TREMONTON, Box Elder County — The holiday season has brought special feelings of gratitude, peace and healing to the home of Jason and Lisa Summers this year.
Over the past two years, three of their five family members have faced life-threatening situations, and all survived thanks to superb medical care, tremendous community support, great faith and endless prayers.
The most recent adversity came in September when the Summers’ 13-year-old daughter was seriously injured in an auto-pedestrian accident. Yet through a series of faith-promoting events, she is doing well today and on the road to recovery. The Summers family has also been able to forgive and develop an uncommon friendship with the young man responsible for the accident.
As they recounted their story, members of the family counted their blessings.
“We’ve prayed the last couple of years for our family to be closer, and the last two years we’ve had so many things happen,” Lisa Summers said. “Looking back, prayers were answered but not in the ways we anticipated.”
Her husband agreed.
“The blessings we’ve been given, the lessons learned don’t take your family for granted, cherish every day,” Jason Summers said. “These experiences have glued our family a little closer together.”
Trials of ‘preparation’
The Summers family has endured a fair amount of trials in the past two years.
In November 2013, Kolton Summers, the couple’s second child, was taken to the hospital with appendicitis. As medical personnel worked to remove his appendix, the young boy stopped breathing for a short time and had a near-death experience, his parents said. During his extended recovery, Kolton related a powerful spiritual experience to his parents.
“His experience was so profound and beautiful,” Lisa Summers said. “It was overwhelming, and I couldn’t quit crying."
Lisa Summers said it was a faith-promoting experience that prepared her for things to come.
About four months later, the Summers’ third child, Karson Summers, had his appendix removed. While Karson’s procedure was less dramatic, the family was grateful that Jason Summers had recently gained insurance benefits provided by his new employer.
Last June, Jason and Lisa, who are members of the Tremonton 11th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, participated in a handcart pioneer trek. While pulling a handcart in the summer heat, Lisa Summers experienced dehydration and overexertion, which triggered an arrhythmia, a heart condition she didn’t know she had, and caused her to black out.
She was given a priesthood blessing and was rushed to the hospital, where she recovered. Lisa Summers was diagnosed with rheumatic mitral stenosis and congestive heart failure. Many questions remain unanswered as doctors continue to monitor her condition, and future procedures may be necessary, she said.
“They said I was lucky to be alive,” Lisa Summers said. “But we know had I not received a blessing, I would not have lived through the (first) night.”
Nearly two months later, Lisa Summers’ father suffered a massive heart attack while pitching at his grandson’s baseball practice. He almost died three times, but Lisa Summers said medical care and priesthood blessings have kept him alive and that he has been healthy since then.
Around 6 p.m. on Sept. 29, Katelyn Summers was finishing cheer practice at Midland Square in downtown Tremonton. As parents, including Lisa Summers, began arriving to pick up their children, Katelyn and a group of girls prepared to cross Main Street. A Dodge pickup truck going west stopped in the left turn lane, and the driver motioned for the girls to cross the road, Lisa Summers said.
Unfortunately, this meant the girls were temporarily hidden from view to the westbound vehicles in the right lane.
At that moment, Juan Arteaga, 20, was traveling west in a black Chevy Cruze. He remembers being a little blinded by the low setting sun, and by the time he saw the girls, it was too late. His car collided with two girls; one sustained minor injuries, but Katelyn was thrown back more than 50 feet, according to Tremonton police.
Lisa Summers and her sons pulled up just in time to witness the accident. She ran to her daughter’s side. Her first impression was that Katelyn was dead.
“She was lifeless,” Lisa Summers said. “I went into shock mode: ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”
A small crowd immediately gathered with young girls crying, people talking on cell phones and some just looking on. Lisa Summers said a woman came forward who said she had medical training. The woman tried to turn Katelyn over and start CPR, but Lisa Summers objected, insisting they wait for the ambulance.
Arteaga stood a few feet away with his head spinning and his stomach doing flips.
“What have I done? What just happened?” he thought as a few bystanders began to say harsh words and hurl insults his way.
“I realized, ‘This is really happening.’ I had a panic attack. ‘I’ve changed this little girl’s life and family forever,’” Arteaga said. “I thought I would pass out.”
Arteaga was snapped back to reality as he heard Lisa Summers ask if someone in the crowd could administer a priesthood blessing to her daughter.
Arteaga had recently returned home from an LDS mission in Houston. A few days earlier, he had been with the local full-time missionaries and refilled his key chain vial with consecrated oil. It was in his car.
Even so, he didn’t immediately volunteer for the task. He had hit the girl and it didn’t seem right, Arteaga said. But with a little encouragement from his sister, one of the girls’ dance instructors, he agreed to give the blessing.
Lisa Summers said an older man with gray hair, a hat and cowboy boots also emerged from the crowd to help in the blessing, although she never learned his identity. At that point, she didn’t know Arteaga was responsible for the accident.
Arteaga doesn’t remember much of what he said in the blessing aside from pleading for Katelyn’s life to be spared. It was only the third blessing he had given at that point in his life, he said, but he did his best.
“I felt there was someone else helping me give that blessing,” Arteaga said. “Afterward, seeing her wake up and moving, a sense of comfort came into me.”
As Arteaga finished the blessing, Lisa Summers encouraged her daughter to start breathing. To her relief, not only did Katelyn start breathing, but she also began to call for her mother.
