Friday, March 28, 2014

Not even safe on a school bus parked on Catholic school grounds

It was 8:00 am, December 5, 1989, when the phone rang and I was instructed
to go to the emergency room of McKeesport Hospital, there had been an acci-
dent on my son’s bus and he was involved.  On the way, I made a conscious
effort to focus on my family and positive thoughts.  This simple decision may
have played a role in the miracle that would take place.

I took another route, because I feared the unknown, perhaps an overturned bus
or maybe a bus still on fire because of a wreck with a train or tractor trailer, or
whatever else may have occurred that morning.  When we arrived at the emer-
gency room my wife, eldest son Michael, and I soon realized that we had got-
ten there before the ambulances carrying the injured students. This concerned
me even more, because I now thought of my son trapped in a crumbled bus,
with the jaws of life clawing away to get to the injured students.

Next came a disheveled and highly unprofessional McKeesport detective ap-
proaching us.  He quickly pulled a small caliber gun out of a brown paper bag
and asked if it belonged to our son.  Shocked and dazed, we all replied no.
Just then, someone shouted that the ambulance had arrived.

An EMS attendant quickly wheeled in the first gurney.  I knew to stay out of
the way, especially once I saw a blanket covering almost the entire body.   I
shouted to the attendant, if that’s Adam Ference; let him know his family is
here.  We felt helpless.

Moments later, a second and last gurney was wheeled in.  Adam was elevated
and appeared to be alert.  Finally, we learned tht our son had been shot in the
head.  Certainly it had to be a superficial wound, and perhaps he was grazed.
Wrong again.

I went into see my son, while he was still sitting up, and advised him to try and
relax, and try to rest.  I glanced over at the other boy, peeking through the cur-
tains; seeing the blood-soaked bed sheets absorbing what must have been a
steady stream of blood from the boys head.  If he wasn’t already dead, cer-
tainly he soon would be.

Still not knowing what happened, I made a promise to God that no matter what
took place, if my son was somehow responsible, I would do whatever I could
to make things good, or at least as good as possible.  Never for a moment did
I think that my son was capable of hurting some one.  Rather, maybe my son
tripped someone or pulled some sort of prank that resulted in a gun acciden-
tally discharging?

We decided to have my son sent to Presbyterian University Hospital in Oakland,
now known as University of Pittsburgh Medical Center --- or simply UPMC.  It
was obvious that McKeesport Hospital was not equipped to handle this type of
emergency.  They transported my son by helicopter, and by the time we reached
Presby, plans were already in the works to perform emergency neurosurgery.

The medical treatment and accommodations at Presby for my son and our family
were beyond superb.  As we entered the parking area, I explained that my son
had been flown in by helicopter.  The security guard was expecting us.  The guard
offered to park the car and gave us instructions on where to go.

We were ushered into a suite used by families during such emergency procedures.
We were greeted by a team of hospital personnel specifically trained to handle
these types of situations.

We were advised to request a media block with a hospital spokesperson. No infor-
mation would be given, until we reversed the block.  The lead surgeon came to re-
view the operation.  I called a senior official at my job, to find out about the surgi-
cal team.  The CEO of the company was a major contributor to the University of
Pittsburgh, and our company supplied Presby with thousands of dollars worth of
food service supplies and equipment weekly.  I needed to know if the surgeons
were any good.

The phone rang in minutes.  My friend reassured me that the doctors were the
best in their business.   A bullet had penetrated Adam’s skull.   It was hard to say
how much damage was done.  Whatever part of the brain was damaged from the
bullet or bullet fragments would be gone for good.  The bullet had entered the left
side of the brain which would affect the right side.  The doctor was hoping that on-
ly damage would be done to the peripheral vision.  We would have to wait and see.

The operation would take hours.  When the doctor left, a nun who was part of the
support team, offered to lead us in prayer.  I politely interrupted and volunteered
my services instead.  No offense was intended and none was taken.  If anyone
was to lead the prayer, I felt it was my duty as a father to reach inside my heart
and soul and offer up the best sales pitch for God to somehow spare my child
from death, but also to allow him to lead a normal life again.  That too, I believe,
was another important decision made that day.

What seemed like days was only hours.  I started smoking again that afternoon.
My wife didn’t even try to chastise me.  When the operation was over, the doc-
tor was very please with the results.  But, he cautioned that my son was still in
very critical condition.

Time would be telling the story, now.  When we were allowed in the special in-
tensive care unit, we saw Adam with his head bandaged.  We were all relieved
to see and hear each other.  Adam was even cracking jokes.  A bouquet of bal-
loons had been delivered from one of my customers.  The doctor had cautioned
us that Adam may be in the hospital or rehab until February. Miraculously, he was
home a week before Christmas.

By the next day, we new for sure that it was an attempted murder on my son, by
a boy suffering from a whole host of problems.   As the headlines about the shoot-
ing continued to project negative implications about the shooter, our family stayed
focused on Adam’s recovery and the recovery of other patient.

We shared fruit from a gift basket with folks in from Oklahoma.  The family head
was a rancher, he reminded everyone of JR Hewing on the television series Dallas.
He was grateful for the fruit, but mostly because we showed compassion to his
family, while ours was still in disarray.

Our family learned a lot during this tragedy.  Twenty-five years, later, we’re still
learning.  More importantly, it may be a time to let others learn from our experi-
ence.  When I promised God that I would do whatever I could to make good of
the situation, no matter whose fault it was, little did I know that it would virtually
consume my life.  I’ve been told I have a passion for seeking the truth.   Maybe
so ... so that truth will be told.  Today, December 25, 2013, is just the beginning.