Victoria Wickman broke the news to her two children with compassion and truth: “Daddy’s been in a really bad accident, and he is going to be in the hospital for a while.’’
Jayden, 6, and Alizabeth, 4, understood that their dad, Jered Wickman, got hurt when he crashed his motorcycle after going too fast around a curve in the road.
A community embrace
What the family couldn’t foresee at the time was that an entire community would come together in a giant embrace of love for a family that before Sept. 22, 2017, they never knew.
The first gift, and probably the biggest, came from Dr. Daniel Valentino, a trauma surgeon in UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central’s Level I Trauma Center. Valentino and his team spent a full hour resuscitating Jered, 33, a car parts salesman, who stopped breathing multiple times, and stabilizing him.
From there, he would fall into the capable hands of Dr. Peter Fredericks, an orthopedic surgeon who is called when a person has multiple complex orthopedic injuries, the worst of the worst. In the days, weeks and months that followed, the Wickman family would be showered with random kindness.
Neighbors whom the Wickmans did not know brought casseroles to their home. Mike Maroone, the owner of Mike Maroone Chevrolet, where Jered works, stepped in to help the family. At Christmas, officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department showed up with Santa Claus, dressed not in a jolly red suit but police blue, to deliver a pile of gifts to the Wickman kids.
The first night
The night of the accident, a physician assistant called Dr. Fredericks at home and told him there was a patient with bilateral open femur fractures from a motorcycle accident who needed surgery.
Twenty minutes later, Dr. Fredericks met Jered at the doors of the operating room. Jered had a breathing tube and other injuries. He had compound fractures of both his thigh (femur) bones, both of his knee caps were open and his foot injury was one of the worst injuries Dr. Fredericks had ever seen.
“Patients who break both femur bones have double the mortality rate compared to those who break only one femur bone,’’ Fredericks said.
That night in surgery, Fredericks delicately worked to stabilize Jered’s bones with external fixators, like an erector set on the outside of the leg, and clean his wounds. Victoria said Jered had broken his left femur in seven places and his right femur in five places.
“The first night, we’re cleaning up the open breaks, getting the road debris and that stuff out of there,’’ Dr. Fredericks said. “We’re closing the wounds and putting external fixators on them. We put pins that go down to the bone and it is a temporizing measure. … It is something quick that we can do, stabilizing bones and getting them out to length and it makes it easier for the nurses to care for the patient while they’re awaiting more surgery.
After surviving the first night, Jered went back to the ICU and Dr. Fredericks told him: “You’re going to walk again, you’ll just never walk again without a cane.’’
“That’s when reality set in,’’ Jered said.
A long recovery
In the days and months that followed, Victoria became an Everyday Superhero, traveling back and forth from the hospital, getting the kids off to school, keeping them fed, doing the laundry and tidying the house.
Colorado Springs Police officer Clay Sunada, who had investigated the crash of Jered’s motorcycle, came to the hospital and told Victoria that he was pulling for Jered. He cited him with careless driving, which resulted in $170 fine – a relief for Victoria, who thought they might face more stringent penalties.
“I knew right then, somehow I knew right then, that everything was going to be OK,’’ Victoria said.
From time to time, Officer Sunada checked on Jered’s progress. He was among the first in a long line of strangers, families and friends to support the family as Jered endured many more surgeries over the next several months.
In one of those surgeries, Dr. Fredericks used a cadaver bone to regrow some of Jered’s bone, about two to three inches that Jered had lost from his left thigh.
“That piece of bone was missing, and I had to put a spacer in there for a period of time to allow his body to form some tissue over the top of it. I had to go back in and take that spacer out at about 6 or 8 weeks and then put bone graft in there and his body incorporated that and made it his own bone,’’ Dr. Fredericks said.
Dr. Michael Simpson, a Colorado Springs foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon, helped repair Jered’s severely injured foot. Jered’s x-rays now show the many pieces of orthopedic hardware, screws and pins that hold his leg bones together.
Benefits of Level I Trauma Center
Having a fellowship-trained orthopedic trauma surgeon such as Dr. Fredericks, who has additional orthopedic training in the treatment of complex broken bones, is a requirement for hospitals designated as Level I Trauma Centers like Memorial Hospital Central.
“In these circumstances, when you have injuries like this, it has to be all of the stars aligning,’’ Dr. Fredericks said. “You have to have to have the right people there from the get-go – the emergency room and the trauma team. You have to have the right people there in the operating room, and you have to have the right people taking care of him while he is still in the hospital, including rehab, nursing staff, and then post hospital, clinic and rehab facilities.’’
After spending 30 days in the hospital, Jered went home in October. Unable to work, unable to walk, unable to get out of bed without help, he worried about how he would provide for his family. Victoria shuttled him to doctor’s appointments and cared for his every need.
At Christmas, the family relied on the kindness of others, and there was plenty for them. A few days before Christmas, there was a knock at the front door. Jered looked outside the picture window in the living room and saw a fleet of Colorado Springs Police cars.
“What did you do?’’ Jered asked Victoria.
Then, to their wondering eyes, a jolly old Santa Claus – dressed not in Christmas red, but police blue – made his way into the home. He and his fellow officers were loaded with presents for Jayden and Alizabeth.
Mike Maroone helped out with gifts. “He’s been a real nice guy with me and my family,’’ Jered said of his big boss.
“This community is worth being in,’’ Jered said of Colorado Springs, noting that the Christmas of 2017 was one of the best ever for the Wickmans. The best gift of all: They were together as a family.
By the time 2018 rolled in, Jered had healed enough from his surgeries to try to start walking. Even then, the community kept giving. A local physical therapist provided intensive rehabilitation for Jered and it was some of the hardest work that Jered had ever done in his life.
Eight months after he crashed his motorcycle, Jered walked with help from a cane. Each weekday morning in the spring, Jered was able to walk Jayden to his elementary school, about a quarter-mile away from their home.
By September, Jered was back to work at Mike Maroone Chevrolet and has been working full-time as an auto parts salesman.
“I walk without the cane,’’ he said, exceeding the expectations of Dr. Fredericks.
“What I can say about Jered is he put in the effort,’’ Dr. Fredericks said. “He did everything that we asked, and he put forth 110 percent in his recovery and rehabilitation effort and I think that’s why the outcome was so good. There’s a big investment on his part, and on his family’s part.’’
On this Christmas, the Wickmans say they are grateful for all of the help from the community. Dr. Fredericks said Jered has no restrictions on him, and he can do whatever his body will allow him to do.
“We have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude,’’ Jered said.