Two months ago, on foreign soil nonetheless, former President Barrack Obama gave a speech wherein he claimed, “the future does not belong to strong men.” He also stated that we were nations of immigrants and implied that compassion and caring were incompatible with being strong.
The future of our country, as did our past, belongs to strong men and strong women. To counterpoint Obama’s claims about our nation’s future and fortitude, one should examine our nation’s history (a nation of laws), to include its scars and lessons learned, and specifically look at the history of Boulder City.
Physical strength, coupled with moral and spiritual courage, have built a constitutional republic that dwarfs other nations’ freedoms and quality of life. Boulder City, the town that built Hoover Dam, and the dam itself, are but quick glimpses into our collective strength and desire to be free and compassionate people.
A first-class example of courageous strength, caring and compassion is Boulder City’s own Brianne Perkins, daughter of Jim and Ruby Perkins.
On Easter Sunday in 2009, Brianne and her fiancé were en route to Richfield, Utah, to visit her maternal grandfather, who was in the hospital. They were upbeat and happy. Both were graduating from Southern Utah University the next month and both had been accepted into law school.
A vehicle traveling ahead of them overturned several times in the snowy weather. Brianne and her fiancé stopped to assist. As she was walking to the overturned vehicle, a hydroplaning SUV lost control and struck her. The elderly couple in the overturned vehicle sustained minor injuries.
Brianne’s injuries were catastrophic: a traumatic brain injury with cranial bleeding; a lacerated liver nearly cut in half; and all four major arteries that feed the brain, carotids and vertebral, were stretched to the point of shredding.
A medical helicopter transported her to Sevier Valley Medical Center, the same hospital her grandfather, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, was hospitalized.
The emergency room staff stabilized Brianne, realized they were not equipped to handle her injuries and returned her to the helicopter. Brianne’s grandparents were able to accompany her as she was being placed aboard the helicopter for her flight to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah.
Brianne remained in intensive care for over a month. Her sister, Tessie, walked in her place at graduation and accepted her diploma and SUU academic awards: summa cum laude and criminal justice student of the year.
Two weeks later, a medical plane transported Brianne to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. A talented vascular surgeon was able to repair some of the damage. A speech therapist told Ruby her daughter would never be able to go back to school. I am sure that Ruby displayed a rare red-headed moment when she responded, “Do not tell us what our child won’t do. You have no idea what she is capable of.”
After more than three months of specialized rehabilitation, she was sent home. The homecoming was bittersweet. Brianne could not hold her head upright; with 15 fractured vertebrae, she was paralyzed from the neck down. If anyone in the Perkins family was discouraged, no one noticed — probably because of their lineage of selfless service and valor.
In addition to her grandfather, Earvan Edgar Coburn, a Korean War veteran, Brianne’s father is a retired Clark County Fire Department firefighter and paramedic. He is a hero several times over in his own right. In 1980 he saved several lives over many hours during the 1980 MGM fire in Las Vegas.
Ruby is the Boulder City Police Department supervisor for dispatch, records and evidence. She was a senior dispatcher in 2009 when Brianne came home. It was Ruby’s birthday, and there was much to celebrate; afterwards, there was much work to do.
The family emptied their living room and converted it into a gym for Brianne’s rehabilitation. High school friends came over to help Ruby with Brianne’s physical therapy and strength conditioning. Brianne was able to use a hand-controlled wheelchair within a month. She slowly became stronger and started law school.
Brianne attended night classes so Ruby could help her after work. Later on, Ruby or Jim would accompany her to daytime classes. When Ruby’s work schedule became too hectic, another dispatcher, Lauren Clift, on her own time, accompanied Brianne to class.
A weaker person would have given up years ago. However, no one inside the Perkins family and their circle of friends ever entertained the thought of giving up.
On May 12, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law awarded Brianne Alana Perkins, esquire, the degree of Juris Doctor.
Later that evening, family, some from as far away as Kentucky and Oregon, along with friends, some from Utah, crowded into the Elaine K. Smith Center in Boulder City. I was honored to be there; I don’t think that speech therapist was in attendance.
This was more than a law school graduation after-party. This event was a celebration of strength and perseverance, a celebration of family and friends, and a celebration of faith and hope.
When Brianne summoned all her strength toward the end of her special day, she addressed the crowd of over 125 people. She received a standing ovation; there was not a dry eye in the building. Brianne’s strength, courage and faith, coupled with the love of her family and friends, laid the foundation for her success as a law school graduate.
U.S. Navy Boiler Technician 3rd Class Earvan Edgar Coburn, Brianne’s grandpa, who passed in 2013, was no doubt smiling down from heaven’s portal.
Dan Jennings can be reached at email@example.com.