Bob’s Story

Site created on March 19, 2019

Welcome to our CaringBridge website. We are using it to keep family and friends updated in one place. We appreciate your support and words of hope and encouragement. Thank you for visiting.  Here is the story of how we got here.

“There are so many blessings in the unfolding of our newest chapter as life partners and family….” Charlene
On Thursday March 14th in the late afternoon, Bob and Charlene went for a short hike above Codornices Park in Berkeley to visit the seasonal waterfalls.  A 15-20 minute hike up a trail off Euclid Avenue, Bob and Charlene walked along a narrow path surrounded by young redwood and bay trees. They approached the falls and arrived at a plank bridge. Each paused to assess the situation having crossed many such bridges in their 40 years hiking together. Once Bob reached the other side, he lost his balance.  He fell 20 feet or so and rolled another 5 feet landing face down in the creek below. (First of many blessings: When Bob was in the Army he went to jump school.  With numerous free falls out of airplanes, his body instinctively rolled to break impact of the fall.  If he hadn’t have rolled, he surely would have injured his spinal cord.)

Two hikers heard Charlene scream and raced up the trail and down the ravine to Bob’s side.  (2nd blessing: Vincent and then Emily were not far behind on the trail and came to assist.  They saved his life as Bob lie face down in the water. First turning him over then holding him as his head bled profusely…. )

Charlene called 911, (3rd blessing cell service available) then ran down the trail to the street to meet the Berkeley Fire Department as they wouldn’t be able to easily find them.  A team leader and a scout followed Charlene scanning the area. Evacuation was tricky given the steep terrain.  The fire fighters pulled Bob out of the ravine using a basket stretcher anchoring to a tree stabilizing the ascent. The emergency team was phenomenal moving with calm, kindness, confidence and efficiency. They found a shorter exit route taking Bob up the hill rather than back down the trail, landing on a driveway on Tamalpais Ave.  Charlene, who had been instructed to wait on the driveway was finally reunited with Bob. She held Bob’s hand, kissed him, he smiled back. Finally on stable, flat ground, the rescuers began cutting Bob’s wet clothes off of him.  They had stabilized his neck with a collar and were careful to keep his back flat.   Later Bob would have no memory of the fall or first days in ER and ICU.

Bob was transported to Highland Hospital trauma center via full alert ambulance, sirens and all. Charlene rode in front with the driver, watching as the rescuers in the back took care of Bob who continued to be verbally responsive.  His tone was friendly and appreciative. Once at the hospital initial care involved diagnosing the extent of the damage beyond the visible anterior and lateral head wounds. The CT and MRI indicated fractured vertebrae (C1 – fractured in 3 places, C6, C7 and T12  -- all in the neck and upper back). Additionally a small brain bleed (subarachnoid) was discovered, but small enough to not be of major concern. Diagnosis and first aid lasted into the wee hours. Bob was eventually transferred to ICU, Charlene was at his side.

Because C1 and C2 are so close to the brain stem, injuries to these vertebrae are often fatal or result in full paralysis.  It is a true miracle that Bob had no initial spinal cord injury given the fall. However, having three fractures in C1 left him at great risk. Emergency surgery to fuse C1, C2, and C3 to his occiput was immediately scheduled and undertaken the next day. (4th Blessing – Highland Hospital is a top notch trauma center with amazing medical professionals and staff.  There were a dozen doctors and nurses waiting for Bob’s arrival).

This has been a time of great challenge, crisis, and grief and also a time of countless auspicious blessings.  Despite being in ICU under such dire circumstances, we actually feel blessed as a family to have had this week together.  So much warm open space and heart. So many tears and so much laughter! Thank you for all the love and support that has been pouring in. Thank you Nancy Burke, Kimberly Aumack Yee, Sandra Ladley, and Gale Young for being our first caring bridge.  Thanks Judy Weatherly for setting up this Caringbridge web page.

