Stephanie Adams always worried about the dangers of her husband’s commute on his motorcycle, so he was very good at letting her know where he was and when to expect him. On Aug. 9, 2016, when Jesse didn’t arrive home at his usual time, Stephanie looked to her iPhone to track his location.
“I thought he might have broken down. I figured he was trying to fix it, so at any minute he’d start moving again,” Adams recalled. “That’s the way I think — always glass half full.”
Her phone showed that Jesse was at the intersection of Weld County roads 13 and 34, about 10 miles from their home in Firestone, Colorado. But his motorcycle wasn’t moving. She got in the car and headed that way to help him in case the bike had broken down.
“When I topped the hill to the intersection, all I saw was the state patrol and lights,” Stephanie said. “As I got closer to the accident, I saw his bike on the side of the road, and it was just mangled. I kept looking for him, thinking he was going to be standing there, dusting himself off.”
But he wasn’t.
First responders told Stephanie they’d taken Jesse to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, a Level II trauma center, in Loveland.
“They could have told me he was in Timbuktu because at that point, my mind just shut down,” Stephanie said.
She then called a friend — the kind of friend you know will come no matter what — and asked to be picked up and taken to the hospital.
Where miracles happen
“She took me to MCR, and that’s where the miracles started happening,” Stephanie said.
As she walked through the emergency room doors, she was met by Mark Stiger, a hospital social worker. Stiger escorted Stephanie to a private waiting room. He never left her side.
“Mark was right there making sure I had support,” she said. “He made sure I was never alone, and that I had everything I needed.”
As emergency and trauma surgeon Dr. Steven Dubs and his team worked to save Jesse’s life, friends and family started to arrive at the hospital.
“My best friend must have made phone calls, because people started showing up — just to sit with me,” Stephanie said.
The extent of the injuries
Fortunately, Jesse was wearing his helmet and armor riding jacket when the accident happened. He suffered no brain damage, and he was conscious on the way to the hospital, according to first responders.
Unfortunately, when the pickup truck blew though the stop sign, it T-boned Jesse. The motorcycle landed 59 feet from the point of impact, and Jesse propelled another 27 feet beyond that, into a field. His left side was crushed, and doctors needed to stop the bleeding.
Jesse had lost half his blood volume, but Dubs was able to repack his blood and return it via transfusion. He also removed Jesse’s damaged spleen.
Doctors were dealing with much more though, including more than a dozen broken ribs that had punctured Jesse’s left lung; a broken sternum, pelvis and collarbone; spinal fractures, a bruised kidney and a crushed left ankle.
Nurses provided Adams with continuous updates throughout that first surgery, she said. And once Jesse was stable, orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Robert Baer began working on the ankle.
“I remember Dr. Baer telling us about all the broken bones,” Adams said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know if we can save his foot.’”
Faith and prayer
Stephanie’s son, Justin, lives several hours away, in Julesburg, Colorado, and headed to MCR immediately after she called with news of the accident. By the time he arrived, Jesse was in surgery.
“I remember the first thing I said to Justin was, ‘It’s really bad,’” Stephanie recalled. “Dr. Baer was totally up front and honest with us, and we were praying that (amputation) would be a decision we could make with Jesse and not a decision we had to make for him.”
When Jesse got out of surgery and was transferred to the intensive care unit, a nurse prepped Stephanie and Justin for what they would see next.
“When Justin and I walked in there, it was like I couldn’t believe I was in this place. You see it on TV, but it took my breath away to see how bad of shape he was in and how many tubes he was connected to,” she said. “I looked at Justin and asked, ‘How do people without faith do this, without knowing a God in heaven that will carry you through?’”
That night, and the many nights to follow, friends and family sent songs to Stephanie via her phone to help lift her faith and spirit. It helped.
“We spent that night in the ICU with Jesse,” she said. “And this one song reminded me that no matter how this turns out, God is still God. He’ll still be on his throne. No matter what happens, life will still go on. I had to give it over to Him.”
Later, Adams learned that one of Jesse’s ER nurses had recognized him when he arrived, and she too stepped out for a few seconds to pray for him.
“It was things like that — the ER nurse that day — that kept happening,” she said. “We kept getting confirmation over and over from God saying, ‘I got this.’”
Adams and Justin stayed with Jesse in the ICU around the clock for the next several days.
An untold story never heals: Life after the ICU
To help patients and their families adjust to life once they leave the hospital, UCHealth welcomes them to its ICU survivor support group.
- 4:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month at Longs Peak Conference room at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland.
Counselors and clinical staff from the hospital will be available to talk and answer questions. Learn more at uchealth.org.
“At that point, we knew he was stable at that moment, but with everything going on, it could go south quickly at any time,” Adams said. “There were no guarantees.”
The honesty and sincerity from the staff and physicians were key in getting her through the day, Stephanie said, recalling the forthrightness of one of the first nurses Jesse had.
“Anytime (the nurse) came in to check him, she talked to him as if he were awake,” she explained. “That touched my heart that she treated him with so much kindness and compassion.”
“To this day, I don’t remember anything from the wreck,” Jesse said. “But I had broken about everything that I could on my left side.”
About three days after the accident, Jesse went in for his second surgery, to fix his pelvis, which had been broken in six places. Instead of dealing with a feeding tube for each surgery, UCHealth trauma surgeon Dr. Michael Metzler, who had been working on Jesse since the first night, performed a tracheotomy that would stay in until Jesse was done with all his surgeries.
