Tragedy Strikes

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On the morning of February 13, 2013, Officer Rolando Jimenez was directing traffic at Lanier High School in Gwinnett, as he had done many mornings since he started working at the high school when it opened in 2011. Officer Jimenez had indicated that he would like traffic to stop so that he could allow traffic traveling in the opposite direction to go, but then a 22 year old woman driving a car did not abide by his warning and knocked Jimenez back 30 feet. Then she hit another car, which struck Jimenez again.

While all of this was happening I was at school, totally unaware of everything that was happening. Then, I got a text message. It was from my grandmother, which was quite odd because she rarely texts me. The text said “Uncle Rolando was hit by two cars. At the hospital now. Your dad is on the way.” A very long list of injuries that he had suffered was included. I was confused and worried to the point that I almost felt sick. I did not understand. How serious was it? Was he okay? What’s going to happen? I had all these questions and no one to answer them because no one knew the answers yet. I wanted to go home, I wanted to go to the hospital, I wanted to do something, but all I could do was sit and wait for information to come my way.

I could tell it was bad when my dad had returned from the hospital. My father is a fairly somber man who does not show emotion often, but I could tell he was upset when he got home. He tried to pretend like he was okay, like everything fine, but it seemed impossible. I came out of my room later to find him on the couch alone, watching some silly show on TV. His eyes dark and that was it, it hit me; this was bad, my uncle, the one who not too long ago had been making jokes across the counter  at my grandparents’ house while making nonalcoholic mojitos, was in the hospital, he was hit by two cars. I was scared, I was confused and I had no idea what to do.

“He has a broken pelvis, a broken jaw, broken fingers, internal bleeding, and a serious leg injury.” Hearing it said is so different from seeing it. When my dad, my grandma, or my mom said it in that manner it almost sounded like they were just spouting fact. Maybe it was a way of coping, maybe it was just the way I interpreted it. All I know is when I was at the hospital, sitting in the waiting room with my comically large extended family taking over the whole room, I did not know what to expect  and nothing could have prepared me for it.

I was aware that it was bad, but he looked so broken, so unlike the man who makes every family gathering very entertaining. But just like that man he started making jokes the minute we walked in despite his pain, despite the severity of the situation and that gave me some hope.

My uncle did not go through this alone, whether he wanted to or not. I have never seen a community rally together so quickly for a single person. While my uncle was in the hospital having surgeries, people were organizing fundraisers for him, the first one less than a week after the accident had an incredible turnout. It was amazing to see how many people really loved him and how willing they are to do anything they could to help him.

Just eight days after getting struck, he was moved from the hospital to Glancy Rehabilitation Center; for him eight days in a hospital bed seemed to drag on forever. Almost every single Saturday after he moved to the rehab center, my dad took us to go see Uncle Rolando. We would stop by Sonic and get him a lemon lime slushy because his jaw was wired shut and he couldn’t have anything that wasn’t liquid. It was so fantastic to see him sitting up and able to talk. It eased the constant knot in my stomach that had been present since the accident.

Six weeks after the life changing event, Uncle Rolando took 48 steps with a walker after not being able to put any weight on his legs for a month and a half. This feat was absolutely incredible because it was a major milestone. He really was able to make tremendous headway toward being able to go home, back to work, and over all just being able to return to some format of normalcy. On the same day that he walked those 48 steps, the wires were removed from his mouth. Now, instead of it being completely wired shut with no movement, he had bands placed in his mouth so that he was allowed a little more freedom.

After eight weeks in two different hospitals, over 100 hours of physical therapy, and four surgeries, my uncle, School Resource Officer Rolando Jimenez was allowed to go home. Although modifications had been made to his house to accommodate his needs, everyone was ecstatic for him to be home. He made tremendous progress much faster than anyone ever could have expected. He had outpatient physical therapy three times a week at rehabilitation center and he had to work on knee exercises to make sure that he got full use of his knee back. Even with all of that he was so happy to be in his own home and with his family.

Over the next few months he progressed steadily. He was attending aquatic physical therapy, his brace for his knee injury was reduced to a much smaller and lighter one, he was able to go visit family in Texas, and on July 29th, 166 days after the nearly fatal accident, he was able to return to the work and the people that he loved. It was only part time and light duty until August 12th, and then he was permitted to go back full time, on light duty, just six months after being struck.

September 13, 2013, seven months after the accident, Rolando turned 48. On the Faceook page where he and my aunt post updates on his recovery he wrote “I’m blessed to be here to celebrate it with my family and friends.” Even though he still has another surgery ahead of him on his knee and more therapy, the fact that he is with us after surviving a life altering and almost fatal accident is miraculous and truly inspiring.