|Pat Murray and Juan Carlos Vinolo|
Pat Murray has spent nearly a decade managing a stock room containing everything from exercise mats to wheelchairs at the Health Science Lab for the Allied Health Nursing Program at Grossmont College. But it wasn’t until after a suspected drunken driver last summer slammed into a group of bicyclists on San Diego’s Fiesta Island that Murray fully realized the impact of her work.
The motorist crashed her car into eight cyclists. Murray, who was pedaling behind the victims, has become close friends with the most critically injured, Juan Carlos Viñolo, who suffered five crushed vertebrae, collapsed lungs, broken ribs and a lacerated spleen. After extensive rehabilitation and a stay in the hospital that stretched for more than 100 days, Viñolo now uses a wheelchair.
“I’m pretty much a lay person who sets up labs for the nursing program and occupational therapy courses at Grossmont College,” Murray said. “Wheelchairs. Standing frames. Suctioning for tracheotomies. This incident has given me a greater understanding of what our students are going to go out and do.”
For example, Murray said, Viñolo explained to her how difficult it felt to be suctioned for his tracheotomy. She said it helped her understand that the procedure needs to be done quickly because the patient is literally holding their breath.
It was during Viñolo’s long road to recovery at the UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest that Murray saw firsthand how the tools she prepares for Grossmont College students are being put to use daily to save lives and rehabilitate the injured.
“Everything that I saw and watched his caregivers using with him is part of the instructional curriculum here. And some of what we have is pretty new technology. The experience has had a profound impact, and it’s really motivated me even more.”
Not that Murray needed much motivation. Murray is well known at Grossmont College for her volunteer spirit, and her work in 2012 earned her the title of Classified Employee of the Year for the state community college system. She was selected from among 30,000 community college classified employees after Debbie Yaddow, Dean of Allied Health and Nursing at Grossmont College, nominated her for the award. Among the contributions Yaddow noted was Murray’s efforts in coordinating the Students of Note awards, helping with the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca College’s gala fundraiser, and serving as leader for a youth group that organizes charitable activities.
Murray was hired as a nursing department secretary in 1999, and immediately began developing ways to use technology to streamline paperwork. A few years later, she became a student services specialist in the Extended Opportunities Programs and Services office. She has been a Health Science Lab technician since 2007.
Nothing prepared her for what started out as a routine, late Tuesday afternoon ride with a group of other bicyclists on Aug. 11, 2014. The collision sent Viñolo onto the roof of the car, which was going the wrong way on a one-way road popular with joggers and bicyclists.
“I wasn’t near the front, so I didn’t see the collision, but when I got there, I was like, `Oh, holy cow.’ I went up to the front, and he was saying he couldn’t feel his legs. I was just talking to him, trying to calm him down.
“At that moment, I did not know him,” Murray said. “All I knew is he was one of the guys we rode with and that he had two kids.”
That changed after Murray wanted to follow up with Viñolo to offer him support and see how he was doing. Since connecting with him through social networking, Murray and Viñolo have become friends, and she found herself at the hospital, offering encouragement, once or twice a week.
“I’ve come to understand occupational therapy to a much greater extent than I did before,” Murray said.
Viñolo also spoke highly of Murray and the impact she has had on his life. He also said he would be receptive to talking to students to help them get a perspective they might not otherwise receive.
“It would be the least I could do for Pat after all she’s done for me,” Viñolo said. “Her friendship means a lot. She’s been very supportive.”
She also has come to understand how people deal with their disabilities. She is more aware of the challenges they face. More cognizant of how heavy the doors on a bathroom stall can be for a person using a wheelchair. More in tune with how the disabled map out pathways on campus.
Today, Vinolo is back riding, albeit on a new hand cycle from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and taking part in various charity events.
“Despite the tragedy, this has all brought me such inspiration and courage to my life and to my job,” Murray said. “It’s definitely changed me.”