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Part of the Team

  • Date Submitted: Apr 11, 2018

“ Justin Boughan always had a team mentality—but it was never more important than when life and limb were on the line.”

Justin Boughan

In the early afternoon of May 11, 2017, Justin Boughan was traveling south on Interstate 5, heading to San Clemente to visit friends. He was in a hurry, already tired of the long drive from the Bay Area. His foot pressed the gas pedal as he ascended the hill to head up the Grapevine and changed lanes to get around a slower vehicle. Then, his phone vibrated, and he glanced down. Suddenly, everything stopped.

Justin remembers that he was driving with his right hand. He remembers that he had just passed the weigh scales and that he needed to stop for gas. He remembers calling his mom after the collision, and then 911. He remembers the shock he felt.

Justin does not remember his car going under the semi-truck that changed lanes at the same time as he did. He doesn’t remember shielding his face with his right arm, or being flown to Kern Medical in a helicopter. His memory is foggy, and he’s not entirely sure which memories are his own; he’s put together some of the pieces from the stories he’s heard. What he and his family remember most, nearly a year later, is the people.

Justin’s dad, Chuck, was walking into the gym when he received a call from a California Highway Patrol officer—which he almost didn’t answer. The officer told him to come to Bakers - field right away, because his son was being airlifted to Kern Medical, but not to rush and take his time.

“He told me not to have another accident, which I understand, but how do you not rush when your child’s life is at stake?” Chuck said, as he remembered that day. “My wife and I were panicking. We didn’t know what to expect. But this was our only child, so we had to rush.”

He and Justin’s mom, Linda, had to find someone to watch their dogs and their home in Livermore, and didn’t end up leaving for two agonizing hours. In the process, Chuck grabbed enough clothes for about three days. The nearly four-hour drive to Bakersfield was filled with anxiety, fear, and constant prayer. They arrived at the hospital around midnight, and Justin went into surgery Saturday morning.

When Justin arrived at Kern Medical, he was in critical condition. His right hand hung limp and immobile; his elbow was shattered, and he had compound fractures in his forearm and upper arm. He had a hairline fracture in his neck, countless cuts and scratches, and any number of internal injuries not yet discovered. In fact, he and his family had been told that he may lose his arm if it would save his life.

“Justin had suffered a truly devastating injury,” said Dr. Larissa Morsky, who was an emergency medicine resident on staff when Justin arrived. “He was immediately sedated and intubated, but there was a good chance that he wouldn’t keep his arm. We just weren’t sure.”

Many doctors, nurses, and other staff played important roles in Justin’s three-week hospital stay. His primary orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Arturo Gomez, was one of the first people to address Justin’s injuries.

“It was shocking that he didn’t lose his arm,” Dr. Gomez said. “It was one of the worst upper extremity injuries I’ve ever seen.”

During the nearly three-and-a-half-hour surgery, Dr. Gomez used several plates to reconstruct both bones in Jus - tin’s forearm and even more to reconstruct his shattered elbow and broken humerus bone in his upper arm. In the crash, one of the two major arteries to the hand had been severed—fortunately, while the other artery had suffered some trauma, it was still intact, which allowed Justin to keep his arm.

“Kern Medical let my family and I be a part of the team that saved my arm and my life,” Justin says. “We worked together with the doctors and nurses. Every step of the way, we’ve been on the same side, and my recovery would have been so much more difficult if it were not for the team.”

The team isn’t just made up of surgeons, physicians, and nurses—Justin specifically noted that his team was comprised of every single person he came in contact with at Kern Medical. He praised the cleaning staff, who always made his mom laugh, as well as food services, who gave him double servings because of his larger-than-average stature (he’s 6’6” and about 230 pounds).

Justin has always been an athlete. He’s played sports all his life, rotating from one to another depending on the season. When he was 12 years old, he played on an all-star baseball team that traveled to China to play in a championship tournament, where his team placed second. As an adult, he plays softball, but also loves snowboarding and mountain biking—not to mention shooting hoops with his friends.

Justin’s mom and dad had not planned for what ended up being a lengthy hospital stay. As neither one could bear to leave Justin for long enough to return home to the Bay Area, they went to the mall to buy more clothes and continued to sit by his bed. They also repeatedly extended their hotel reservation, but only a couple of days at a time—they kept hoping that Justin would be released soon.

"It’s the same lesson I’ve been learning in sports for my entire life."

However, on May 14, Mother’s Day, Justin’s mom noticed his voice was strained—even though he was laying down, he was short of breath. When she called for the nurses, they quickly realized that his left lung had collapsed. Once again, the team sprang into action.

“It’s the same lesson I’ve been learning in sports for my entire life,” Justin recalls. “When faced with an unexpected challenge, we adjust and persevere. There is no time to panic, and no giving up.”

It’s a lesson that played out on the television screen in Justin’s hospital room as well, as Justin’s favorite basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, battled for another NBA title. Justin and his family decorated his room for the playoffs, diligently watching every game.

During Justin’s hospital stay, the Warriors battled the San Antonio Spurs, a team they had notoriously lost to in past playoffs. In the fourth game, the Warriors were consistently ahead—until the fourth quarter, when the Spurs started regaining ground. The Warriors didn’t flinch. No time to panic, no giving up. They kept their lead, winning the Western Conference and moving on to the championship.

On May 30, Justin walked out of Kern Medical wearing his Warriors jersey. On his way out, he ran into friends he made during his three-week stay— the new team he’d come to know and love. He stopped to take pictures and say goodbye, and it took over an hour to finally make his way to the parking lot.

Justin has a long road to full recovery ahead of him. He’s still in physical therapy three times a week, and while Dr. Gomez has told him it’s no longer necessary, he still wears his arm brace occasionally to help regain full extension in his elbow. The positive relationship that Justin’s family built with his team has reinforced their choice to continue his outpatient recovery at Kern Medical—a three-hour commute each way. He refuses to seek care anywhere else, even though his life is no longer in danger. But the day he left the hospital, he was on top of the world.

“I made it, you know? I was pumped!” Justin smiled as he remembered. “But at the same time, I was sad to be walking away from such amazing people. I’m glad I’m able to continue to work with Kern Medical. I couldn’t have put together a better team.”