A mother’s photos show son’s fight to heal

Kamron Portenier, 15, sits in his new car, reflecting on his long journey since his Aug, 13, 2007, car accident near mile marker 47 on Colorado Highway 13 outside Meeker. In the accident, Kamron suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and a broken tibia and fibula.

Kamron spent four weeks at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and five weeks at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. He now likes to hang out in his bedroom listening to music, plugged into an iPod instead of a ventilator.

While at Children’s Hospital, Kamron worked hard to regain his cognitive abilitites, practicing everything from word association to drawing on a Doodle Board. A person is never the same after traumatic brain injury and relearning takes months or years, but Kamron works hard in Central High School where he is a freshman.

After surgeries to correct a deformation caused by a fractured growth plate in his right leg, Kamron found a love for basketball. He can comfortably run again and played basketball in middle school and recently tried out for his Central High School team.

Out of the four leg and knee surgeries Kamron has had, the external fixator in 2010 was the most painful and cumbersome to manage. After intentionally breaking his femur, doctors placed 14 screws into his bone to readjust the deformities and kept the external fixator on for three months. It left terrible scars up and down his leg.

Kamron is happy to have the hospital stays behind him so he can focus on the important aspects of being a teenager, such as girls and driving. He likes going to a school of warriors. It is fitting, after all.

Story and photos by HEATHER PORTENIER
Special to the Sentinel
On Aug. 13, 2007, I received a phone call that changed the course of my family’s life forever.

My husband Travis and 8-year-old son Kamron were in a near-fatal car accident.

They were in Craig visiting family for the weekend. I had stayed behind in the

Grand Valley for work. On their way home, Travis hit a deer that was standing

around a bend on Colorado Highway 13 outside of Meeker.

The airbag deployed, and as Travis tried to avoid an oncoming truck, the soft shoulder pulled his small blue sedan down a 50-foot embankment.

Luckily, Travis and Kamron were only five minutes outside of Meeker, and emergency help arrived quickly.

Travis had minor injuries, but Kamron was flown to St. Mary’s Hospital with a severe traumatic brain injury, and a broken tibia and fibula. He wasn’t expected to live through the night.

We knew our son had a fighter’s spirit, a small comfort. It took him two weeks to gain consciousness and he spent three weeks in the intensive care unit.

On week five, we decided to take Kamron to The Children’s Hospital in Denver for his rehabilitation.

The recovery process for a traumatic brain injury is enigmatic. The child we raised for eight years disappeared in the steel wreckage, and the new version of Kamron was lost in the depths of his own mind.

He was frustrated that he could no longer do the things he used to do, even simple tasks such as drawing a circle.

It was emotionally exhausting to watch Kamron struggle through the therapy routines, and we brought him home a week earlier than expected. We were ready to get him home and in familiar surroundings.

At home, Kamron’s recovery accelerated. Doctors and therapists marveled at the child before them — he was not the child described in their notes.

As the years passed, Kamron continued to fight through complications from his brain injury, relearning and gaining confidence in his abilities.

He has had four leg and knee surgeries to correct a deformation caused by a fractured growth plate that wasn’t caught in time, and he will need more surgeries in the near future.

Kamron has knocked over each obstacle with fierce determination. Now 15 and a freshman at Central High School, he is navigating the world of girls, sports and friends.

He received his driver’s permit in September and recently bought his first car. Kamron faces adversity with a shrug and moves on with maturity.

Once people look past the scars and realize he is not so fragile, they see a young man who is ready to take on the world.

Heather Portenier created these images for a photo story assignment that was part of a photojournalism class taught by Sentinel Photo Editor Gretel Daugherty at Colorado Mesa University. Portenier is writing a memoir about her family’s journey and also has a blog (msfortune
memoir.wordpress.com) with chapters from her memoir, photos and video.


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