Pain & progress: Martins’ faith sustains family in loss of son, recovery of daughter

Alahna Martin lets out a roar during a breathing exercise called “The Lion” last August while participating in a yoga class taught by Jean Welder. Alahna attended the session with her parents, Paul and Vanessa, and her brother, Stone. Alahna was moved out of intensive care last week and into a rehabilitation unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Alahna Martin lets out a roar during a breathing exercise called “The Lion” last August while participating in a yoga class taught by Jean Welder. Alahna attended the session with her parents, Paul and Vanessa, and her brother, Stone. Alahna was moved out of intensive care last week and into a rehabilitation unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver.
Alahna Martin lets out a roar during a breathing exercise called “The Lion” last August while participating in a yoga class taught by Jean Welder. Alahna attended the session with her parents, Paul and Vanessa, and her brother, Stone. Alahna was moved out of intensive care last week and into a rehabilitation unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver.
MEEKER I In 2000, Paul Martin worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, when his son, Stone, was born.
Paul, who was laboratory manager at the time, gave his newborn son his first bath at the hospital.
“That was one of the greatest days of my life,” he said of his son’s birth.
Nine years later, at the same hospital, Paul gave his son his last bath. “I’m experiencing despair and sorrow right now,” Paul said.
Stone died the morning of Jan. 20. He never regained consciousness after sustaining severe internal injuries in a two-vehicle accident the day before.
“I gave him his first bath and his last bath … moments after he was born and moments after he passed,” Paul said. “I washed his mangled body. I washed him with my tears.”
Speaking by phone Friday from Children’s Hospital in Denver, where the Martins’ daughter, Alahna, 12, was moved out of intensive care last week, Paul Martin is rejoicing at his daughter’s progress.
“You know, she’s doing phenomenally, compared to where she was a week ago,” Paul said. “She has been making progress every day. She started out, basically, just being awake, then sitting up. Every day is more progress. Today (last Friday), she actually walked and took several steps.”
Alahna, a sixth-grader at Barone Middle School, suffered numerous injuries, including a collapsed lung, broken sternum, broken femur and torn bowel. She also had bleeding on the brain, but the swelling has subsided.
“We’re hopeful she’ll make a significant recovery,” Paul Martin said. “It was such a horrible accident … as the days go on, we’ll do more testing and find out the significance of the damage. There is a traumatic brain injury, so there is uncertainty right now about what will be residual and what will be recoverable. We were told today (last Friday) that she would make a probably 90 something (percent) recovery. If she didn’t make any progress, my wife and I would be happy and thrilled. We’re just very thankful she’s alive and well. She has her sweet, loving, determined spirit about her, how can you complain about that? And our little boy is right where we hope to go someday, so it’s hard to be angry about that.”
In the aftermath of the accident — and the loss of their 9-year-old son — it is the Martins’ faith that has sustained them.
“It’s the only thing we have right now, to be perfectly honest,” said Paul Martin, who followed in his father’s footsteps and is minister of the Church of Christ in Meeker. Paul’s father, Jerry, used to be the church’s minister.
Paul’s parents, who now live in Memphis, Tenn., have been with Paul and Vanessa at the hospital, as have other family members. Paul’s mother, Denise, has been with Vanessa at the hospital in Denver, where Alahna was airlifted after the accident. Jerry Martin went to Grand Junction to be at the hospital with Paul and Stone.
Paul and his dad and a brother were in the hospital room at St. Mary’s with Stone when he died. At the same time, Vanessa and Paul’s mom were on the speaker phone from the hospital in Denver. The family had made the decision to remove Stone from medical life-support equipment.
“That was extremely difficult,” Paul Martin said. “I can’t even begin to describe it. We prayed and cried and talked and cried. All of the doctors and nurses had left us there (in the hospital room). So us guys, my dad and my brother and Stone … I sure wish it could have been a fishing trip.
