By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 3, 2008 11:02 AM
When Christopher Steed first awoke from his nightmarish trip to Guatemala, he implored his mother in Spanish, "Who should I save, Sofia or David?"
She assumed he was struggling in his mind to protect the two children that had been riding with him along a rain-slickened mountain road in the South American country last month when the car they were in was struck by a truck, sending Steed into a spiral of events that almost cost him his life.
Christopher Steed holds an orphan during his mission trip in Guatemala. Later during the trip, he was involved in a car wreck which left him hospitalized in a foreign country, struggling to get life-saving medical attention.
But for Jennifer Adkins, his mother, it also meant her son was alive. And she thanked God for it.
Steed, 21, and a 2005 graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School, has performed missionary work for several years.
He could not know that his latest visit to Central America would end with his family desperately trying to get him home before he died from injuries he suffered on that narrow, curving road.
For the past four years, Steed has done mission work outside the U.S. Last year, while in Guatemala, he met Yudel and Miriam Koristz and their children, David 9, Sofia, 7, and Joshua, 4, and had remained in touch with them.
Steed, an honor student at Liberty University in Virginia, Mrs. Adkins, her twin sister, Glenna Eckenrod of Goldsboro, and their father, Fred Mattingly of Covington, La., were in San Cristobal, Mexico for a family vacation but when the rest of the family returned home, Steed stayed on to visit the Koritstzs, traveling to Guatemala by bus. Although he didn't have time for a full mission project, he worked at an orphanage for several weeks.
On July 14 Steed and the Koristz family packed into the family car for a trip to visit the Mayan ruins at Tikal. It was raining and early in the morning. The vehicle was so packed that Steed, who was sitting in the back seat, was holding Sofia. His plans had been to return to Cancun by bus and then home after visiting the ruins.
As the vehicle rounded a curve on the mountain road it slipped and slid into the path of an 18-wheeler. The truck slammed into the car, ramming it into the side of the mountain.
"My sister saw pictures of the wreck and said no one should have been left," Mrs. Adkins said.
Steed was the most seriously injured. Sofia and Mrs. Koristz were also hurt. He would not regain consciousness until the day his mother heard him ask about the children.
Someone at the scene called the last number on Steed's phone. It was Hope of Life, the network affiliated with Liberty University that supports the mission work.
Hope of Life immediately dispatched a medevac helicopter that took Steed to Guatemala City and the hospital there.
Mrs. Adkins, who is a registered surgical nurse, was at her job with the Bureau of Prisons in Butner when she got a call from her husband, Byron, telling her the news.
She had a Spanish-speaking co-worker call the hospital, but they would not tell her anything.
"About all they could tell me was that it didn't look good," she said.
Her sister had come up with plane tickets and Mrs. Adkins had contacted Steed's girlfriend, Ellen Rouse of Goldsboro, who was at the beach, but raced back to go with them.
They arrived in Guatemala City on Tuesday morning, July 15.
Hope of Life provided an interpreter.
"He was an absolute angel," Mrs. Adkins said.
They arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. but hospital officials refused to let her see her son.
Outside the hospital, crowds were milling around. The doors were guarded by armed guards.
Despite the dangers, Mrs. Adkins persisted.
"I told the interpreter to tell them 'Then you can shoot me because I am going in. You are not going to keep me from my son.'"
After pleading with officials, she was given three minutes.
She was horrified by what she saw.
"My son was lying on a broken stretcher in a large open room in a hallway," she said. "There was blood on the wall behind him.
"I walked up to him and called his name. He looked terrible. Most of the back of his neck had been sutured and his arms -- bad sutures. He finally opened his eyes and it took the better part of two minutes for him to realize I was there. People were walking around not offering to help.
"At that point in time I was frantic. I asked 'What have you done? Is he sedated?'"
She was finally told her son's brain was bleeding. She was ordered to leave and told she could not take her son. But she was told that he could be moved to a private hospital.
