Scare of a lifetime

9 Sep 2002 | Sgt. Pamela A. Kershaw

"The most terrifying thing I've ever experienced in the world was laying there bleeding to death, wondering if I would ever get to see my son again," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy W. Wharton.

After visiting his Marine Option Instructor at the University of Kansas, newly promoted Staff Sgt. Wharton hopped on his 2002 American Classic Edition 750 Honda Shadow motorcycle. With seven years in the Corps, Wharton was accepted into the Marine Enlisted Commissioning and Education Program and was headed from Maintenance Bn to the MECEP preparatory course in San Diego.

The ride from the university to Oswega, Kan., would be a 90-minute ride that would change Wharton's life forever. 

"The screech of the truck coming to a stop is the last thing I remember," said the 26-year-old Wharton. "The truck had almost missed his left turn as I was getting ready to pass him. I grabbed the brakes and the rear wheel on my bike locked, sliding me into the back of the truck sideways. My leg was in-between the bike and the truck, and it was destroyed on impact. After hitting the truck, I took out a stop sign. The blunt force to my chest ruptured my spleen into three different pieces. I don't remember a whole lot after that, which is a good thing since I have never been so scared in my entire life. I wasn't even sure that I wanted to live because it hurt so badly.  I have about seven different 10-second spans as I came in and out of consciousness. One of the memories that I do have is of the nurse who saved my life, a blond girl named Julie. When I woke up on the side of the road, she was leaning over trying to stabilize me. She had called the ambulance from her cell phone and called the emergency room to get them ready. Thanks to Julie, they even had the right blood type standing by. She had gotten it off my military identification card.

"I took 18 units of blood over the next two days. As soon as I arrived in the hospital, they found I had lost two-thirds of the blood in my body. I was opened up for exploratory surgery so the doctors could figure out why I was bleeding to death. Everybody thought it was pretty amazing I was alive, and I guess I was too.

"They ended up taking out my spleen, leaving me with a nasty scar from my pubic bone to my sternum. My leg took three surgeries to put back together. I had a compound fracture that left bone sticking out the side of my thigh while my leg was folded up behind my back. Somewhere on the road, there is two inches of my bone, I remember laying on it on the side of the road. In all the tumbling, I received an impact on the bottom of my knee that tore away the skin and broke everything. I have five screws and a three-quarter inch titanium bar in my femur and a titanium 'L' bracket with eight screws in my knee. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for three weeks before I was released," said an emotional Wharton.

"Everyday now is a battle. I go to therapy every day and work in the pool. It's hard not to be depressed about all this; it's something I think about all the time, I even dream about it. It helps that I am here in Wichita [Kansas]. I was born here, and all my family is here. I'm told I have a chance at a full recovery. It's a long, hard road to go down but not an impossible one. I have a shot at staying in the Corps and maybe applying for the MECEP program again. It's funny how, in a fraction of a second, someone can go from having everything to wondering if they're going to ever be able to walk without a limp," said Wharton.

Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents are a common occurrence for Camp Lejeune Marines. According to the traffic division, this year alone there have been 10 motorcycle accidents since January, three of which were fatal.

The last accident involving a motorcycle was in August. A private first class from Transportation Support Battalion stole a motorcycle in Morehead City. Trying to evade police, the Marine wrecked the motorcycle and was taken to the hospital. Treated only for scrapes and bruises he  was taken to Carteret County jail where he was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors.

Marine Forces Atlantic and II Marine Expeditionary Force are tightening down on the enforcement of Marine Corps Order P5100.19E, Marine Corps Traffic Safety program. They are ensuring Marines have received a rider or operator safety course before driving a motorcycle, said Maj. Edward C. Gardiner, II MEF Safety. After conducting a study, II MEF found that more than 700 motorcycle operators on this base had not attended any type of safety course; a problem Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is in the process of rectifying, said Gardiner.

Wharton agrees with the need for safety training.

"I've had all the classes in the world and thanks to them always drove defensively on my motorcycle," said Wharton.

"I learned two big lessons out of this accident. Number one is that it doesn't have to be your mistake; you can pay for a complete stranger's mistake as much as your own. Number two is to never take anything for granted. Something as simple as walking to the fridge for a beer is a chore now,? said Wharton.

Wharton is finally walking unassisted without his cane; his progress is eight months ahead of schedule. He merits his recovery to his son Russell.

"He is what really keeps me going," said Wharton.