“We had to make that decision. I struggle with it myself,” Paul said. “The first stage of grieving, they say, is denial. I didn’t want to believe he was dead. I kept thinking if I … I could bring my boy back.”
G G G G G
As a former EMT, Paul Martin had seen bad accidents before. He had even been in car wrecks himself, in his younger days.
But this was different. This was his family. This involved his children.
“It was the worst vehicular accident I’ve ever witnessed,” said Martin, who was one of the first people on the scene of the two-vehicle crash Jan. 19, about a mile outside of town on Highway 13.
It was Vanessa Martin’s 30th birthday and she and the Martins’ two children, Alahna and Stone, were on their way to Grand Junction for the day. Soon after leaving Meeker, however, the family’s Dodge Caravan skidded into the other lane and collided with a Chevrolet Impala, driven by Carla Slagle of Rangely, who was on her way to Meeker to take her two white schnauzers to the dog groomers.
Vanessa Martin and Carla Slagle were treated for what the accident report called “moderate” injuries. Vanessa Martin, it was discovered later, sustained a broken arm and multiple bruises and lacerations, while Slagle was badly bruised and continues to suffer from double vision and dizziness.
“I’m just happy to be alive,” said Slagle, whose two dogs were treated for a fractured pelvis and vertebrae at the Vet Clinic in Meeker.
Road conditions are considered a factor in the accident.
“The roads were slick in the area,” said Trooper Rick Kaspar of the Colorado State Patrol, which is investigating the accident. “There was some visible ice and snow on the road.”
There were contradictory reports of where the children were seated in the van at the time of the accident, but Paul Martin said his daughter Alahna was seated directly behind his wife Vanessa, on the driver’s side, next to her brother Stone.
“She was in the middle, behind Vanessa, and she (Alahna) was knocked out of her seat belt and thrown completely into the back of the van, and the back hatch was open,” Paul Martin said.
The van’s rear seat had been removed from the vehicle to make room for the family’s dog, which was injured in the accident. The dog was treated for a separated hip at the Vet Clinic in Meeker.
When Paul arrived at the scene of the crash — his wife, Vanessa, called him at work to tell him about the accident — he put his emergency medical training to use to try to save his son.
“I was the first one to start CPR on my son,” said Paul, who rushed to the scene from White River Electric Association, where he works as an information system analyst, in addition to being a preacher. “To be honest, that was probably one of the most difficult experiences of my entire life. There is nothing like that.”
Stone Martin was transported to Pioneers Medical Center and then airlifted by fixed-wing plane to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction — doctors didn’t think he would survive the trip to Children’s Hospital in Denver, where his older sister, Alahna, 12, was taken.
Stone died the next morning.
On the morning of Jan. 19, when Paul Martin received the phone call from his wife, telling him about the accident, he remembers thinking, “Dear Lord, I hope my children are OK.”
When Paul — who received his EMT training when he lived in Rangely — reached the scene of the crash, his instincts took over.
“(At the scene, Vanessa) was saying let him go. He will go to heaven,” Paul said. “I couldn’t not try. I have too much training … not to mention the love for my son. I don’t think there is any way to imagine it, seeing the life of your child slipping away from him, and being completely helpless. I didn’t want to believe he wasn’t there, because that meant my efforts were futile and I prolonged his suffering.”
G G G G G
Paul Martin’s voice cracks when he talks about his son.
“You’ve never met a person like Stone … I never have,” Paul said. “I know thousands of Christian people, and I’ve never met anybody like Stone. I think that’s why I’m so heartbroken.
“About a week before the accident, I had to discipline Stone, which wasn’t very often, but whenever that happened, he always thanked me right then and there, in the middle of it. He’d say, ‘Dad, I know that you’re trying to make me a better person.’ Who does that? That’s why I couldn’t wait to see him turn into a man. That’s my only son, that’s my namesake … but like I said, I know where he is. That’s my only hope. That’s my only assurance.