The following week, Metzler opened Jesse up again, this time to address his punctured lung. Baer worked on the clavicle and wrist.
“The doctors were amazing, not only that they saved his life, but their bedside manner made us feel that they loved what they were doing. At no time did we feel we were less than the most important patient,” Stephanie said.
After two weeks in the ICU, doctors felt like Jesse was recovering well, except for his ankle.
“I remember (Metzler) saying he was happy with Jesse from the waist up, but that we still weren’t out of the woods yet.”
Lost in the woods
To try to get the ankle to heal, doctors used a vacuum-assisted closure therapy, or wound VAC.
A wound vacuum device removes the pressure over the wound that is created from gases in the air. It gently pulls fluid from the wound over time, which can reduce swelling, and it can help clean and remove bacteria from the wound. And it stimulates growth of new tissues that can help the wound close.
Doctors wrap a foam or gauze dressing around the wound then apply the vacuum device.
“It’s like wrapping it in Saran and then using suction to bring the blood vessels to the surface to help healing,” Stephanie explained. This was performed three times a week in an effort to heal Jesse’s ankle.
“We understood what (the wound VAC) was doing, but it was the most pain that Jesse had ever experienced,” she said. “It was like ripping off a scab every three days and reapplying the bandages to help it heal again. It was when he was going through that we started to have the conversation that there was another option out there.”
To amputate or not
Stephanie had prayed that she wouldn’t have to make the decision to amputate Jesse’s foot when he first lay in the hospital bed. Now, almost three weeks later, she found herself praying again, but this time for the right words to talk about the possibility of surgery to amputate.
When she finally mustered the courage, Jesse’s eyes grew wide, but instead of shutting down the idea, he told her he, too, thought it was time to think about it.
Jesse had already been through three major surgeries, and working with three different specialists by this time. An incision mark ran from his chest to his pelvis; another across his collarbone; another from hip to hip; and yet another on his hand.
“They told me we could try to save it, but even if we did, I’d be going through surgeries every several months for the next three to five years,” Jesse said. “And even then, there was a good chance they would need to fuse my ankle, and it would need to be amputated anyways.”
“It was quality of life,” Stephanie said. “I asked him if he wanted to be laid up for the next five years to save an ankle. He looked at me and said, ‘All I want to do is hunt, fish and play with my grandkids.’”
Stephanie let the doctors know that they were ready to talk about amputation. The surgery was scheduled for a few days later.
“I was 58 at the time, and life is too short to suffer for four to five years and maybe not get any good results,” Jesse said. “So we did it.”
A new normal
On Sept. 8, 2016, doctors amputated Jesse’s leg below the knee but left enough of his leg so he could be fitted with a prosthetic that would help preserve his mobility.
“The next day I asked Jesse how he was doing. He said, ‘I’m doing awesome,’ ” Adams recalled. “I was so surprised, but he said he felt so much better and that for the first time, his pain was zero.”
Within days of amputation, but 21 days after the accident, Jesse was transferred to UCHealth Rehabilitation Unit to start what he calls “his new normal.”
The rehabilitation unit, which recently moved to a new space at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, has a team-centered approach to help patients tackle even the hardest challenges, according to Dr. Katie Weatherhogg with UCHealth Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic.
A patient usually spends two to four weeks in rehabilitation after a trauma. It’s an intense three hours, five days a week — a type of “boot camp for your body,” Weatherhogg said.
The rehabilitation gym is set up in such a way that patients can practice getting around or cooking in a kitchen, getting in and out of a vehicle, and other basic activities needed to adjust to a new lifestyle.
The rehab team also keeps a close eye on wounds and other injuries. They help monitor medical conditions, such as Jesse’s diabetes, and each day they evaluate the patient’s progress.
“Jesse was a multi-trauma patient,” Weatherhogg said. “He was exhausted and hurting. Stephanie was struggling, too.
“There were those thoughts. What if I can’t do this? What if they are pushing him too much?” Stephanie said. “But the people at MCR got us over that hump, and they became like family. They made a really horrible situation much better than it ever could be so we were able to handle it.”
“There was this sense that we were going to keep him moving,” even going as far as taking him outside for fresh air, she said.
“It was like it didn’t matter how much work it takes, they were going to treat him well,” she added. “They were not just going to let him lie in bed and be. They were going to do something every day to help him forward with this healing and his recovery.”
Giving back that support
As the weeks progressed, so did Jesse and his use of his new prosthetic. He and Stephanie were approached by Evergreen Prosthetics, the clinic that provided Jesse with his new leg, to see if they’d be willing to volunteer as peer counselors to other families faced with amputations.
“Amputation doesn’t just impact that person, it impacts the whole family,” Jesse said. “We wanted to tell other families, ‘Hey, it’s tough, but it’s going to be OK.’ We wanted to help people navigate these waters to make it easier.”
Lying in a hospital for months allowed Jesse to think about life, and he realized he is alive for a reason. Whether it’s helping others through difficult times or something else, he’s ready for it.
“There are certain things you have to overcome,” Jesse said. “I don’t move as fast as I used to.”
Stephanie chimed in, “But we are living life, and that’s the thing.”
The accident gave the couple a new perspective. Jesse is no longer commuting to work — he’s retired. They sold their home in Firestone and moved to Julesburg to be closer to family.
On any given day, Jesse is fishing, hunting and spending as much time as he can with his grandkids.