How fast can a get-together for a weekend of fun turn into an unthinkable tragedy? As fast as it takes to roll a vehicle, the Glotfelty family of Ramona discovered Thanksgiving weekend.
Prayers have been answered and miracles granted during a roller coaster of events and emotions that started on Nov. 29.
“We were in Ocotillo Wells, over by Blow Sands, in a wash,” said Nicole Glotfelty. “Kaley (Nicole’s daughter) was riding in a separate dune buggy with a family friend and his children.”
Kaley’s dad Mike Glotfelty has been driving dune buggies in that part of the desert for many years and is very familiar with the terrain, said Nicole.
“They were driving in the wash at night. Kaley was riding with friends, following my husband,” she said. “When that driver decided to pass my husband, he hit a boulder and a wheel broke.”
In an attempt to gain control of the crippled vehicle, the driver apparently overcompensated and the buggy did a full roll.
Of the five occupants in the vehicle, Kaley, 9, suffered the only serious injuries, her mother said. Everyone was wearing five-point harnesses and was instructed to “hold onto the harnesses” to contain flailing limbs.
“I tried to hold onto the harness,” said Kaley, “ but it was too fast.”
As the buggy rolled, the 9-year-old’s right hand was partially severed above the wrist.
“They called me on the cell phone and by the time I drove over to where the accident happened, there were flares and ambulances everywhere,” said Nicole. “We couldn’t get a life flight out, so the ambulance had to take Kaley from Ocotillo to Brawley Hospital.”
Once doctors assessed Kaley’s injuries, she was taken to Brawley Airport and placed on a medic plane, which flew Kaley and her family to San Diego International Airport Lindbergh Field. Kaley was placed in another ambulance and taken to UCSD Medical Center.
In all, it took five hours to get Kaley from the desert to UCSD.
“We could have gotten there by ambulance in only two,” commented Nicole.
Kaley has received excellent care from staff at UCSD, her mother said.
“She never cried at all, not even when the accident happened,” said Nicole, who credits the lack of pain during the initial injury to the combination of shock and the nerves being severed and crushed. “As a mother, I am grateful she didn’t feel any pain of course. No one wishes to have their child injured, but I am grateful there wasn’t any pain.”
Nicole laughed when she recounted the conversation with Kaley at the hospital immediately after the accident:
“Mommy can I go to school tomorrow?”
“No sweetie, tomorrow is Sunday.”
“What about the next day?”
That early conversation, her mother said, proved to be a foreshadowing of the Kaley’s “incredible attitude” throughout the ordeal.
“Kaley has been in amazing spirits from the beginning,” said Nicole. “She has been fairly happy through the whole incident, always smiling and hasn’t complained about anything.”
Making a gingerbread house with her dad in her hospital room, the Ramona Community School fourth-grader is surrounded by a wall of cards.
“The Band Boosters sent a teddy bear,” said her mother, explaining that Kaley plays the flute in the band. “Ramona Community School teacher Carolyn McNulty brought a stack of letters from classmates, and Kaley has been visited by Ginger, a therapy dog at the hospital.
“We are doing good as a family. On a bad day, we only have 10 visitors, on a good day there are 15 or 20 people cycling through her room — and they are all different!”
One day there was even a line of people waiting outside the door to come in and see her.
“The support has been amazing,” said Nicole. “Kaley has so much support from this community. I am eternally grateful to the people and compassion we have received from all over the community. Prayer chains were contacted immediately ... Grace Community Church, Living Way (in Poway), Mountain View, the Calvary Chapel ... everyone has been so incredible. I can’t thank them all enough.”
Kaley has been in the expert care of Dr. Reid Allen Abrams, said Nicole, explaining that Abrams was voted the best hand-surgeon in the nation a couple of years ago and is known as the best vascular hand surgeon in California. At least one time during surgery, it was believed the hand could not be saved, said Nicole.
From the first evaluation at Brawley, Kaley’s parents were cautioned to be prepared for the worst and were told there was “a big chance” the hand would have to be amputated.
“All we could do is pray,” said Nicole. “All the way through this, we kept praying ‘Lord, if it is your will to have it amputated, then we will get through this.’
“Through times like this, it is our faith in God that has given us a peace of mind. Having the Lord and our church family support, in addition to our friends and family, has made all the difference in our ability to get through it.”
After a seven-and-a-half-hour surgery, it seems the prayers have been answered.
“She was able to move her pinkie the day after the surgery,” said Nicole, “and the day after that she could move all five fingers!
“It is an absolute miracle. Her palm and fingers are all pink and warm to the touch. It is amazing.”
Everyone who sees the photos, X-rays and is aware of what happened is simply astounded the hand was able to be saved, her mother said. Kaley’s skin remained attached on the palm side of the arm, but the hand was otherwise detached.
“The top of her hand was the worst,” said Nicole. “The skin is all gone. The underneath portion of her palm survived in part because the blood supply was still getting to the bottom part of her hand.”
During the first surgery, the main artery had to be flipped to give more blood supply to the palm. The other artery, said Nicole, was ruined and stopped at the forearm.
When an angiogram was done last Thursday, the doctors found a third artery, an artery that was not seen before, Nicole said. “They were stumped at having found a third artery. I mean, what are the chances of that?”
While the palm and fingers of Kaley’s hand are pink, the top half of Kaley’s hand is not, so another major surgery, expected to take 12 hours, is scheduled for this week. The tissue has to be taken down to where there is a blood supply, her mother explained.
During this week’s surgery, the plastic surgeon will take a thin layer of tissue from Kaley’s stomach and put it on top of the hand where most of the damage was done. A flap needs to be put over the top of the hand, which will be reconstructed, and there will then be a skin graft.
The surgery will be followed by another five days in the hospital at least, but the family hopes to have Kaley home by Christmas.
“It has been definitely a whirlwind,” said Nicole. “I have thought about when I contemplated going to the desert, there was just something that was telling me, ‘You know, maybe we should just stay home,’ but then I gave in and we went. It has changed our whole world.”
Even as Kaley’s parents and her 14-year-old brother Christian try to keep life as “normal as possible,” family traditions have been put on hold. They hired someone to put Christmas lights up, but a bare tree sits in the home waiting for Kaley to come home and help.
“We have so many traditions this time of year, but with all the time at the hospital, it is difficult to keep any of it normal for Christian as well,” said Nicole. “Mike has his business (MG Plastering) to run, too. When you own your own business, you can’t just take off for several days at a time.”
With brave smiles, support from the community, and a steadfast faith in answered prayers, members of the Glotfelty family look forward to the future.
Cards and encouragement may be sent to: Kaley Glotfelty, 634 11th St., Ramona, CA 92065.