“We taught our children since the time they were young … like when a pet died … that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. As parents, we never knew we’d have to apply that same principle, but on a much deeper level,” Paul Martin said.
Stone Martin was a fourth-grader at Meeker Elementary School.
G G G G G
The Martins have lived in Meeker for seven and a half years. Paul and Vanessa have also lived in Rangely, which is where they were living when Alahna was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
The Martins have enjoyed being in northwest Colorado. For Paul, his ties to the area go back to 1991. That’s when his family initially moved to Meeker. His father, Jerry, was minister of the Church of Christ.
“This is the most beautiful valley,” Paul said. “I’ve lived in multiple places, but I’ve lived longer in Meeker, consecutively and collectively, than I have anywhere else. It feels like home to me.”
The community has reached out to the Martins since the accident. A fund has been set up for the family at First National Bank of the Rockies, with locations in both Meeker and Rangely. Also, cards can be sent to P.O. Box 125, Meeker, CO 81641.
“That’s one of the things we love about Meeker,” Paul said of the community’s generosity. “Now more than ever, Meeker has extended the love of a family to us, and the compassion …”
He said the community’s concern has been overwhelming.
“How do you respond to that? How do you offer thanks for that?” Paul said.
But life won’t be the same for the Martins.
“You can never fill a void like Stone,” Paul said. “You’ve never seen two siblings love each other like Stone and Alahna, who care about each other, who get along … as much as twins, maybe more.”
Asked if Alahna knew her younger brother had died, Paul said, “It depends on the moment. She doesn’t remember from day to day. When she’s reminded of the accident, she’ll say, ‘What happened to Stone? Where’s Stone?’ One time she asked if her brother was in heaven. She’s starting to talk about the absence of her brother a bit. She talks about him, but in the past tense.
“We agonized over when we break the news to her, and now we have to do it every day,” Paul said. “But she also says afterward, ‘God is with us.’”
Ever since the accident, Paul Martin said his wife, Vanessa, “has been like a rock. Her voice has been like the voice of God to me.”
Paul has also drawn strength from his daughter.
“‘I can do this,’ she says,” Paul said of Alahna. “If she can do it, how can I not do it, as her father?”
While Vanessa Martin will stay at the hospital in Denver with Alahna, Paul had planned to return this week to work … and an empty house.
“That will be the hard part,” he said. “I will be home by myself. It will be torture.”
However, after talking with his boss at WREA, he decided to stay with Vanessa and Alahna in Denver for one more week.
“I’m going to stay here one more week, just since Alahna is so early in her recovery and to help Vanessa,” Paul said.
Alahna has been moved to the rehabilitation unit at Denver’s Children’s Hospital, where she will undergo daily therapy.
“She’s made really good progress yesterday (Saturday) and today,” Paul said Sunday. “She has met and exceeded the goals they (the doctors) had set for her. She’s starting more and more to be like her old self.”
The family is delaying plans for a memorial service for Stone, until Alahna is released from the hospital.
“Initially, they said about a week after she gets out of ICU (she would be released),” Paul said last Friday. “I could easily see another week or 10 days, but that’s my own personal guess. We don’t know.”
On a Facebook page for the Martin family, which now has more than 3,500 members, a college friend of Paul’s and a fellow preacher, Neil Pollard, wrote Saturday, “I had my first opportunity to visit with Alahna today. She was very sweet and able to converse quite well. … Her short-term memory is improving. She will likely be in for at least two more weeks undergoing physical therapy. So many good signs are pointing to her improvement. The whole family is continuing to show such faith and optimism. Please continue to pray for Paul, Vanessa, and the rest of the family.”
Paul Martin is looking forward to the day when Alahna will be released from the hospital and his family will be together again.
However, he knows it will be different.
“Very shortly, it will be us again,” he said. “Only, instead of the four of us, it will be the three of us.”

