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Search ends, but worries continue

Michael Kloster's family spent hours trying to find him. Once they did, the ordeal wasn't over.

September 15, 2008|Rong-Gong Lin II and Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writers

When Michael Kloster is conscious, he thrashes about his hospital bed in wrenching pain.

When he's drugged, his pain eases but that of his family intensifies.

Lost in a fog of medication and muzzled by the mask of a ventilator breathing for him, the 48-year-old with a severed pancreas, damaged spleen, lacerated liver and broken ribs can't assure his family that he'll overcome the critical injuries suffered in the Metrolink train crash.

"No parent wants to see him like that. It's so terribly, terribly frustrating," Barbara Kloster, 72, lamented as she embarked on what would be a three-day ordeal waiting for word that her son would make it.

Ed and Barbara Kloster were at their grandson's football game in Valencia on Friday evening when her cellphone rang.

"Get home," a family friend told her.

Frightened, she made another call and learned of the collision that would send them on a harrowing search through hospitals and an agony of days measured by the whirs and gasps of life-support equipment.

The Klosters flew out of the football stands and into their cars, a grandson helping Barbara and her scooter chair into their red Honda.

"We just completely panicked," the mother recalled.

Mike's family knew he was on the train that had crashed. A sound engineer at Ascent Media in Burbank, he had called his wife, Christi, after leaving work to say he was bound for home. Metrolink 111 was his regular conveyance to Moorpark, where he would arrive at 4:45 p.m. and go home to Christi, 11-year-old son Michael and daughter Sophia, 7.

Rushing from the junior varsity football game, the family split up -- some heading to West Hills Hospital & Medical Center while Ed and Barbara, who were so upset that they got lost leaving Valencia, drove to Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

They found confusion. Mike wasn't there, and no one knew where he'd been taken.

A Kloster grandson kept calling Uncle Mike's cellphone. It would ring and ring. Finally, a woman answered.

She said Mike was still at the triage site. He was awake and talking but in pain. She promised to stay with him until he was evacuated.

By the time he was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, the family had learned from other friends that Mike's injuries were extensive. Dave Dolnick, a co-worker from Ascent who makes the commute with him, had tried to drag his immobilized friend from beneath a table in the train's third car, to no avail, before heeding shouts to flee because fire was about to engulf the compartment. Dolnick found Mike in the triage area and stayed with him until the helicopter arrived to transport him.

"He's in surgery," Mike's anxious mother said four hours after the accident. "We don't know anything."

Slowed and breathless from a recent bout with lung cancer, Barbara sat in a wheelchair in the hospital atrium waiting room, impatient for news.

"We're all trying to soothe each other," she sighed.

Waiting out the surgery, the Klosters gathered around a table. They weren't alone. Families of other injured Metrolink passengers clustered nearby, maintaining their own vigils.

Some held hands. Others sat, wide-eyed and in shock. Hushed tones and the occasional sob broke the late-night hospital silence.

If there was any comfort, it was that Mike was in good hands. "It's the best hospital in the country," Ed reminded his wife confidently.

"I keep telling myself that," agreed Barbara, who was treated there in April.

Ed brought a turkey sandwich from the hospital relief services, but Barbara couldn't face it.

"How can you guys eat?" she wondered aloud. "My throat is so closed. I can't even drink any water."

She didn't want to leave the waiting room, even to use the restroom.

"I keep thinking at any minute, they're going to come down" with news, she said.

Five hours after the impact blasted Kloster's organs, doctors had some information.

"Oh, my God," sighed a tearful Christi, leaning forward in a chair next to her mother-in-law.

"This is torture," Barbara said.

Initial surgery was complete but Mike would need more. The internal bleeding seemed under control, and he was headed for intensive care.

Someone asked if his condition was life-threatening.

"This is very serious," a doctor replied. "Yes."

Barbara bent her head and reached for the hand of her daughter.

It was a long, restless night for the family that greeted the dawn Saturday, bleary-eyed, from hours spent huddled at the hospital.

"They're optimistic because he made it through the night. He has a lot of internal injuries -- they had to open him up just to stabilize him," Barbara, wrapped in a white sweater, reported wearily after the all-night vigil. "All we can do is pray."

During a brief visit with family Saturday, Mike was at times lucid. To queries about how he was feeling and what he remembered, he could nod affirmations. The last thing he remembered was being on the train, his mother said. He had no memory of the impact.

But he was clearly in pain and thrashing about so much that doctors had him sedated.

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