A moment later, an ambulance arrived to take Katelyn to Bear River Valley Hospital. One of the uniformed emergency medical technicians asked Katelyn if she could remember anything. What the girl said made Arteaga smile.
“I have to be at my best friend’s birthday party,” Katelyn said. “And I can’t be late.”
Arteaga lingered for a moment until he saw the father of a close friend standing nearby. They embraced, and Arteaga began to weep uncontrollably. He was then surprised to receive a heartfelt hug from Lisa Summers. She had just learned that the person who hit her daughter had also administered the blessing.
“I saw Juan crying,” Lisa Summers said. “I ran over and gave him a big hug. I told him it was OK, we don’t hold grudges, we’re a forgiving family and we’ll love you no matter what. I also told him I knew she would be all right because she received the blessing.”
Lisa Summers’ forgiving hug was just what Arteaga needed.
“It shocked me,” he said. “This person you don’t know and they don’t know you, but you just hit their daughter. She gave me one of the best hugs I could ever receive. I felt mercy. I was probably still crying but I knew from that point everything would work out.”
Lisa Summers said forgiving Arteaga was not difficult. She had been raised to know things happen for a reason. She had been in situations where if she didn’t forgive, she couldn’t move on. She was also moved by Arteaga's concern for her daughter.
“Seeing Katelyn come to life again brought me so much peace,” she said. “When I looked at him and saw him crying, I knew I would forgive him with a mother’s love. What if it had been my child that hit someone? I would want someone to be that loving.”
For Jason Summers, forgiveness took a little longer, but not much. He was at work when he received a phone call about the accident. He sped to the Bear River Valley Hospital, found his wife and tried to process what had occurred. As a protective father, Jason Summers was fired up. He wanted to be mad because someone had “hurt his little girl,” he said. But later on, when Arteaga and his mother visited the Summers family at Primary Children’s Medical Center, he realized he could forgive the young man, he said.
“I couldn’t be mad. When Lisa explained the blessing and all that went on, a peaceful feeling came over me and I wasn’t angry,” Jason Summers said. “(For him) to have the courage to stand out in a crowd as he was being belittled and treated like dirt from other people, to have that courage to show that selflessness, how could you be mad? How could you hold a grudge? It’s one of those things where you take a step back and look at it from every angle. Having ill feelings toward Juan won’t help my daughter to heal faster. How hard is he on himself? For some reason, it was part of God’s plan.”
After a brief stay at Bear River Valley Hospital, Katelyn was flown by helicopter to Primary Children’s Medical Center, where she underwent surgery. She had a fractured skull, bleeding on her brain and several fractures in her pelvis, among other injuries. Surgery was successful, and everyone was able to relax for a few hours.
One setback came when her brain started swelling and bleeding again, but her parents believe Katelyn pulled through thanks to countless prayers uttered by family, friends and others following Lisa Summers' Facebook updates. Not only were people in their hometown sending prayers heavenward, but they also received messages of love and support from people in countries as far away as Ireland. Two days after the accident, Katelyn stood and moved with the assistance of a walker.
One memorable moment came when Arteaga and his mother visited the family at Primary Children’s. Although he’d already been forgiven by Lisa Summers, Arteaga was still “terrified” about meeting her husband, he said.
To his relief, the Summerses greeted Arteaga with smiles and hugs. The warm reception put him at ease. He apologized again for what happened. The Summerses reiterated that they had no ill feelings and that all was forgiven. Arteaga then gave Katelyn a teddy bear and a framed picture of Jesus hugging a little girl. A strong feeling of love and peace filled the room, they said.
"When I saw that picture, that was her, holding on," Arteaga said. "It was meant for her."
As they visited, Lisa Summers asked Arteaga if he ever learned the identity of the man who had assisted him in the blessing. Arteaga returned her question with a puzzled expression. There was nobody else, he said, although he acknowledged feeling someone’s hands on his.
Before he left, Arteaga asked the Summerses if there was anything he could do for their family. Jason Summers looked Arteaga in the eye and challenged him to always be worthy to give a priesthood blessing. Arteaga smiled and nodded.
In the months that followed, Katelyn has continued to show steady progress toward having a normal life again. Her brain rehabilitation and physical therapy are progressing well. She dreams of being a dancer at BYU someday.
Katelyn and her family are grateful for all the prayers, donations, get-well-soon cards, signs and overall kindness they’ve received. A GoFundMe page was set up in the family's behalf to help with medical expenses, and Jason Summers' co-workers donated vacation time so he could spend more time with Katelyn and the family.
Katelyn recently earned her Young Womanhood Recognition and received her patriarchal blessing. Her story has touched many lives and, in some cases, renewed lost faith, her parents said.
The Summerses’ children still fight occasionally, but they certainly appreciate each other more after what they’ve been through. Their faith in the Lord is stronger and they have learned firsthand about the healing power of forgiveness, their parents said.
“As we have gone through this, we’ve grown closer as a family,” Jason Summers said. “It’s not something I would wish on anybody else, but it’s not something I would give back, either. It’s like a puzzle, and all the pieces have come together in an awesome way.”
As he moves forward with his life, Arteaga is grateful for a merciful Heavenly Father and the power of prayer.
“Heavenly Father loves you no matter what,” he said. “What a blessing it is to know we can talk with him and let him know our struggles. At the end of the story, I’m grateful the promise was given that she would be OK. Heavenly Father does keep his promises.”
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