It was 6 a.m. on December 13, 2019, and Kevin Murphy, a retired Oakland police officer, was driving north on State Route 29 just outside of Vallejo.
Murphy, 50, was on his way to Napa Valley College for a final exam in the paramedic program. When traffic slowed, a car barreled into him from behind, sending him into a semitruck, crushing his body and his SUV like a soda can.
The force fractured his left femur and shattered his right, broke his left tibia and gave him a compound ankle facture. It also shattered his pelvis and broke his elbow and sternum. He was bleeding from internal and external injuries. A lot.
“It took the paramedics and fire department 90 minutes to cut me out,” Murphy said. “I was awake the whole time, and I thought if I closed my eyes, I would die. I got 10 liters of blood in the emergency room and stopped breathing.”
After 6 surgeries and 18 days in Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center, Murphy came home, lying on his back, unable to move.
“Sidney never took any excuses, never let me dog it, or not give my all.”
“I couldn’t move, I couldn’t walk, I was stuck on my back, and that’s when I met Sidney Soberon,” Murphy said of the Kaiser Permanente Home Health physical therapist who, over 2 months, would help him sit up, get into a wheelchair, use crutches, and eventually start walking.
When Soberon reviewed Murphy’s case before his first visit, he knew it was going to be a challenge.
“As far as musculoskeletal injuries go, I had never seen anyone hurt that bad,” Soberon said.
Real-time communication with Murphy’s surgeons and doctors, coordination with home health nurses and occupational therapists, and timely access to equipment were all key to Murphy’s progress, said Soberon.
But there was something more.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Murphy. “I was depressed, and very humbled. But Sidney never took any excuses, never let me dog it or not give my all. His attitude and personality brought out the best in me. When I was down and thinking I would never be able to walk, he never let me give in to that.”
Soberon said he drew on his own life experiences as a dad, a son, a physical therapist, and a college football player to “coach him up,” so that Murphy could see his potential for recovery. Murphy’s family was also right there with him, offering encouragement and support.
“‘Coaching up’ means if someone, say a patient or an athlete or a kid, is feeling negative, you teach them to redirect their thoughts,” Soberon said. “If they make a mistake, you point out what it taught them. I learned a lot of that from my parents and from recovering from my own football injuries. It’s not like I pushed him that hard, I just reminded him what his goals were in the time frame we had before things in his body could freeze up.”
Today, Murphy no longer uses the walker he relied on for the last several months and is moving around on his own with the help of a brace on his lower left leg. He hopes to one day start jogging again.
In addition to physical therapy, Soberon and Murphy also credit Murphy’s wife and son, who made sure he fought to keep going when he felt like his life was destroyed.
“Even though he had a lot of pretty bad injuries, together we kept telling him what his potential was and that his prognosis was pretty good,” Soberon said.
For Murphy, that made all the difference in the world.
“I don’t really have the words to say, ‘thank you.’”