‘It’s so painful’ – broken neck healed, still causes pain
SUMMIT COUNTY – Last summer, Breckenridge resident Kevin Harvey would sometimes drive out to Green Mountain Reservoir and sit in the water, staring across the ripples that had once provided the fuel for water-skiing, his favorite warm-weather activity.Other times he would sit at the top of Boreas Pass Road, south of Breckenridge, trying to soak up as much of the sun as possible without exerting any energy.A broken neck several months earlier had left the 25-year-old debilitated and unable to enjoy any of the sports he’d moved to Summit County to experience.”You’d be amazed how much it really affects your life when you can’t lift 15 pounds – I can’t even change my own oil because I can’t lift the hood of my car,” Harvey said at his home north of Breckenridge.It’s been almost a year since Harvey’s accident, yet he said he’s in just as much pain now as he was when he was first injured. His medical bills have mounted to more than $40,000, and the surgery Harvey needs to get his life back on track remains out of his reach.The accidentHarvey moved to Summit County in October 2004, shortly after graduating from Western Michigan University and 13 years after a first visit to the High Country left the Midwesterner enamored with the mountains.Things were going well – he had a good job at a property management company in Frisco and he and his fiancée were happy living the mountain life together.
Then on March 9, 2005, a day snowboarding at Copper Mountain changed everything. He had spent the morning riding lines in the black diamond bowls, and finished off the afternoon by hitting a series of terrain park jumps that had been built days earlier for the Gravity Games. It was the best riding day of Harvey’s life but in a flash, his bliss turned into a nightmare.He and a roommate were snowboarding down a mellow snowcat track to get down to the base area. The slushy snow on the track had begun to freeze, so Harvey turned around to tell his roommate behind him to be careful. He caught an edge and smacked the snow. The following minutes were a blur.”Once the noise in my neck happened, I couldn’t see for a few seconds and it kind of took me a few minutes to get myself oriented and realize what was going on,” Harvey said.He stabilized his neck and inched his way down the mountain, then had his friends drive him to Summit Medical Center in Frisco. The doctors didn’t see anything abnormal in the x-rays and were going to discharge Harvey, but he was in excruciating pain and begged the staff to treat him. They did more CT scans, then had an ambulance transport Harvey to Denver, where doctors there prepped him for spinal microsurgery.But, on the scheduled day of the operation, the doctors called off the procedure and told Harvey that surgery would makes things worse and he would be better off to let the injury heal on its own.He was sent home in a neck brace.Katrina and Sept. 11
Since then, Harvey’s suffering hasn’t ceased.”It’s so painful and if the nerves pinch to the worst point, I can’t stand up. I’ve fallen over, I’ve dropped tons and tons of coffee cups – we’re down to three or four coffee cups in our house because the sensation of the nerves pinching, I lose … the physical control of my body,” Harvey said. “It feels like someone stabbed me in the neck with a serrated steak knife and just broke the blade off.”Harvey has been turned down for a second opinion from hundreds of clinics across the country. He’s been to physical therapists, chiropractors and surgeons, all of whom say they can’t treat him.A large part of the problem is that Harvey is uninsured and he doesn’t have the money to pay for his appointments up-front. His insurance ended on his 25th birthday, a few weeks before his injury, but before his employer’s insurance had kicked in.Exacerbating the situation is Harvey’s inability to work. He lost his primary job after the accident because he could only handle working part-time hours. He had to quit his second job to qualify for the county’s assistance program for physical therapy.During the summer, he took a part-time job at a real estate company because his neck was feeling better, but as soon as the weather worsened so did his condition. He resigned from the position to avoid being fired.While his injury often has Harvey bed-ridden for up to 16 hours a day, he has managed to displace some of his stress and discomfort by putting his mind to work helping others.In September, he and his brother, Brian, packed a U-Haul with supplies and drove to a hotel that was serving as a shelter for Hurricane Katrina victims in Texas.Harvey couldn’t help with much the physical labor, but he was able to unload some of the lighter bags of clothes from the truck. He also assisted the shelter organizers with logistics and talked to evacuees, using the crisis counseling training he received while working at a Boy Scouts camp in college.”I was so mentally frustrated I couldn’t allow myself to not go. I had to do something to help other people because I’d been spending so much time wishing for help myself. I just was starting to hate myself,” said Harvey, who, along with his brother, also drove into Manhattan following Sept. 11 and volunteered with the American Red Cross.
What’s next?Harvey recently met with an orthopedic surgeon in Flint, Mich., and is trying to raise money for his travel expenses to the doctor’s office.Developer Abbas Rajabi recently heard Harvey’s story on a Denver newscast and contacted him. Rajabi promptly decided to donate $500 for every contract signed in February for the new condominiums he’s building on top of the Dillon Center on Dillon’s Main Street.He hopes other local developers and real estate brokers will follow suit with their own projects.”I really want to help this kid. He just sounded so down when I talked to him,” Rajabi said.Harvey doesn’t know if the Michigan doctor will agree to operate on him, but he said, right now it’s his only hope.”If I could be fixed, I could contribute,” he said. “I want to be a tax-paying, working citizen but without clinics even being willing to see me and look at me to see if they can help me, I have nowhere to go.”To contact Harvey, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado