It was a day like any other, except better, because Peter and Sam had the day off from school. Their dad, Sims Weymuller, took them to the creek near their house so they could play in the water. They were just about to head home for lunch when Weymuller heard an ear-splitting crack.
When he looked up, he saw a thick, 100-foot maple falling towards them. Sims grabbed the boys and ran, but the tree came down around them, knocking everyone to the ground.
Six-year-old Peter sprinted up the hill, physically unharmed, but as Weymuller looked down, he saw that four-year-old Sam was not moving. When Weymuller picked him up, Sam’s legs flopped over his arm, and he could see a scalp injury where blood was beginning to gush.
Weymuller shouted to Peter to run to the YMCA at the top of the hill and call 911. It was not long before Medic One took the whole family to Harborview.
A symphony of care
Last year, more than 58,000 people were treated at Harborview’s emergency department; it’s the only Level I trauma and burn center for kids and adults in the four-state region of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. And last year, Sam and Sims were among those 58,000 people.
Weymuller had a back injury from trying to take the brunt of the tree’s impact, but he was not seriously hurt. Sam, however, had a massive fracture in his skull, which was crushed on the left side, and his femur was broken. He needed surgery immediately. Stacy Connole, Weymuller’s wife, remembers the moment.
“In the emergency room, there were so many different care teams: the trauma surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, pediatric doctors. And they all worked so seamlessly together. Someone described it as a symphony,” she says.
After the surgery, Sam was alert but silent, and the right side of his body remained very weak. No one could predict how well he’d recover from the brain injury, but the recovery teams got to work. Soon, a Harborview speech therapist got Sam to start saying simple sounds and words again. A nurse sat him in a red wagon and gave him a syringe full of water, hoping to improve hand coordination. This is now Sam’s first post-injury memory, and it’s a happy one.
“She told him to squirt as many people as he could. And he did! I will never forget that nurse,” says Connole. “There were so many people helping us from so many different angles.”
The thin line
As the Weymuller-Connole family knows, the line between normal life and tragedy can be very thin. They also know that Harborview was there when they crossed that line, providing life-saving, compassionate care.
The “thin line” was the theme of the Harborview Benefit, held this year on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2019. Together, more than 300 of Harborview’s advocates, friends, patients and employees raised over $3.5 million for Harborview. The proceeds are being used to fund Harborview’s work in burn care, spinal cord injuries, and long-term recovery from trauma.
Sims Weymuller was among the guests who raised their paddles to give. He was moved by the stories of patients like him and Sam: people whose lives were turned upside down by tragedy and then made whole again by the exceptional care teams at Harborview.
“Organizations like Harborview just don’t happen,” says Weymuller. “They happen through a combination of exceptional talent, hard work and a deep sense of compassion — and they happen because people give.”
From heartbreak to hope
Today, Sam is a rambunctious, articulate seven-and-half-year-old, with some scars hidden behind his hairline. While he still struggles with some emotional control and processing when he’s tired, Sam has made a remarkable recovery.
“I’ve lived here since I was three years old, and I took it for granted that there was an exceptional
facility — Harborview Medical Center — waiting to help,” says his father.
“You never know when you or someone you love is going to need it,” Sims says.