By: Jen Russon
For Lisa Zepeda, a Coral Springs mother of three, it was an ordinary day when she learned about the accident. Her children were vacationing in Utah with their grandparents and when the phone rang, she thought one of them had simply called to say hello.
“Mom, I don’t want you to worry,” said her middle son, Dawson. “We’re in a helicopter headed to a hospital. Helena’s been an accident.”
Zepeda’s children, Derek 20, Dawson, 18, and Helena, 15, were doing what many teens might be doing on a summer day in St. George, Utah; they were off-roading in ATVs. On what was supposedly a fun excursion with their grandparents at the Sand Hollow Resort, their vacation took a horrific turn.
The ATV Helena was a passenger in, hit a rock, tipped over, and crushed the 10th grader’s hand as she gripped the roll bar. The teen was airlifted to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada where she underwent a bone amputation to her injured right hand.
Her mother said months of physical therapy are in Helena’s future. Eventually, her daughter may be fitted with a prosthetic hand. Along with staggering hospital costs, there are travel expenses. The 52-year-old office manager of Barbag Dental in Coral Springs is overwhelmed, sometimes by kindness.
She said her employer, Dr. Adam Barbag, DMD and colleagues, have been incredibly understanding throughout this ordeal. She was able to get on the next plane to Nevada, and be present at her daughter’s bedside, following the accident.
“She lost all four of her fingers, but she still has her thumb,” Zepeda said, adding that her daughter has been surprisingly high-spirited through all of this. “She just wants to get back to her friends, and to school.”
Helena is a student at Coral Springs Charter School, where her two brothers attended and recently graduated. She is a goalie on her soccer team, and a member of SATO, a sports training organization which has spurred her interest in a sports medicine career.
“Now that she’s had this experience as a patient, she’ll understand that job in a way that she would not have before,” Helena’s mother said. Looking for the bright side, she shared the good news that her daughter is expected to return to soccer playing when she heals.
The healing process has had, to the Zepeda family’s surprise, some happy moments. Coach Charlie Fine, a teacher at Helena’s school, happened to be in Las Vegas during her hospital stay. He brought his student Starbucks coffee and magazines to enjoy. Her other visitors included team members from the Las Vegas Lights FC, a professional soccer team that heard Helena was in need of cheering up.
The visit happened just before Helena’s surgery at 5 p.m. on Friday. Her mother said that it was a nice experience for everyone, and Helena slept well because of it.
The Zepedas are unsure of when they can return to Coral Springs. A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for the mounting expenses; Zepeda is a single parent, and said any donated amount makes a difference.
“Through it all, she’s had a good attitude,” Zepeda said of her daughter. “She can’t wait to come home.”
If you’d like to help the Zepeda family, please donate to their GoFundMe page.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.