A6 Friday, May 19,1995 The Salina Journal Life of Ellsworth fanuly changed by bullet Doctors initially gave little hope to injured teen FROM PAGE A1 Stuart banged his truck into the vehicle, pushed it aside and sped on. A few minutes later, he reached the Ellsworth County Hospital and threw the transmission into park. He pushed the pain in his bad back aside, the pain that prevents him from holding a job, lifted his son into his arms and ran into the hospital. The angry highway crewman who followed him got a glimpse of Shane. Oh God, he said, I'm sorry. "It's a good thing I had my hands full," Stuart said. "I'd of killed them." Almost an hour after the accident, the race to save Shane's life had begun. That frantic hour forever would . change the Novotnys' lives. A dreaded ring Sherry Novotny, 42, always hated the phone. Every ring gave her another reason to fret about her kids. Maybe her daughter Shelly, 20, was in a car wreck. Maybe her other daughter, Shannon, 23, was ill. But this time, when the phone rang at the craft shop where she worked, her stomach began to bubble. She knew Shane was out hunting at Stuart's mother's farm. She hated the hunting, but it and fishing were Shane's first loves. She looked over at the secretary and saw trouble. Tell me, she said, what's wrong. It's Shane, the secretary said, after a long pause. He's been hurt. You need to go to the hospital. Now. About 10 miles away, Steven Peterman ran inside the Novotnys' house and yanked Shelly, who still was in her pajamas, out of bed. She thought she was dreaming. That whole morning was strange. She had pleaded with Steven — her boyfriend — not to go out that bitter-cold morning. She was afraid something would happen. Steven tossed Shelly in his truck and told her what had happened. She could handle the news that her brother had been shot until she found out where the bullet had struck. "Then I went nuts," she said. Bleary-eyed, she walked through the Ellsworth County Hospital doors and saw her sobbing father sitting on a wooden bench. She had never seen her father cry before. That's when she realized that she may never see her brother alive again. Race for survival When Stuart arrived at the hospital, a doctor starting punching the phone, trying to find a neurosurgeon. It took an hour, maybe two, but one finally was located at Wichita's Wesley Medical Center. The hospital's trauma team flew out and picked up Shane. Before the team took off, the Novotnys got to say goodbye. The hospital room door creaked Starting OVER • Today: The Novotnys 1 lives are turned upside down when son Shane is shot in the head during a hunting accident and fights for life. ° Saturday: By some miracle, Shane Novotny comes out of a coma and begins the difficult process of rebuilding his life. ° Sunday: Back at home, Shane Novotny struggles to communicate with his family and friends. Tom Dorsey/Salina Journal In their Ellsworth kitchen, Sherry Novotny talks with her son Shane about his day at school. Shane is recovering from a hunting accident in October 1993, when he was shot in the head and given little chance to live. open, and Shane's family hesitantly walked through. Sherry passed out. Shane's swollen left eye looked as if a black cue ball had been inserted under it. Tubes snaked in and out of his body. The doctor told the Novotnys that Shane probably wouldn't make it alive to Wichita. Stuart and Sherry jumped in the car and took off. This time the car averaged about 90 miles an hour. Boom. A radar trap. Stuart knew he was nailed. But the officer didn't seem to blink. Lucky, Stuart thought. He didn't know that Kansas Highway Patrolman Rick Bingham, the father of Shane's girlfriend, had alerted his fellow law officers about the accident. The Novotnys arrived at the hospital waiting room, which had begun to flood with relatives. Then the kids started to show — members of Shane's football team, his friends, well-wishers. After all, Shane, 17 at the time, was the man. Kids loved him. He had friends everywhere. He was a musician, a superior athlete. He was loved for his kind heart as well as his status in school. Shane was one of the few students that liked everyone — the geeks, the nerds, the studs, the stars, the quiet nobodys. As a result, he commanded a respect that few students could match. "By golly, you couldn't believe the kids that showed up that night," Stuart said. Neither could the hospital staff, which had to move those kids and relatives to a bigger waiting room. The neurosurgeon didn't give Shane any hope. Usually, to have any chance, an operation must take place within two hours after this type of accident. By the time Shane was stabilized and prepped for surgery, it had been more than eight. "All this whittled his chances of living down to nothing," Stuart said. Gut-wrenching decision Dr. Curtis Pickert, who worked with Shane, remembers looking in horror at Shane's X-ray. "I don't think you could have had a more serious injury," said Pickert, medical director of pediatrics in the Wesley intensive care unit. "He could have died on the spot. That's what many of them do. Just die on the spot." Shane lived through the opera-" tion. Doctors called it a small miracle. But they didn't think his luck would last. After the surgery, Shane still was in a deep coma. But he could hear every word; his family was convinced of that. Every time Stuart would speak to Shane, his vital signs would skyrocket. Because of this, Sherry knew that he would make it. "I never got the feeling that he was going to die," she said. Shelly held his hand and reminded him how stubborn he was. How bull-headed. So please, she said, please don't give up now. Stuart told everyone his son would live. Inside, he knew better. He began to prepare himself for the decision. He already had told himself that if by some great miracle Shane lived through this, he would have to live with dignity. Anything less, and Stuart would tell the doctors to let Shane go. 'A damn vegetable' Stuart didn't want his family members to carry that weight around the rest of their lives. So he took the burden upon himself. Three days later, there was no change in Shane's condition. The family's only sleep was a few hours with a hospital blanket on the waiting room floor. They had barely eaten. Some of Shane's friends brought the Novotnys burgers. After three days at Shane's side, the family thought that a late-night burger break sounded like a dinner in New York's finest restaurant. Stuart took a bite. Then a doctor, "Dr. Blah Blah Blah," as Stuart likes to call him, walked into the break room. Oh yes, I saw your son, the doctor told them while pouring a cup of coffee. You might as well put him in a home. He's just going to be a damn vegetable. Suddenly, the burgers tasted like straw. Stuart saw Shane after that. He didn't want his son to be a vegetable. He started to cry. Man, he thought. That's cruel. What a jerk. Stuart knew it was time to make the decision. He called Pickert and told him what was said in the break room. Pickert didn't flinch. "Yes, that's highly possible," he told Stuart. "It could happen." But Pickert knew Stuart didn't want that. He told him to wait one more day. That next day, Pickert watched Shane for 20 minutes. Stuart pointed out little things — how Shane would hold himself like all men do while they are urinating, how Shane's vital signs would shoot up when he heard his father's voice. Pickert watched for another 45 minutes and scribbled on a notepad. He smiled with every scratch. Stuart, he told him, he's not going to be a vegetable. He's going to live with dignity. The Novotnys had been praying for a sign. 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