KENNEWICK — Justin Kevan thanks his buddies, God, cell phones and a whole bunch of medical people for not losing his right arm in a duck hunting accident three weeks ago.
The 15-year-old Kennewick High student and four classmates had gone to shoot mallards near Madame Dorian Park at Wallula Junction on Dec. 30.
Kevan and Austin Meyer, 16, were in their blind when Kevan spotted a group of birds flying near and sat down and put the duck call to his lips.
"I was quacking," Kevan recalled.
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At that moment, Meyer placed his 12-gauge shotgun between them, just below Kevan's extended right arm and hand that held the duck call.
A deafening blast followed almost immediately.
"My ears were ringing so bad I couldn't hear Meyer, who mouthed: 'You weren't hit were you?' " Kevan said.
But a torn jacket and the fact that his right arm flopped down as Kevan stood up told him the shotgun load had ripped through his upper arm, shattering the bone.
He was bleeding heavily.
The day had been a total success to that point.
With 17 birds bagged by early afternoon, Kevan had texted his father, Jason Kevan, only 14 minutes earlier that all was going really well.
But now, the five teens, aged 15-17, were in a crisis with no adult around to help.
Kyle Sittman, 15, was in another blind nearby with Kayden Julian, 16, and Rick Clark, 17, when the shot rang out.
"I honestly thought he was just shooting at ducks," Sittman said.
But when Kevan came out into the open with his injured arm hanging and began walking toward Clark's pickup at the top of the hill, the young hunters realized something was very wrong.
Clark ran to Kevan's side, yelling to Julian to get on his cell phone for help.
"My aunt, who is an ob/gyn nurse in California, was the first thing to pop into my head," Julian said.
As Julian was getting a quick lesson on applying first aid from his aunt, Clark used his cell phone to call 911.
Within minutes, Julian and Clark were telling Meyer to take off his T-shirt and wrap it around the jagged wound, applying pressure to reduce bleeding.
Sittman was worried about blood loss and if Kevan could die, while Clark, seeing that Kevan was trying to see how bad the wound was, decided it would be better to distract him. He moved to Kevan's left side and tried to keep him focused on him -- not his wound -- and listening to him.
Clark was the only member of the group with first-aid training, and had completed a refresher course within the previous year.
The blast of birdshot blew the humerus bone in half and severed a nerve, though it narrowly missed the artery. Luckily the gun muzzle was so close that there wasn't much spread in the shotgun pellets, which barely missed Kevan's head.
Even with assistance, Kevan wasn't going to reach the truck.
"I got dizzy. I needed to sit down," he recalled.
Clark, who kept cell phone contact with the 911 dispatcher, told his friend to sit down on a log and wait. Help was on the way.
Meanwhile, Julian started calling parents, first Kevan's father, Jason, who was at work in the Hanford area, and then Kevan's mother, Kristi, at the family home in south Kennewick.
Clark said the first medical help, which came from Pasco, arrived 25 minutes after he made the 911 call, shortly after 1:30 p.m., and Kristi Kevan wasn't far behind.
Kevan's first stop was at Kadlec Medical Center followed by an air ambulance flight to Harborview Medical Center with his mother along.
Two separate surgeries were necessary. One was to clean the wound and repair the bone, and the other was to reposition the severed nerve ends so they can grow back together. He now has a metal plate screwed permanently onto his bone.
"It's my airport metal detector detector," he joked.
Kevan was released from the hospital five days after the shooting.
"It'll be a full recovery once the nerve is restored," Jason Kevan said.
But that will be a while, as he said doctors said the nerve grows about one millimeter a day and there were a couple of inches damaged.
Recalling the events three weeks later, Meyer said he was in disbelief at first.
"I was freaking out. But something, it must have been God, kicked me into gear. I told myself, 'I have to be helping my buddy.' God was with us that day, I know it," he said.
The five boys still are friends despite a tragedy that could have separated them. They got together recently after Kevan came home from the hospital to present a special trophy to him.
"We've had this joke, that if you do something that is a dare or hard, like going out into a pond to retrieve a duck, you go do it hard (not reluctantly)," Clark said. "So we got him a trophy with a plaque that says 'Justin Kevan, hard for life.' "
"I don't know if they'll let me hunt with them again, but this has brought us closer," Meyer said.
* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; email@example.com