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Lane Kirk

  • Date Submitted: May 19, 2020

“ After a severe bicycle accident on the 4th of July, Lane Kirk was fighting for his life. However, his friends, family, and Dr. Joseph Chen, Chief of Neurosurgery at Kern Medical, refused to lose hope.”

Lane Kirk is a dedicated sports­man. He spends his weekends dirt biking, four-wheeling, snowboarding, scuba diving, and mountain biking—basical­ly, anything that will allow him to enjoy the great outdoors, preferably while exercising his athletic abilities. He loves the rush of adrenaline almost as much as he loves learning everything about the latest trend in extreme sports. Even his career is a rush—the team at Scaled Composites, his employer, is working on building the largest plane in the world. A high-energy, passionate person, Lane is always moving forward.

Lane Kirk had just driven home from his brother’s house in Southern California on July 4, 2017. He had work the next day, but he wanted to catch the fireworks show in his hometown of Tehachapi before going to bed. He hopped on his mountain bike to ride a few minutes down the street for a better view, neglecting to put on his helmet—the street was paved, with no curves or bumps, and it was not yet dark. Lane headed out, pedaling slowly at first, then picking up speed. The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital with se­vere injuries and no memory of the past month.

At some point during his bike ride, Lane crashed, breaking his collarbone and three ribs as well as hitting his head on the unforgiving pavement. He does not remember the accident, nor the moments before it. He was riding alone, and fortunately, some neighbors saw the crash and called an ambulance. The ambulance took him to the nearest hospital, and he was then taken to Kern Medical, the nearest trauma center.

Lane’s parents, Larry and Linda Kirk, were watching fireworks from their own home five miles away when they re­ceived a call from the local hospital let­ting them know that Lane was in critical condition and headed to Bakersfield by helicopter. They did not yet know the circumstances of the incident or the extent of his injuries, but they jumped in the car and hurried to Bakersfield.


During that time, Lane was receiving emergency care that would save his life. Early on, it was clear that his head injury was the most severe trauma. Lane had a subdural hematoma, and the team at Kern Medical led by Dr. Joseph Chen, Chief of Neurosurgery, immedi­ately performed a ventriculostomy to insert a catheter and relieve pressure on his brain. An automated device was inserted in order to monitor brain pres­sure and drain excess fluid. (Read more about the procedure and the technolo­gy used to save Lane’s life on page 23.)

The first 24 hours were critical—once Dr. Chen inserted the catheter, all they could do was wait and hope that the swelling would go down. Larry had to make the difficult decision to return home to be with his mother, who was bedridden and required round-the-clock care. The nurses brought in an ex­tra gurney so that Linda could lay down next to her son, assuring her that Lane was well taken care of.

The next day, Dr. Chen warned Lar­ry and Linda that Lane may have per­manent damage due to his injuries. He told them to look for signs that Lane was coherent, because ideally, he would be able to give them a thumbs up or hold up two fingers to show he was hearing and understanding what was going on around him. Although Lane started to open his eyes, he did not respond with any hand signals. At that point, his par­ents chose to only see the positive from then on. Lane was alive, and that was a miracle in itself.

“We didn’t want to think about what could go wrong,” said Linda. “We felt that an optimistic outlook would be the best thing for Lane, and for us. The doctors were honest about potential complications, but we would say, ‘That won’t happen with him.’”


The twenty days that Lane spent at Kern Medical were a blur for his family. He was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), still stable and breathing on his own, although they kept him intubated just in case. They reduced his sedation in hopes that he would regain conscious­ness, and against all odds, Lane began to move around more, pulling at tubes and responding to external stimuli.

Both Lane’s parents and the Kern Medical staff rejoiced at this little bit of progress, but ultimately, Dr. Chen decid­ed to put Lane into an induced coma to reduce more of the swelling in his brain. During that time, Larry, Linda, and other visitors were asked not to touch or speak to Lane so that his brain could rest, but Lane was never alone—someone was always keeping him company.

The Kirks have always been a tight­knit family. Even though Lane’s broth­er, Lauron, and sister, Lisa, both live in Southern California, they schedule regular visits so they can all spend time together. After Lane’s accident, Lane’s siblings rushed to Bakersfield as soon as they could, offering support and com­panionship as Lane recovered. Lauron took a leave of absence from work to stay nights at the hospital to relieve his parents who were staying with Lane during the day.

On July 14, Lauron noticed that Lane was coughing more than usual. A nurse, Henry Curpanen, told him that Lane had some fluid in his lungs, and it was good that he was coughing be­cause they wanted him to expel any fluids. Nurse Curpanen was checking on Lane when he suddenly had a se­vere coughing fit that dislodged his breathing tube and blocked his airway. When Lane stopped breathing, his heart

21stopped beating. Nurse Curpanen im­mediately climbed onto Lane’s bed and gave him CPR until his heart started beating again.

“Nurse Curpanen jumped into ac­tion and didn’t give up until Lane was okay,” said Linda. “It was so scary, but he was calm and determined. We call him our ‘hero nurse’ now.”


After that incident, Lane improved, slow­ly reaching milestone after milestone. The swelling in his brain decreased a little bit every day, and he gradually became more conscious, finally able to nod and shake his head in response to questions, then give a thumbs up, which resulted in a round of cheers from every­one in the room.

“Each day, he got a little better in every way,” said Dr. Chen. “We started thinking about removing his cerebro­spinal fluid drainage tube and moving him to a less intensive unit in the hospi­tal, and then to a medical rehabilitation center.”

Linda was happy to hear about this additional progress, but was also torn—she hated to see Lane moved to another unit when everyone in the ICU had been so wonderful to Lane and the entire family. After seventeen days in the ICU, Lane was transferred to the Di­rect Observation Unit, where Linda says Lane received equally excellent care for the following three days before be­ing moved to a therapy center in South­ern California.

“I didn’t want him to leave be­cause I didn’t want his care to suffer,” said Linda. “The doctors and nurses had become a part of our family. We saw so many miracles during his time at Kern Medical, but he was doing too well to stay there, so we had to be happy for that.”


Fortunately, Lane’s recovery did not slow down at the therapy center. He did not begin to remember anything until he had been at the center for about two weeks. Before he regained his memory, he had already begun walk­ing and talking again. The first thing he asked when he could speak again was, “How is Grandma doing?” Lane does not remember asking this, but his moth­er does.

“Lane doesn’t remember anything about Kern Medical or the excellent care he received, but his family and friends, we experienced it all first-hand,” said Linda. “It made all the difference in the world to know that Lane was receiv­ing the best care when so much about his future was unknown.”

During Lane’s rehabilitation, he struggled to remember certain words and regain all of his strength—he was weak and unsteady due to his injuries. Linda was working with Lane whenev­er the staff was not, showing him flash­cards and helping him to stretch and balance. She stayed with him 24/7.


Twenty-five days after checking in, Lane and his family finally headed back to Tehachapi. They arrived home a week before Lane’s grandma passed away— she saw Lane come home healthy and happy, although he was not fully recov­ered, and Lane was able to spend qual­ity time with her before she passed.

“She was holding on for some­thing,” said Larry. “When Lane came home, we knew she would let go, but it meant so much to both of them to see each other once more.”

The recovery did not end there, but true to Lane’s propensity for mov­ing forward, he improved a little each day, and soon, he was back on his bike—wearing a helmet for every ride, of course.

“His recovery was truly remark­able,” said Dr. Chen. “He has made a lot of progress, and although there is still progress to be made, Lane is not going to be held back by this incident.”