven was a cardiac nurse, watching the competition, a trauma nurse and a pharmacist, all of whom were parents of competitors, and they all knew CPR. One man in the crowd, there to see his daughter compete in barrel racing, is the head of security at WFBH Medical Center and due to having taken a different car than he usually drove, he had an oxygen tank in his car, which Wesley needed. While waiting on the ambulance, which got lost on their way due to an incorrect address, those seven people took turns doing CPR keeping Wesley alive. Nine times they lost a pulse on Wesley, but they kept doing chest compressions,” Karen said. Wesley’s body began shutting down from the loss of blood; veins were collapsed and emergency measures had to be taken by the paramedics, who arrived at 1:17 pm. They used their AED to shock his heart back into rhythm. Once in the ambulance, Wesley crashed, but was brought back and came into the Level One Trauma unit at WFBH, while his mom waited, not knowing how bad the situation really was.
A Walking Miracle
Karen and her daughter, Clara, made it to the hospital before Wesley arrived, having no idea the seriousness of Wesley’s injuries. As Karen scanned the waiting room for some idea of what happened, she saw looks on the faces of some of the parents that were at the arena, the solemn glances from medical staff, and she knew this was much more than a concussion. “It felt like an out-of-body experience. Wesley had sustained a crush injury, meaning that the impact of the bull had crushed his chest, injuring his heart and lungs, and during surgery, as they were inserting a trachea tube, he coded. It was during this time that they found internal bleeding due to Wesley’s spleen basically exploding,” commented Karen. Physicians met with the Fishels and shared with them how grave Wesley’s condition was and that they didn’t expect him to survive the night; if he did survive, they were unsure of the brain damage due to lack of oxygen after the accident. The next few days were filled with more surgeries and Wesley responded better to the treatments than expected.
“There were prayer vigils taking place at three high schools, East Forsyth, Walkertown and South Stokes, where Wesley attended. Waiting rooms were filled with family, friends and church members all gathering to pray. We spent time with Wesley, talking to him, and after several days, he responded. Once we knew Wesley was going to make it, I questioned whether I was up to taking care of him, because we didn’t know how much damage had been done to the brain. I had always believed that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but I wasn’t sure if I was as strong as I needed to be,” Karen stated. Five weeks later, Wesley was home, and except for some short-term memory issues and neuropathy in his left foot, he is a normal 17-year-old, looking forward to attending NC State. With a year removed from everything, with a total of 14 surgeries for Wesley, Karen, like all of us, wonders why this happened to Wesley, but her faith is her anchor with that question, as it has been all along.
“We don’t know why this happened to Wesley, but we do see the changes in the lives of the people who helped him that day. Everyone knows how precious life is, and Wesley is a reminder that there’s always hope, even on the darkest day, that miracles still happen,” said Karen.