After a week at Highland, on March 21, Bob was transferred to acute rehab.  If you wish to read more about the journey at Highland hospital see Journal Entry on March 26. We will update his progress in rehab where he is expected to be until April 4.  Please no visitors while in rehab. Bob’s schedule is rigorous with multiple sessions each day. He is exhausted and sleeps in the gaps between therapy sessions.

Newest Update

Journal entry by Charlene Leung

Just to let you know I am well, very well. I have felt so included in our family, by Char, by Steven, by Gabe, and by Al. Somehow, I feel that I excluded myself from my family and didn't know where I was for months. But I'm coming around, thanks to all of you, thanks to everyone. I've been able to walk again. Char and I walked 3 1/2 miles in Tilden Park the other day, up to the ridge, and we walk a couple of miles in Albany almost every day. We start our days at 7am and work out for more than a half-hour, doing qi gong warm ups, physical therapy exercises, stretching, and meditation.  I also have joined the qi gong class at the Albany Senior Center led by Charlene on Monday nights - I've not forgotten the warmups and now Char leads the group at our house on her zoom account which works well. She hosts a group of about 20 people each Monday which I really enjoy.

I don't drive any more, maybe later. Char drives us everywhere. Or we walk. Now since social distancing, when we food shop, I stay in the car and listen to the radio.  Shopping at Monterey Market was a weekly occasion, now maybe every two to three weeks. I make my own breakfast and cleanup in the morning and after dinner. I used to take a nap for a half-hour, more or less, per day. Lately I haven’t needed a nap.

Here is something I wrote the beginning of March when I was starting to write more regularly:

Writing is difficult. Not easy but I can do it. What do I have to say? I don’t know, I’m at a loss, but I can be found, not far away, sitting in my little room, behind the bedroom, and I can hear the chickens, a year gone by. Where have I been?


Not far from Charlene, who’s taken a year, now, from her own life to nourish mine.


“I’m planning to rejoin my writing group. Will they take me?  I don’t l know. 

Mary will eat here tonight and I will make MaPoTofu. That will make a meal. My first in a year.


I’m at a loss. A year ago I slipped, after crossing a ten-foot wooden plank. Charlene saw me tumble and fall into the water below, bouncing rock to rock, rescued by Vincent and Emily lifesaving graduates.


I was told I didn’t lose consciousness. I stayed aware, even smiling, Charlene said.


I’ve never been a swimmer. My Uncle John rescued me from the bottom of the Big Sur River when I was four years old. I’d done a backwards dive off a tall rock and can still see the colored pebbles through the clear water on the bottom of the Big Sur. Uncle John pulled me to the surface.            .                                                                                                                                  


Years later in Vietnam I waded across a river up to my chest, holding an M-16 rifle over my head. How did I survive? On the other side of the river my team and I scrambled up a steep incline. At the top of the bank we took cover and looked back down the slope. We’d made it!


The next mile was all swamp and we never dried out. Our jungle boots were soaked and our camouflage fatigues were dense bamboo 5 inches thick in triple canopy jungle, no trail, no path, all swamp.


The next day we were exposed, climbing uphill until we reached the top. We stared down the face of the hill. Two male tigers were visible in a clearing, half a mile below. We called in a single round of light artillery on the face of the hill but the round was a dud, landing not more than ten feet away from our position. I never wanted to kill any people or animals.


At night-fall, I fished a plastic wrapped, black and white photo from my breast pocket, the snap shot of a high school girlfriend. Was she still my girlfriend? I didn’t know. I had carried her in my breast pocket, soaked or crimped, during every mission, never leaving her behind.


I am grateful for your good wishes this past year. I have read all of your journal comments and cards and your words continue to encourage and give me hope. 

Thank you so very much for your caring and patience. It’s been a long year.

All my gratitude to my family: my wife, Charlene, my sons, Steven and Gabe, and my daughter in law, Ally.

Love, Bob

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