Haevyn Romero was driving her 9-year-old brother, Jace Garcia, home from basketball practice on Dec. 15 to help out her mother, who'd recently undergone surgery and couldn't drive her son that day.
As she neared the King Soopers roughly 3 miles from their Castle Rock home, Romero hit gravel.
The vehicle pulled toward the roadside and a steep ravine. As she tried to correct it, they entered the other lane and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle.
The 16-year-old and her brother were rushed to Skyridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.
She began healing from minor fractures and was released two days later.
Jace's condition looked grimmer.
He sustained internal and spinal injuries, ultimately getting airlifted to Children's Hospital in Aurora. First, doctors operated on his abdominal organs. Then they addressed his spinal injury.
“They had told us initially that he probably wouldn't walk again,” said the children's mother, Rianna Abeyta.
Jace excelled in a 12-week rehab program in half the time, she said, despite the now 10-year-old being paralyzed from the waist down in the accident.
Abeyta and her partner, Johnathan Tews, said Romero never left her brother's side.
An independent life
The couple and their five children learned to help Jace with everyday tasks. They purchased a new home in a ranch-style layout to help Jace get around, but it still presented challenges.
With no ramp, they carried him on their backs between their cars and the house. They lifted him in and out of the bathtub. They watched him struggle to maneuver his wheelchair on their thick carpet.
While in the hospital, the family learned through a friend of the Home Builders Foundation, a 25-year-old nonprofit that provides financial aid to families in similar circumstances and recruits volunteers in the home-building industry to make ADA modifications.
“Our hope is that they can get back to what they love, what makes them tick,” said Beth Forbes, executive director of the Home Builders Foundation, based in Centennial. They also ensure all work be done at no cost to the families they serve.
“A lot of us are parents ourselves,” Forbes said. “We really resonated with this family.”
The family applied in March, was accepted to the program, and on Aug. 10 celebrated the end of a $20,000 project that eliminated most of the challenges for Garcia in their house.
Darrell Hensley is the vice president of purchasing for KB Home, which volunteered time, resources and manpower to the project. The homebuilding company operates in seven states and from the Denver Tech Center.
He said the changes made throughout the home were all about accessibility. They removed the carpet and replaced it with hardwoods. They constructed a ramp in the garage. They widened doors by several inches so Jace could easily get into rooms he needed to.
They took out the tub and replaced it with a roll-in shower, also installing a sink he can slide his wheelchair under, meaning he no longer needs help brushing his teeth.
For her son, who was always self-sufficient, the project restored his independence, Abeyta said.
“It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to help out a person that's found themselves in such a tragic situation,” Hensley said. “We were happy to do it.”
The project provides relief to Jace and his family members, Forbes said, and hopefully allows them to refocus on what they enjoy in life.
Grateful to the community
Romero struggles to speak about the accident today, wiping tears from her eyes listening to her mother and Tews recount the incident.
“She's a trooper,” Tews said of Romero. “There's emotional scarring and mental stuff but she has been there for Jace through and through.”
Romero took shifts staying the night with her brother when he was in the hospital, helping ensure he never slept alone. Jace also maintained strong spirits throughout surgery, rehab and while adjusting to life in a wheelchair.
“One thing that has made this thing so much easier,” Tews said, “is Jace's outlook on this whole thing. It's about amazing as could possibly be.”
Somehow, the tragedy brought Jace out of his shell, the couple said. He speaks his mind and has grown more playful with the family. Overall, the family rallied together as a unit.
Mostly, they wanted to thank the community for its support following the accident. The family came home to fresh-cooked meals. They received donations and gift cards in the mail. First responders who worked the accident still text Abeyta to check in on Jace.
Tews said Castle Rock has always come together in times of need, but if felt surreal “to be on the receiving end of that.”
“We just can't believe how big Castle Rock is, that they still took time out of their day to reach out to us,” Abeyta said. “Our hearts are full.”