When the family car rolled twice on a lonely mountain road, ejecting his pregnant mother, 7-year-old Matthew Stewart knew it was up to him to get help.
Matthew crawled through the car’s shattered window and covered his mother, Kristi, with a blanket. Eight months pregnant, Stewart couldn’t move her limbs because of a broken neck.
“I thought she could get up, but she couldn’t,” the shy, dark-haired youngster said Friday, standing close to his mother’s bed at Centura Health-St. Anthony Central Hospital. “I was scared. … I thought I should help my mom, help her get help.”
As his 2-year-old sister, Amanda, sobbed in her car seat, Matthew scrambled 15 feet through bushes and weeds to reach the dirt road in the predawn darkness.
He stuck out a thumb and flagged down a car, but the occupants refused to help. On his second try, Matthew stopped a couple who quickly called authorities and stayed with the family until help arrived.
Stewart, 28, of Grand Junction, Colo., delivered a 5-pound, 4-ounce son the day after the accident and slowly is regaining use of her arms and legs. Doctors expect her to recover fully. The children suffered minor cuts.
“I’m very proud of him,” Stewart said during a hospital news conference. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I’d be here today.”
Dr. Jeffrey Sabin, who is treating Stewart, said: “I’ve never seen a situation quite like this. She was very lucky.”
Wearing shoes covered with dinosaurs, a beige shirt, shorts and a baseball cap, Matthew watched as Sabin showed reporters X-rays of Stewart’s neck.
The second-grader softly answered questions. “I can’t praise him enough,” said his dad, Wayne, 38, a vacuum cleaner salesman. “This kid saved my family.”
The family’s weeklong ordeal began about 2 a.m. on Aug. 1 when Stewart and the two children were en route to pick up Wayne Stewart in Kremmling, 79 miles west of Denver.
She lost control of her Ford Escort on County Road One about 10 miles south of the small mountain town and the car turned over twice, hurling Stewart out the driver’s side window. Stewart and Matthew were wearing seat belts and Amanda was strapped in a child seat.
On the ground next to the car, Stewart couldn’t move her arms or legs. She heard the children crying and “just kind of kept going on faith and tried to stay calm.”
Paramedics took them to a hospital in Kremmling before airlifting them to St. Anthony, where doctors worked to straighten the compressed vertebrae in Stewart’s neck.
When her vertebrae snapped in place and she began to move her arms and legs, the staff broke out in cheers, he said.
Stewart’s son, Michael Anthony, is in good condition in an incubator.
During surgery Tuesday, doctors transplanted bone marrow from Stewart’s hip into her vertebrae and installed a plate to stabilize her neck. She has taken a few steps already.
Stewart said she knows the days ahead will be difficult, but “the worst is over.”
“My life is more precious to me than I ever realized,” she said.