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California and the West

Boy, 5, Hurt in Napa Quake Fights for Life

Aftermath: The child suffered extensive internal injuries when fireplace fell on him. His family says he will need at least five operations.

September 06, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — A 5-year-old boy continued his fight for life Tuesday after being buried by a collapsed family room fireplace--becoming the most severely injured victim of Sunday's magnitude 5.2 Napa Valley earthquake.

Nathan Schank, described by his mother as a spirited 46-pound boy who had started kindergarten only last week, was listed in critical but stable condition Tuesday, suffering from extensive internal injuries, said officials at Children's Hospital Oakland.

The child was buried under about 300 pounds of brick and mortar when the fireplace of his family's rented home collapsed. Nathan and his 7-year-old brother, Adam, had thrown a slumber party to give an older cousin an end-of-summer send-off back to his home in Washington state.

Kimberly Schank said the family knew the fireplace was slightly cracked and had decided not to use it.

"Looking back, I wish we would have pressured the landlord to fix it," she said. "But we never dreamed it would be a concern safety-wise. It was only a little crack--it didn't look like it was moving anywhere. And up until now, Napa has never been known for earthquakes."

Nathan, whose sleeping bag was directly beneath the fireplace when the quake hit at 1:36 a.m. Sunday, suffered a fractured pelvis, a right arm broken in two places, multiple bruises, a damaged spleen and severe internal bleeding, said hospital spokeswoman Debbie McCann.

By Tuesday, the boy had received 14 units of transfused blood--more than two times his entire blood volume, McCann said. "This is an incredible amount to deal with for a 5-year-old boy," she said. "But it could have been worse. He could have had more damage to his organs."

Later this week, doctors will perform the first of at least five operations to replace the boy's intestines. During seven hours of surgery Sunday, surgeons placed a plastic wrap over the exposed intestines as they waited for the potentially deadly swelling to subside.

"I really didn't expect him to live before his first operation," said Dr. James Betts, chief of surgery and director of trauma services at Children's Hospital.

But Nathan's mother Tuesday called her son a fierce fighter. "What he's gone through already would have killed me or my husband," she said. "He's got an amazing spirit."

Officials have said that damage from the earthquake could reach $15 million and estimated that as many as 2,000 buildings would require repair from the early-morning jolt that injured 40 people across California's wine country, 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The quake marks the first major test of the state's earthquake insurance program, a $7.5-billion umbrella established after the devastating Northridge temblor in 1994.

Nearly 100 calls had come in to the state's bigger insurers--State Farm, Allstate and Farmers Insurance--from potential claimants by late Tuesday.

Damage ranged from a few older homes knocked off foundations to scores of residents who had dishes flung out of kitchen cabinets, TVs overturned and cabinets toppled, shattering heirloom china and crystal.

Insurance companies were dispatching adjusters to begin writing up claims, but it probably will be several weeks before anyone has a fix on how much the Napa quake ends up costing in claims.

After the temblor struck, Nathan's parents found the boy buried under rubble. "It was like somebody knocked over a brick wall with a wrecking crane--and Nathan was underneath it," said the child's grandfather, Delmar Schank.

Nathan was flown to Oakland after officials at Napa's Queen of the Valley Hospital said their CAT scan machine was damaged in the quake and they could not rule out head injuries, Delmar Schank said.

Family members described Nathan as a headstrong boy who liked sports and who often packed a bag to run away from home when things didn't go his way. As a kindergartner, he was an ambitious student who recently challenged a teacher for not offering what he thought was a well-deserved gold star for good behavior.

"As his mom picked him up from school, he ran back inside and confronted the teacher," said his grandfather. "He said 'I was good boy, I deserve that gold star.' And he got it. He's that type of kid, always has been."

Nathan's parents kept vigil over his bedside Tuesday and took a call from Gov. Gray Davis. They know that Nathan will need at least a month in the hospital and that his situation remains grave.

"He could have complications from his crushed hip--he might walk with a limp or even be crippled, we're not sure," his grandfather said. "It's a guessing game, only God knows. At times you get that horrible feeling that something could go amiss and we could still lose him."

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Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this story.

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