RIVERSIDE – Skydiving instructor and Menifee resident Nick Fener knows where he’d be without the trauma team at Riverside County Regional Medical Center.
“I wouldn’t be here to tell my story,” he said resolutely. “I was in the best place possible.”
While videotaping two skydivers who were on a tandem jump in May 2011, the right side of Fener’s parachute collapsed at about 100 feet and he hurtled to the ground in a corkscrew. At the county medical center in Moreno Valley, surgeons removed his ruptured spleen and treated two broken vertebrae, spinal-cord damage, broken ribs, and legs so devastated by fractures that one ankle disintegrated and Fener was missing three inches of shin bone. Several weeks later, surgeons amputated both legs below the knee.
Fener’s fiancée said the hospital staff not only saved his life, they helped her deal with the sleep deprivation, loneliness and fear she endured for more than a week while Fenner lay in a coma.
“Their quick decision-making and assessment of Nick absolutely is why he survived,” Lindsay Showalter said.
That life-saving expertise was recognized recently when the American College of Surgeons confirmed the hospital as a Level II trauma center, the only such adult trauma center in Riverside County.
Trauma centers strive for the certification because it demonstrates a hospital’s ability and commitment to caring for severely injured patients. Staffed 24 hours a day, the trauma center admits more than 1,100 patients each year.
“We’ve committed significant resources to ensure we provide trauma patients the absolute highest quality of care,” said Dr. Arnold Tabuenca, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “This recognition validates our efforts.”
The College of Surgeons does not designate trauma centers but, rather, confirms that a center has demonstrated it provides the highest quality of care. The verification follows a site visit in June by a review team from the organization, which established the hospital’s trauma center designation through April 2014.
Today, support rails lining the hallway of the couple’s Menifee home are ready to come down. Fener walks around on aluminum and titanium legs, sometimes stumbling but rarely falling, and figures he’s about halfway through the physical recovery. Day by day, he inches toward a goal that some might think foolhardy – returning to work as a skydiving instructor.
One of his biggest steps comes in about a week when he will jump from a plane for the first time since the accident. With 4,200 jumps since 2001, Fener isn’t nervous about the next leap and anticipates “an old comfortable feeling” mixed with the elation of his first time.
“You’re falling 120 mile per hour to ground,” he said. “It’s such a rush.”
Fener and Showalter, also a skydiving instructor, look forward to a day when the accident does not define their lives. Ask where they will be in five years and Fener can’t say for sure. But the vision is that he will be skydiving full-time, enjoying life and traveling with Showalter.
“She’s my world,” he said.