8 Comments

  1. I am touched by the Martin’s faith in God and would like them to know that they are in my prayers.
    Alaina Henderson
    Baytown, TX

  2. Jeff-I thank you so much for your personal care and compassion toward me and my family during this difficult time. You are my hero for helping me remember the wonderful life of my son, Stone, and so clearly expressing our families’ faith. You have been an avenue allowing good things to result from the tragic death of my little man.
    To you I will always be grateful!

    Paul Martin
    Meeker, CO

  3. Paul, Vanessa, and Alahna,

    We were so sad to hear about the terrible car accident and the suffering that has resulted for your family as it’s result. Our hearts weep for you in the loss you have suffered of your precious son, and brother to Alahna, young Stone. Please know that you have been in our constant prayers since the morning of the tragedy. Jerry and Denise called us early in the morning before they left Memphis to ask us to pray for y’all and to spread the word to others to ask them to pray too. We called several ICYC people and got the new director, Burt Fuller, to put the prayer request on the ICYC e-mail loop.

    The loving report above by Jeff Burkhead about the tragedy which has befallen you is truly a tribute to your family and your faith. We hardly know what to say to you other than that our hearts go out to you even as our prayers go up to God in your behalf. I would guess that it would be easy or perhaps human to do a lot of second guessing, or “what iffing,” or maybe even personal recriminations by thinking or saying, “if only I had…,” but I would offer you some wisdom from the pen of Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiates, which reminds us that sometimes, through no fault of our own, we are just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as a result bad, sad, or heart-rending things happen to us. Solomon wrote, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Eccl. 9:11). Of course, then, God can take the worst of circumstances and ultimately, in the long run, make something good out of it for His people, as Romans 8:28 affirms. However, though that knowledge gives us an anchor to hold on to when the storms of life are seemingly blowing us to pieces, that doesn’t make the suffering itself any less painful tobear, so we want you to know that we grieve with you in your loss, and want you to know that if there is anything we could do to help you guys, that all you have to do is call, and we will do our best to find a way to render whatever aid you need.

    May the God of all comfort be with you and strengthen you all, and may the Great Physician’s watch over Alahna and heal her body, even as He ultimately will heal all your hearts and souls.

    With brotherly love,

    David McCain

  4. Dear Paul, Vanessa, Alahna and family,

    We continue to pray for you. We only met Stone and Alahna once during one of Jerry’s gospel meetings and we ate together that evening. Both of your children were very well-mannered and loved each other so much. Mom and I were impressed with their maturity and attitudes. Even then we talked about how wonderful they both were.

    May God greatly bless all of you with strength, courage and love. The Lord has carried me through many things, including cancer, treatments and a bone marrow transplant, and I know that He will carry you through as well. There are so many Christians praying for you all and we carry your family in our hearts.

    Love in Christ,

    Amy (Henry) Lemmons & Vera Kelly

  5. What a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful family. I can only imagine their pain but can indeed see where their hope and strength comes from.

  6. Dear Paul and Vanessa:

    I am the minister at the church in Amherst where your brother, Nathan, has been attending. The congregation here has had your family in prayer. Though I am sure that there will always be a sore spot in your hearts due to this tragedy, I hope that you, your wife and daughter will find peace soon; although, I know it is hard to imagine that at this point. Likewise, it is our prayer that Alahna continues her recovery and is back to normal soon. May the Lord lift you and your family up and give you the comfort that only He can give at such a time.

    grace and peace,
    Jeffrey L. Shelton

  7. Dear Paul, Vanessa and Alahna,

    All our love to you and your family. We have been keeping track of Alahna’s progress through the Martin Box and Uncle Billy. We sent Alahna a “Valentine stuffed frog and a card” to the hospital but Uncle Billy told me she was being discharged yesterday. I am going to try and route it to your home address. Hopefully, it will make it in time! All our love, Herb, Jeanne, Matt ,Kelly Bussey and Uncle Hootie and Aunt Ruby

  8. Paul, Vanessa and Alahna,

    We have been remembering you constantly in our prayers. We know that God will continue to comfort and strengthen you in the coming days. We love you and want you to know that you can call on us if we can do anything for you.

    In Christian love,
    Tom and Regina Larkin

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