No one was in the reception area at the first private hospital she visited. At the second, her insurance was refused.
"I had to give them $3,500 in cash to take him," she said.
She returned to the state hospital to find Steed had been moved into a room.
"It was filthy. The bed was broken and there were roaches in the corner. It was so horrifying. It was the worse thing I have ever seen in my life. The sheets were nasty," she recalled.
"We got him to the private hospital and that is what saved his life. Money talks. I had the money and they were taking it."
Within the first half hour a CT scan was performed. Steed had a ruptured spleen.
The doctor told Mrs. Adkins that had her son stayed at the state hospital for another day, he would have died had the wound not clotted. Even then it was still a "time bomb," she said, recalling the doctor's words.
Steed also had a break in a cervical vertebrae and cerebral edema. He had two liters of blood in his stomach along with numerous cuts, bruises and abrasions. Three teeth were broken. His brain was swelling.
Not only was her son in serious condition, Mrs. Steed and her companions were afraid of being on the street.
Americans are not popular, she said, and women are advised not to be outside without a male escort.
"It was not safe for us to be there without a male escort especially at night," she said. "People told us that and said that we did not belong there. They don't like us over there. It is very dangerous and they did not mind telling us."
She called and asked her father to come and stay. Mattingly who arrived last Sunday is not only fluent in Spanish, but stands 6-feet-4 as well.
His presence was welcome relief.
Steed remained in intensive care for five days and spent and then stayed on an additional five days before the doctor told the family he needed to be moved again.
"He couldn't leave the county, he had air and blood in his pleural cavity," Mrs. Adkins explained during a telephone interview from her home in Wake Forest this past week. "His lung had collapsed and had to be reinflated at the hospital so he could not travel on a regular plane."
Also, since head injures can affect behavior, Mrs. Adkins was worried about her son walking out of the hotel or creating a problem on an airplane.
But along with a desire to return home, safety played into their decision to leave as quickly as possible.
"I was scared for my safety," Mrs. Adkins. "I was scared for my son's safety. We took it on faith we would make it home."
The cheapest medevac flight home cost $24,000. The earliest flight left Monday, July 28. The next wasn't until Thursday.
"We prayed about it and we left on Monday night, when we thought there were less people and more space," Mrs. Adkins said.
The chartered flight landed first in Chicago, then at Raleigh-Durham.
After a harrowing experience, the family returned home.
Mrs. Adkins and her sister, Glenna Eckenrod, paid out of pocket for costs associated with the trip.
"We had to pay everything in cash," she said. "Fortunately we were in good circumstances, we had some to give. The rest we put on credit cards. He (God) provides -- that is all there is to it," she said. "But I am a poor woman now. It is not going to be easy to recover."
Help for the family began as soon as word of Steed's situation reached home.
Jim Steele headed a group of pilots needed to help get him home. Strickland Insurance offered the use of its airplane
A fund, the Caring for Chris Fund, was established at Liberty Bank in Pikeville. Last Sunday, the congregation at Pleasant Grove Free Will Baptist Church in Pikeville alone raised $1,500 to help.
Mrs. Adkins said she was "overwhelmed" at the outpouring of community concern and support.
"I really, really appreciate the community coming together like it did," she said. "People I didn't know, who I had never met and who thought 'that could be my child.' I can't even begin to tell people how much I appreciate them."
Family and friends in Wayne County can keep up with Steed's progress through a Facebook Web page set up by his friend, Jeff Mullins, and brother Jason Steed. Although there is no way she can see her son's ordeal as a good thing, Mrs. Adkins said it has strengthened her faith.
"It's terrible that it happened, but it will be a huge testimony that will come out of it," she said. "If this is not a story that makes you understand there is somebody out there who controls everything, then I don't know what story would."
Other Local News
- Care in the sky: Members of the aeromedical evacuation crew fight to get injured troops back to their families