SI Vault
 
The Long Road Back
Tim Layden
May 23, 1994
Five months after his near-fatal automobile accident, Sacramento King guard Bobby Hurley recovery
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 23, 1994

The Long Road Back

Five months after his near-fatal automobile accident, Sacramento King guard Bobby Hurley recovery

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Hurley's injuries went far beyond what even his scars would seem to indicate: two collapsed lungs, five broken left ribs, left shoulder blade fractured in small pieces like an eggshell, torn anterior cruciate ligament in the right knee, compression fracture in the lower back, multiple deep lacerations, broken right fibula, badly sprained left wrist and dozens of deep bruises. Most serious of all, the windpipe stem leading from Hurley's trachea to his left lung was torn free from the lung, an injury that results in death in more than 90% of such cases. But at the University of California-Davis Medical Center, Hurley experienced another piece of good fortune: He was treated first by Dr. Russell Sawyer, the hospital's 33-year-old chief surgical resident. Coincidentally, Sawyer had just completed writing a book chapter on tracheal and bronchial injury. Sawyer was the one who diagnosed the torn windpipe stem, an injury often missed in emergency treatment.

It would take eight hours of delicate surgery to reattach the windpipe. "When you tear the lung off completely, that is almost completely incompatible with life," says William Blaisdell, the trauma surgeon who coordinated Hurley's treatment that night at the medical center. "He would represent the most massive injury I've seen that lived." Blaisdell's mere presence in the operating room represented yet another stroke of luck. The surgeon, who 28 years ago in San Francisco helped pioneer the study of trauma as a medical discipline, had arrived home in Sacramento from Washington, D.C., almost exactly at the moment the crash took place. "As we're landing at the airport, my wife looked down at the ground and saw the accident," Blaisdell says.

Perversely, the severity of Hurley's injuries helped prolong his life. "When somebody with this type of injury takes in air through his mouth, it leaks into his chest cavity and builds up pressure, which won't allow him to breathe and won't allow his heart to fill with blood," says Sawyer. "That's how the person usually dies. Bobby had so many rib fractures on his left side that the air was able to leak out of the chest cavity and throughout his body." The air bloated Hurley badly, creating what in emergency rooms is darkly called the Michelin Man Effect.

The gravity of the situation was not immediately known by Bobby's parents: his father, Bob Sr., the coach at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J., the high school basketball powerhouse where Bobby played before going to Duke, and his mother, Chris. Barely an hour after watching the King game via the satellite dish in their house in Jersey City, the Hurleys received a phone call from Bobby's then girlfriend in Sacramento. She told them what she had heard from Peplowski: only that Bobby had been in some sort of accident.

"We never, ever thought it was anything other than a fender bender," Chris says. Richard Marder, the Kings' team physician, called shortly thereafter to tell them that the injuries were serious but that it looked as if Bobby would live. The Hurleys caught a 5:30 a.m. flight to Sacramento. By late that Monday night their son was able to respond by squeezing their hands and nodding his head. Still, the parents were shocked by what they saw. "So bloated, so puffy," recalls Bob. "We just couldn't recognize him."

Bobby's brother, Danny, younger by 18 months, and his 13-year-old sister, Melissa, arrived from New Jersey on Wednesday. At the time, Danny, a junior guard at Seton Hall, was trying to deal with a trauma of his own. Five days earlier he had left his team, only three games into the season. Danny's decision was the culmination of more than two years of emotional anguish as he sought to live up to the reputation of his brother, who is also his best friend. "Either would walk through fire for the other," says Ricky Lasch, a boyhood friend of the Hurleys'.

Danny quit the Pirates six days after a 72-64 loss to St. John's in a night game at Madison Square Garden, during which he missed all six of his field goal attempts. Sacramento had faced the New York Knicks at the Garden that afternoon, and Bobby had attended the college game with his parents. "I felt that they were viewing a failure on the court, that their son was a failure," Danny says.

After the game, feeling uncertain of his place in the Seton Hall locker room, Bobby chose not to go there to comfort the distraught Danny. It is a decision he regrets. "As a friend and a brother, I should have gone to see him," says Bobby. "I know that no matter what kind of game I played, Danny would come in after and talk to me." Bobby did meet Danny later that night at a Greenwich Village restaurant. Danny told him he was quitting the team, and Bobby supported his decision.

Now, as he arrived at Bobby's hospital room, the younger Hurley was the one who felt a brotherly burden. "I couldn't believe how much pain he was in and how terrible he looked," Danny says. "Here I was, still feeling terrible about my own self. I thought, 'Why couldn't this happen to me, instead of somebody who's got such a bright future?' Just seeing him in that bed, I said, 'You don't deserve to be there. I'm the loser.' "

In the two weeks that followed, while Bobby learned again how to rise and sit, how to open his swollen eyes and how to take short walks in the corridor, it was as if the brothers were back in their basement room in the family's row house in Jersey City. They watched movies together on TV. They planned golf outings for the spring and taunted each other over who would win. "To know that he came out there, I'll always remember that," says Bobby. "I know that he would do anything for me. And I feel the same way for Danny."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4