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Independence Day Tragedy Requires Dependence on God

Heading to the marina, coastal South Carolina game wardens Tommy Buckhannon and Dale Tanner knew it’d be a busy day on the water.

“We had an incoming tide, coupled with the inlet it makes for choppy waters,” said Officer Buckhannon. “Lots of people on boats, lot of people on jet skis, very congested.”

Then, after two hours patrolling the waterways, Officer Buckhannon spotted something about 150 yards away.   

“I looked up and said, Dale is that a body? And he turned at the same time and said “yes.” 
Officer Buckhannon said, “He was face down.”  

They pulled up to find a stranded jet ski, and a young man in his early twenties.  Another jet skier had also stopped and helped them pull the victim into the patrol boat. There were obvious signs of head trauma.

“Just looking at him, he was bad off.  He was very serious,” said Officer Buckhannon.  “He had blood coming out of his ears, he had blood coming out of his nose, had a pulse, but his breathing was extremely labored.”

Officer Buckhannon tended to the young man as Officer Tanner navigated through the heavy holiday boat traffic.  

“Time is not on our side,” said Officer Buckhannon. “Both Dale and I were praying. I remember calling for a helicopter, and I knew it was going to take that to get him where he needed to be at the trauma center.”

The jet skier took off toward the boats clustered near Bird Island, North Carolina, looking for someone who knew the victim.  All he had was a last name pulled from the registration number on the victim’s jet ski . . . Hollingsworth.

“And all of a sudden, this guy comes up and he says, 'Hollingsworth, Hollingsworth, yellow ski, yellow ski!'" said Vonda Hollingsworth.

Mark and Vonda Hollingsworth, who’d been bringing their family to Bird Island for years, knew at once it was their 22-year-old son, Kyle.

Mark Hollingsworth said, “He looked at me, shook his head, and said 'It’s bad.' And that’s when it hit me. First thing I said is, 'Lord, help me!'”

Vonda immediately jumped on the back of the man’s jet ski.

“I said, 'Take me, take me!'"

As Mark and the rest of the family made their way to the marina, Vonda and the jet ski driver sped towards the docks, where EMS was waiting.

“I was thinking it's going to be okay because Kyle's such a daredevil and he just bounces back from everything,” said Vonda.

They arrived in time to see Kyle loaded onto the helicopter.

“I saw the shorts that he was wearing, and I could tell he wasn't conscious. And so, at that moment I knew it was Kyle and I knew it was bad. And I heard the helicopter lift off,” said Vonda. “I could not form the words of a good prayer. All I could say was, "Oh God! Oh God.! And I knew it was completely out of my hands.”

Waiting for Kyle’s arrival, trauma surgeon Dr. Antonio Pepe and his team got to work.  Initial reports were not promising, and they didn’t know how long he’d been in the water.

“At the time of assessing Kyle it was a matter of life or death,” said Dr. Pepe. “Does he have a brain injury?  And the second one and the most pressing one, was the degree of anoxia he may have sustained from a drowning in this case, that would make the recovery much less promising.”

A CATSCAN confirmed Kyle had an epidural hematoma, or bleeding around the brain.  Immediately, doctors took Kyle into surgery to implant a device in his skull to monitor brain pressure.  If it got too high, they would have to open up his skull.  Kyle was in ICU in a medically induced coma by the time his family arrived.  

Vonda said, “Dr. Pepe was like let's just see how this goes. He's really strong. You know, I feel optimistic he's going to wake up."

And if he did wake up, he could have any number of neurological issues.  So, the Hollingsworth’s reached out to friends and family to pray.

“Everyone, everyone was praying. Kyle's high school football coach showed up at the hospital and he started the Mississippi prayer chain. And Kyle had kids that he graduated with that had gone to different schools. And it was just so far reaching,” said Vonda. 

Five days after Kyle was admitted, the swelling on his brain subsided.  Doctors removed Kyle’s monitoring device, and weaned him off medication, but he still didn’t wake up. After another four days of prayer and waiting…

“The head nurse came to me and said, 'Mrs. Hollingsworth, your son, pulled the restraints up, twisted himself and was off the bed in a prayer position on his knees, like this.' And I said, 'that's my boy. that's my boy.' He has so much life in him, and when that happened, I knew at that moment that God was going to pull him through this. I had no doubt,” said Vonda.

“He regained consciousness,” said Dr. Pepe. “He was starting to respond, starting to move, which is a great prognostic indicator once you have neurological recovery in a very early time frame.”

Kyle remembers nothing of the accident, and not much of his hospital stay.  What he does remember is meeting Officers Buckhannon and Tanner the day of his discharge – the two men who, through courage and God’s providence, helped save his life.  

Kyle said, “I got up and shook their hand and wanted to tell them 'thank you.' And I had to show them, you know, how appreciative I was of them.”

“I’d say it was an emotional moment,” said Officer Buckhannon. “He reached out under his own strength and shook my hand and he mouthed, thank you. It was very gratifying.”

Dr. Pepe said, “There’s so many factors that could have gone wrong in this situation, but Kyle didn’t meet any resistance the whole way. He just came straight through and this is what we hope for.”

Today, Kyle is back out on the water with his family. While he might take things a little easier, he’s still “living the life” God has given him.

“He is my God and my Savior and there's not a day that goes by that I don't wake up and thank him, even when I take the first breath of the day,” said Kyle.

Mark said, “It was all prayers and the good Lord wanting him to tell his story to somebody.”

“No matter what happened, God deserved that glory because He intervened in so many ways for Kyle,” said Vonda.

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