Gabe Kibblewhite is cracking jokes. He’s missing a chunk of his hair. He’s had some fun with visiting nursing students. He expects to be playing baseball again as early as next week (HE expects that. Won’t happen as he’s on the injured list for at least six months).
And, like a lot of 14-year-olds, he’s starving.
What’s remarkable about the Vernon teen is Kibblewhite is doing all this less than a week after being severely injured when hit by a vehicle in a city crosswalk.
And he’s doing it, now, from the comfort of his Harwood area home.
Gabe Kibblewhite is a miracle. His friends know it. His doctors know it. His nurses know it. And his family knows it.
“We’re still in shock having him home,” said Kibblewhite’s mom, Kailea. “Every single person we’ve talked to has said they can’t believe where we are today (Aug. 2). “There were three or four doctors who worked on him, and were off on the weekend, they came in and wanted to see him.
“He’s a miracle. They needed to see what this kid is doing. He shouldn’t be home already.”
It’s late Friday afternoon, July 28, somewhere between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Gabe is coming home on his scooter from his gym on 24th Street, in Vernon’s north end, and he’s stopped at the crosswalk at 48th Avenue. It’s a route he takes religiously to and from his workouts.
Gabe looks both ways to cross the four-lane stretch of road. As he waits, one car stops to wave him across. Gabe looks again as he starts to cross the roadway. He doesn’t see a vehicle, possibly a pickup truck. It’s the vehicle that strikes him. That’s the last thing Gabe remembers about that afternoon.
Kailea had just returned from Penticton, where her oldest son was in a hockey camp for a week. She went to her office to do some paperwork to get ready for the following Monday. Her husband was en route to Vancouver with the Kibblewhite’s third child for baseball provincials. Kailea’s cell rang at about 6:15 p.m. Friends were calling about Gabe, and reaching out about the incident on social media.
Kailea called her husband, who had arrived in Vancouver, and told him he had to come back. Gabe was hit by a vehicle and it’s not known how bad he’s hurt.
Gabe had been rushed to Kelowna General Hospital, bypassing Vernon Jubilee. That move may have saved his life.
“Once I got to Kelowna, everything is a bit of a blur,” she said. “I was told he’d been hit by a motor vehicle and that was about it. The social worker that met me tried to get me to see him before surgery, but there was no time. I talked to a couple of doctors on the phone who asked about releases and some questions, and I said do whatever you had to do.”
Gabe had suffered multiple skull fractures, some bleeding in the brain, and suspected broken bones and internal injuries. He was in surgery nearly five hours. A metal plate was inserted (hence the loss of his hair on a quarter side of his head) to recreate that side of his skull which had suffered many fragments and cracks.
As for broken limbs, there was a broken leg, but there was no internal damage. His heart and lungs – considering the impact Gabe endured – were fine.
“That was a shock,” said Kailea. “That’s one of the reasons we are where we are (today). Had there been internal damage, things may have been a lot different.”
Kailea’s sister is a labour/delivery nurse in VJH’s maternity ward, so she prepped Kailea about what she might expect when seeing Gabe for the first time post-surgery in the intensive care unit.
“I was expecting the worst but he was just a little puffy. And he was missing quite a few teeth (liquid diet, thus, starving teen). And he was missing his hair. He said they needed to figure out how to make his hair look good. That’s all he should be worrying about. It’s all he should be caring about.”
The next six months will be crucial to Gabe’s recovery. There will be lots of appointments and specialists visits. Kailea says her son is repeating himself a lot.
“There’s a lot we don’t know and might not know for a bit,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help him through this. Now comes the reality. What will his future look like. He thinks he’s going to play baseball next weekend.
“He feels OK but doesn’t realize it’s the mental side that’s being affected. Everything else, leg, hair, teeth, those can be fixed. The brain portion needs a rest.”
And he can do that rest at his home.
Gabe arrived Thursday, Aug. 1, to a hero’s welcome, as many friends and family members greeted him outside the family home with banners, hugs and fist bumps. His Vernon Canadians baseball teammates were there in uniform.
Gabe wasn’t wearing a helmet the day of his accident. His family wants to make the wearing of helmets the next cool thing.
“We’re going to make this initiative, make it something to be the right thing to do,” said Kailea. “Gabe is charismatic and social, and has made an impact on everybody he’s met. If this is his calling, helmet promotion, we’re going to do it. I never – ever – want another parent to experience what that phone call was like. This could have happened to anybody.”
It happened to Gabe Kibblewhite, 14, an eternally optimistic young soul. Asked if her son was having nightmares, Kailea said everyone is asking that and the answer is no.
“He says, ‘I’m alive,’” she said. “There are no nightmares. He’s so positive and that will be huge for his recovery.”
The Kibblewhites would like to express their thanks to all of the first responders, the witnesses on the scene who stayed with Gabe and kept him calm, surrounded by love, all the personnel at Kelowna General Hospital, their family and their friends.
“The amount of support we feel is amazing,” said Kailea. “Vernon is a pretty awesome little area. We’re very blessed.”