Joe Wyatt credits a helmet with saving his son’s life.
“He had no head injury, no neck injury. His whole body was wrecked. I mean, he had injuries from here down on his entire left side. Broken pelvis, broken femur. But no head injury,” Joe explained.
On Sept. 23, Joe and Max Wyatt, 5, were coming back from school when they entered a crosswalk at South Owyhee Street and West Kootenai Street.
Joe recalls seeing a van approaching quickly. Before he could comprehend what was happening, Max and his bike disappeared.
“We were in the crosswalk. Both of us. It wasn’t like she was turning. She was just coming straight toward us,” Wyatt said. “And I was just in disbelief that she was approaching us and then horrified when Max just disappeared in front of my face. She just took him. I think about it all the time.”
The driver, identified as Scholastique Twagirayesu, of Boise, has been cited for inattentive driving.
Joe watched his son being dragged across the concrete for about 40 feet before the vehicle stopped.
In a panic, he started screaming for help.
Max was pinned under the van, and Joe said all he could think about was getting his son out. He said four or five guys got to the front of the vehicle and lifted, while Joe yanked Max’s arm to pull him free. Joe still doesn’t know the names of the strangers who helped.
Max was not breathing and Joe recalls looking down at his son’s chest, which was caved in. Joe started resuscitation, and after several harrowing seconds, he felt Max’s heart begin to beat. An ambulance arrived and transported Max and Joe to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
Max’s mother, Courtney, was far away in the Owyhee County rangelands with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, working a prescribed burn.
While in the field at work, her crew received a message to gather due to an emergency call in Boise. Courtney learned that someone in her family was involved in some sort of accident. For a long time she didn’t know whether it was Joe or Max. She said she was terrified and instantly broke down.
Courtney’s managers recognized the severity of the call and flew her to Saint Alphonsus on a BLM helicopter. That took about 45 minutes.
On the flight, Courtney said she got a few texts and finally learned that Max had been hit by a car while biking home from school.
When she arrived, Courtney was informed that Max was severely hurt and in surgery. Due to the severity of his injuries, he needed to be taken to a burn center in Salt Lake City.
For weeks, Max fought for his life and underwent multiple surgeries. He had third-degree burns over 15 percent of his body and needed skin grafts. He had surgeries to repair a collapsed left lung, broken ribs and broken bones in his left leg.
During his time in the hospital, a GoFundMe account was organized and donations poured in from supporters. To date, more than $90,000 has been raised for the family to cover hospital bills.
While Max was recovering, Jimmy Hallyburton — executive director of the Boise Bicycle Project and a friend of the family — rallied the community to address the mayor and city officials about making Boise safer for bicyclists.
Hallyburton launched “The Max: No More Children Hit,” and created unique bracelets that were distributed throughout the community to raise awareness of Max’s condition and create a dialogue about bicycle safety in Boise.
Now, Max’s parents say they are adjusting to the new normal. Max underwent several skin grafts, and treating the wounds properly is essential to avoid infection.
After being in the burn center for months, Max is home in time for the holidays. And he and Joe arrived in Boise to a huge surprise that every child dreams about.
Joe is a smokejumper for the BLM. His crew, the Great Basin Smokejumpers, built a treehouse in the family’s yard, complete with a deck, two stories, and all of the bells and whistles that a 5-year-old boy could want. Max was ecstatic, his father said.