Justin Kevan thanks his buddies, God, cellphones and a whole bunch of medical people for not losing his right arm in a duck hunting accident last season.
The Kennewick High student, age 15 at the time, and four classmates had gone to shoot mallards near Madame Dorian Park at Wallula Junction on Dec. 30.
Kevan and Austin Meyer, then 16, were in their blind when Kevan spotted a group of birds flying near and sat down and put the duck call to his lips.
“I was quacking,” Kevan recalled.
At that moment, Meyer placed his 12-gauge shotgun between them, just below Kevan’s extended right arm and hand that held the duck call.
A deafening blast followed almost immediately.
“My ears were ringing so bad I couldn’t hear Meyer, who mouthed: ‘You weren’t hit were you?’ ” Kevan said.
But a torn jacket and the fact that his right arm flopped down as Kevan stood up told him the shotgun load had ripped through his upper arm, shattering the bone.
He was bleeding heavily.
The day had been a total success to that point.
With 17 birds bagged by early afternoon, Kevan had texted his father, Jason Kevan, only 14 minutes earlier that all was going really well.
But now, the five teens, aged 15-17, were in a crisis with no adult around to help.
Kyle Sittman, 15, was in another blind nearby with Kayden Julian, 16, and Rick Clark, 17, when the shot rang out.
“I honestly thought he was just shooting at ducks,” Sittman said.
But when Kevan came out into the open with his injured arm hanging and began walking toward Clark’s pickup at the top of the hill, the young hunters realized something was very wrong.
Clark ran to Kevan’s side, yelling to Julian to get on his cellphone for help.
“My aunt, who is an ob/gyn nurse in California, was the first thing to pop into my head,” Julian said.
As Julian was getting a quick lesson from his aunt on applying first aid, Clark used his cellphone to call 911.
Within minutes, Julian and Clark were telling Meyer to take off his T-shirt and wrap it around
the jagged wound, applying pressure to reduce the bleeding.
Clark, seeing that Kevan was trying to see how bad the wound was, decided it would be better to distract him. He moved to Kevan’s left side and tried to keep him focused on him – not his wound – and listening to him.
Clark was the only member of the group with first-aid training, and had completed a refresher course within the previous year.
The blast of birdshot blew the humerus bone in half and severed a nerve, though it narrowly missed the artery. Luckily, the gun muzzle was so close that there wasn’t much spread in the shotgun pellets, which barely missed Kevan’s head.
Even with assistance, Kevan wasn’t going to reach the truck.
“I got dizzy. I needed to sit down,” he recalled.
Clark, who kept cellphone contact with the 911 dispatcher, told his friend to sit down on a log and wait. Help was on the way.
Meanwhile, Julian started calling parents.
Clark said the first medical help, which came from Pasco, arrived 25 minutes after he made the 911 call, shortly after 1:30 p.m.
Kevan’s first stop was at Kadlec Medical Center followed by an air ambulance flight to Harborview Medical Center with his mother along.
Two separate surgeries were necessary. One was to clean the wound and repair the bone, and the other was to reposition the severed nerve ends so they can grow back together. He has a metal plate screwed permanently onto his bone.
“It’s my airport metal detector,” he joked.
Kevan was released from the hospital five days after the shooting.
Recalling the events, Meyer said he was in disbelief at first, but told himself he had to help his buddy.
“I was freaking out. But something, it must have been God, kicked me into gear. I told myself, ‘I have to be helping my buddy,’ ” he said.
The five boys still are friends despite a tragedy that could have separated them. They got together after Kevan came home from the hospital to present a special trophy to him.
“We’ve had this joke, that if you do something that is a dare or hard, like going out into a pond to retrieve a duck, you go do it hard (not reluctantly),” Clark said at the time. “So we got him a trophy with a plaque that says ‘Justin Kevan, hard for life.’ ”
“I don’t know if they’ll let me hunt with them again,” Meyer said last winter, “but this has brought us closer.”
His question was answered this fall as the boys have come together for several hunting trips.
“Justin is going really well,” said his father, Jason Kevan. “The surgeons bring him up to their doctors conventions to show him as proof of what could be done with a terrible injury.”
Justin has gained back about 50 percent usage of his hand and wrist and he’s worked hard to develop whatever muscle was not blown away by the shotgun blast.
“He’s bench-pressing over 200 pounds,” his father said. “We’ve been out in the field hunting several times this fall.”
Jason Kevan said Justin and the boys seem to talk a little more about safety and where they’re going to be shooting while they’re out hunting.
“But maybe that’s just me paying more attention to it,” he said.
“To tell you the truth, they’ve always been really careful out there.”
Spokesman-Review Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this story.