PLAINVIEW — Connor Slater has no memory of what happened to him the evening of June 20, 2019.
But the 8-year-old’s mother, Kendra Slater of Plainview, will never forget the panic that rushed through her when she received the phone call saying her little boy had been hit by a vehicle while crossing the highway on his bicycle.
“I ran out of the house,” Slater said. “I’m only about five blocks away from where the accident happened, if that, but I ran past my car before I realized I could drive down there.”
After spending much of the summer recovering from the life-threatening injuries he sustained that night, Connor is back in school, and his mom now is asking other parents to talk with their children about bicycle safety.
Slater said the accident happened at about 7:20 p.m. She had arrived home from work about 20 minutes earlier and told her son it was time for his best friend, Madden, to head for home.
“He wanted to take his friend home, ride home, on his bike,” she said. “I initially told him no because he would have to cross the highway to get to Madden’s house.”
But Slater said Connor pleaded to go, promising not to cross the highway and only to go as far as the park. She allowed him to go on that condition, as well as on the condition that he come right back.
When the phone rang 20 minutes later, Slater learned of the accident and rushed to the scene, where she found the first people on the scene checking his vitals and trying to keep him conscious.
Connor was transported to the emergency room at the Plainview hospital, where he was evaluated and intubated, and then he was flown in a medical helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Omaha.
“He had a fractured left leg — both bones below the knee, a fractured left pelvis, three lacerations that they ended up having to stitch,” she said.
The bigger concern, however, was Connor’s skull fracture and brain injury. A family friend had driven Slater to the hospital in Omaha, and by the time she arrived, the neurosurgeon already had evaluated Connor and determined he would not need surgery for the head injury, she said.
He was sedated and admitted to the intensive care unit, she added.
“I liked the doctor. He was very direct — personable, but direct. He told me like it is,” Slater said. “He told me with the type of injury he had, worse-case scenario is everything gets turned off, and he never wakes up. He said, ‘However, your son was trying to fight me off in the emergency room, so that’s not going to happen.’ ”
Connor went through surgery the following day to install hardware to correct his lower-body injuries. He was extubated a few days after the accident.
“It’s very different when you watch someone come to,” Slater said. “Hollywood gets it all wrong. He did not like being extubated.”
Slater said her son became easily agitated for a while after the accident. He was responsive, but it was unclear what he could hear and he would not respond to verbal commands.
Eight days after the accident, the doctors told Slater they had done everything that could be done from a medical standpoint, and Connor was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation to focus on physical and occupational therapies.
“They were amazing,” Slater said of the caregivers at Madonna. “You could just tell they cared.”
Slater said she and her former husband, Connor’s dad, Eric Slater, worked out a schedule so she could return to work a few days without leaving Connor alone. Their younger son, Tristan, also stayed with Eric during much of that time, she added.
By Independence Day, Connor already had begun repeating some of the words therapists were saying to him. When Slater told him she loved him on July 5, Connor responded with “I love you, too.”
“It was waterworks all around,” she said of the moment.
Slater said Connor’s recovery happened rather quickly after that. He regained his speech and cognition, and by the time he left Madonna, he was reading and doing math at a third grade level.
Connor’s original projected discharge date was Aug. 28, but he got to go home on Aug. 16. By that time, Slater said he was ready to go back to school. He began doing half days at school on Aug. 19. He now is back for full days.
“He wanted to go to school. He wanted to be with his friends. He loves to learn, and he didn’t lose that drive,” Slater said.
Slater said she is grateful for the care her son received and for the understanding of her coworkers at Good Life Counseling, who made it possible for her to spend so much time with her son as he recovered from the accident.
Connor still has a few issues with short-term recall, but Slater said the doctors expect him to make a full recovery. Still, Slater added that she hasn’t allowed him or his brother to do much unless there is constant supervision.
“That’s the hard part. He’s 8. He’s in third grade,” she said. “I was trying to start to give him some freedom, trying to start to trust him and see what I could let him do.”
Slater said she now heavily emphasizes bicycle safety with her children, including the importance of wearing a helmet when riding, as well as the importance of getting off of their bikes and walking them across roads or highways.
“I learned that a child on a bike is not a pedestrian,” she said. “I did not know that until the accident happened.”
Slater said she is grateful that the driver who hit Connor was only doing the speed limit and stopped after the accident, but she also now is imploring drivers to pay closer attention to the environment in which they are driving, especially when the weather is nice.
“We need to be extra diligent as we are driving through towns or residential areas for kids. They don’t always do what they’re supposed to do, and there’s a reason they cut the speed limit way down when you go through the middle of some of these small towns,” she said.