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Gratitude for life

SATURDAY, NOV. 24, 2007

Between a recruiting trip and preparation for last weekend’s series against Wisconsin, Colorado College assistant hockey coach Norm Bazin took a day to say, “Thank you.”

Four years ago Tuesday, Bazin hopped in a rental car in Spokane and started driving to Trail, B.C., to scout recruits.

He never made it.

About 20 miles north of Spokane, traveling north on U.S. Highway 395, Bazin nearly died when a drunken driver in a Ford Explorer made an abrupt left-hand turn on the two-lane road into the driver’s side of his Buick. After 12 hours of surgery and nearly two months in a Spokane hospital, with his wife, Michelle – who was 6 1/2 months pregnant

at the time of the crash – by his side, Bazin returned to Colorado Springs to continue his recovery and for the birth of his first son.

But even after Bazin, 36, returned to full-time coaching duties in July 2005, he never forgot the people who held his life and welfare in their hands.

There was the eyewitness, Ron Howerton, who dialed 911 repeatedly while he cradled Bazin’s broken face. The state trooper, Morgan Mehaffey, who drew blood that later convicted the other driver, Elizabeth A. Harkinson, of vehicular assault. The doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit, who watched over Bazin’s shattered body. And one doctor in particular, whose diligent care guided Bazin through the most critical days of his recovery and who kept Michelle informed of developments.

The Bazins returned to the Inland Northwest earlier this month to thank those who helped them through their ordeal.

“It was important to me for people to know I’m grateful,” Bazin said Monday. “When you go through something like this, yes, it is their job, but they went above and beyond at times. I met some nice people and I was able to communicate with them that things are OK. I can stand up, I can walk, I can do things. When they saw me, I was in pretty rough shape. It was nice to be vertical rather than horizontal.”

Long odds

Snow flurries turned heavy shortly after the crash that night, making it impossible for a helicopter to land and costing Bazin important minutes.

By the mere fact that Bazin’s aorta, the heart’s main artery, was torn in half, he had a less than 10 percent chance of making it to Deaconess Medical Center alive. Even with the surgical graft to repair the tear, about 80 percent of those who arrive at the hospital with that type of trauma will die within a week. But Bazin made it through 12 hours of surgery, which included the aortic repair; inserting titanium rods into his broken left femur (upper leg bone), tibia and fibula (lower leg bones); stabilizing his left humerus (upper arm bone) and elbow bones with screws and rods and repairing his broken left shoulder blade.

He spent eight days in a medically induced coma. Later doctors repaired his teeth and jaw bones, which were broken in multiple places, and treated him for a cracked pelvis and bruised spleen and lungs.

Michelle and her sister spent the day after the crash, Thanksgiving Day, by his side, worrying but celebrating the small joy of Bazin responding to touch.

Small acts of kindness sustained Michelle through that trying time, she said, like the pie delivered to her hotel by trooper Mehaffey’s fiancee.

“She came to the hotel to bring me food and provide support,” said Michelle, a lawyer. “She communicated to me that (Mehaffey) was very much affected by the accident, that he considered it one of the worst he had been to.”

A first thank-you

Mehaffey, now in his 12th year with the Washington State Patrol, said the crash stood out because of its severity, its proximity to the holidays and because Michelle was pregnant.

When Bazin contacted him about meeting, “I was quite surprised,” Mehaffey said. “I remembered him right away and I got to meet his wife.”

Bazin and Michelle sat with Mehaffey earlier this month for about 20 minutes at a fast-food restaurant and thanked him for his work. “That was a total first for me that someone had contacted me and thanked me,” Mehaffey said. “It’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

There was the company from nurses in the hospital cafeteria and the perinatal care unit, where Michelle needed treatment because of stress.

“They were pleased to see me and see Norm, they had never met him, they had only heard of what happened,” Michelle said. “It was good for them to see him and me and an updated picture of Blake,” the couple’s first son, born in February 2004.

Those in the intensive care unit, including trauma care coordinator Sally Linton, also got the rare opportunity to see one of their patients intact, alive and well.

Son named for doctor

The Bazins spent the bulk of Nov. 12 waiting to speak with critical care physician Dr. Dan Coulston, for whom their second son, Coleston, is named.

“If he had played hockey, he would have been a Gretzky,” Bazin said of Coulston, who he described as having the perfect combination of bedside manner and strong will.

Added Michelle: “We knew that every time we speak Coleston’s name, we would think of him.”

Coulston, who spends much of his week working in an HIV clinic and his vacations treating patients in third-world countries, declined to comment, preferring to stay out of the limelight, said Sue Leach, his office manager.

“He was glad he got to see them face-to-face,” Leach said of Coulston. The knowledge that the Bazins were both healthy was wonderful, she added, but when Coulston found out they had named their second son after him, “he was floored. He would never expect that. … He just kind of shook his head. You could tell he was very touched by it.”

Before Bazin said his thank-yous, he had a chapter to close. That weekend, on his way to scout the World Junior A Challenge in Trail, Bazin passed the crash site, known only by reading police reports.

Of the many things he is thankful for, Bazin said, he is glad not to have any memories of the crash.

On his way back, Bazin stopped to see Howerton, the eyewitness, with whom he has stayed close.

“I really wanted to finish what I started, the trip I’d never finished, and drive on that same road,” Bazin said. “It was important to me. I don’t ever want to let fear get the best of me. That’s why I wanted to finish the trip I started and that’s why I wanted to get back on the road.”


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