Shortly before his death in a Capital Beltway traffic accident three weeks ago today, Kevin A. Rogers told his mother, who is a nurse, how impressed he was with Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, where he was working as an electrician.
"He said, 'Hey, Mom, you know what? They have their own helicopter!' " said Joanne Rogers. "I remember he was impressed at how quickly people who were badly injured got into the hospital."
But there was no helicopter available in Maryland when he needed one Oct. 4. Mr. Rogers had the misfortune of being seriously injured between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. at a time when the state's medevac helicopters were grounded to balance the budget. Medevac flights were restored Oct. 16 after a compromise between the governor and the legislature on spending cuts.
Her grief turned to hurt and anger, Mrs. Rogers put together packets of photocopies of two newspaper articles and a letter she wrote to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and is distributing them to friends and neighbors.
"I want to let people know that our government chose to take away this most important service. And that shouldn't be," she said. "I'm trying to channel my anger into doing what I'm doing and letting people know the circumstances under which Kevin died. And that this shouldn't happen to anybody, not just because it's my son."
Mrs. Rogers and her husband, Keith, learned about the delay in their son's treatment from a newspaper account in which the surgeon who operated on Mr. Rogers fumed about the fact that his patient was transported by ambulance rather than helicopter. The surgeon said he may have been able to save Mr. Rogers' life if Mr. Rogers had arrived at the hospital sooner.
"I know for sure I would have had a lot better chance if he had come in earlier," said Dr. Luat Duckett, a trauma surgeon who briefly revived Mr. Rogers before he died at 10 a.m. "It was a miracle that we were able to bring him back. That's why if there were any chance I could have gotten him earlier, he might be alive."
Mrs. Rogers has a special insight into what happened to her son because of her more than 30 years' experience as a nurse, which includes extensive work in emergency rooms.
"I've worked all these years helping to save lives, and so I fully understand what the paper says and what Dr. Duckett is saying, too. I feel that everything wasn't given to Kevin when he needed it," she said.
Five days after her son's death, she wrote a letter to Governor Schaefer asking him to restore medevac service in the early morning hours. "Those hours may seem to be the least used, but before this neglect can cause more loss of life, please, please reconsider the issue," she wrote.
Governor Schaefer's press secretary, Frank M. Traynor, said yesterday that the office was preparing a letter to Mrs. Rogers in response.
"From the governor's perspective, who did see this letter, he sympathizes with Mrs. Rogers' loss of her son and thinks that it's very unfortunate that anyone lose their life in a traffic accident, and is troubled by the fact that she is tying these two things together," Mr. Traynor said.
He added that the governor's order to ground the medevac helicopters had not been finalized during the two weeks when they were grounded. "I don't know why the unit was grounded before any budget action was taken," he said.
The decision to ground the helicopters was made after the state police psychologist interviewed the pilots and medics whose jobs had been terminated and advised the aviation division commander that their emotional state could pose a safety hazard, said state police spokesman Johnny L. Hughes.
Mrs. Rogers described her son, the youngest of three children, ++ as a "big, strapping guy" who "had no fear." He had trouble with school and dropped out after the 10th grade, but seemed to find himself after he agreed to regularly drive an older friend, who was an electrician, to work after the man lost his driver's license. Mr. Rogers began as an electrician's helper and eventually became a skilled electrician.
The Rogers' home near Andrews Air Force Base is filled with examples of their son's handiwork. He built the deck in the back yard and rewired and installed the antique light fixtures his mother found at a local flea market.
"In almost every room of this house, we're reminded of Kevin," said his father, Keith Rogers.
Mr. Rogers had a 5-year-old son from his first marriage, Kevin Jr., who until the accident stayed with his grandparents during the week. He now lives with his mother in Carroll County. Mr. Rogers lived in Mitchellville near Bowie with his wife, Maureen, whom he married in January, and her son, Thaddeus.
Two months ago, Mr. Rogers began paying $20 a week to ride to work with a 21-year-old co-worker, David A. Pometto. "It allowed his wife to have the use of the car. And we thought it was a good deal," Mrs. Rogers said.