View readers may remember Kelly Williams, who received a new heart in 2009 after being misdiagnosed for two years. He was on the transplant list for only 12 hours.
Last year was one of ups and downs for him. The biggest up: He and his wife, Elizabeth, were living in northwest Indiana when she gave birth to their son, Blake. But Kelly was experiencing health symptoms that were cause for alarm.
“I got a call that I’d developed antibodies that were specific to the donor organ,” he said. “… my transplant doctors were in Los Angeles, and they were better than the ones in Chicago, (who) we found out weren’t as experienced.”
The family opted to move back to Las Vegas to be closer to Kelly’s mother, Sue Williams, and his doctors in Southern California. They packed up, intending to be settled by Christmas. On Dec. 16, they were westbound on Interstate 40 near Tucumcari, N.M. The road was two lanes in each direction, with a median separating them.
Kelly was driving the family’s 2004 GMC Envoy, which had a two-wheel tow dolly attached to pull their 2011 Hyundai Accent. His wife, brother Terry Kramer and baby Blake were in the SUV.
Suddenly, he said, everything went into slow motion.
“It felt like the back of the truck started pulling, so I looked in my side view mirror, and I saw the car on the tow dolly was swinging, you know, fishtailing,” Kelly said. “The car was tilted a little more than the tow dolly. That’s when I realized the tow dolly had malfunctioned. It was swinging violently, and wherever it was going, it was pulling the truck. I could not control the truck.”
It yanked their Envoy into the center median and then back on the road and all the way to the right side.
“When we hit the gravel on the right side of the road, I saw in the mirror that the tow dolly and back side of the car had started to tilt, and right away, we went with it,” he said.
He said he does not remember anything until the vehicles came to rest upside down.
“I’m not sure how many times we rolled, but I know it was more than once,” he said. “It was probably two or three times. They (the vehicles) both rolled together.”
The aftermath saw a lot of commotion. Someone called 911. His brother, who had not been wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the car and skidded through a patch of cactuses. He would later be airlifted to a larger hospital in Albuquerque.
Kelly, more concerned with his wife and child than himself, chose not to be admitted to the hospital. He said he’s still sore and has suffered migraines every day since the accident. Terry Kramer is still being monitored for spinal issues.
Kelly’s daughter, Hayley Lohse, 8, was not traveling with the family when the accident occurred. Blake was latched securely into his car seat and was thoroughly checked out after the accident.
“He was the only one who didn’t have a scratch on him,” said Sue Williams.
Kelly waited until the family got to Las Vegas, two days later, before seeking medical help for himself.
Now on more specialized anti-rejection medications, his progress is being monitored to see whether his body is still tilting toward rejecting his new heart.
“If it’s (the new medication) not working, then we have to go from there,” he said. “For four years, all my checkups and tests were great, then this sort of came out of nowhere. It’s a little stressful, but after that long period of being misdiagnosed and being really sick before the transplant, I’m OK with it.”
That “long period” he was referencing saw his weight drop to 115 pounds, and he was barely able to breathe. He was in the emergency room, ready to be airlifted to UCLA, when his doctor canceled the helicopter, insisting his symptoms were gastrointestinal issues.
“The doctor said he never had a heart problem, that it was a gastro problem,” Sue said. “He’d had open heart (surgery) when he was 8 years old. They said there’s nothing wrong with his heart. We got him to UCLA, and they said, ‘That boy doesn’t have no gastro problem whatsoever.’ ”
Kelly said having a new baby, who does not appear to have the gene that was thought to be behind his failing heart, changed the equation.
“It definitely makes me more determined to get help and get this taken care of,” he said.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.