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Life’s new beginnings

NEW CASTLE – Nancy Payne and her children look back over the last decade and can count not only their losses, but their gains.It was 10 years ago today that they endured their biggest loss, the death of husband and father Kurt Payne following burns suffered a month earlier in an accident in Glenwood Springs.That was followed by other losses, as well. Lost faith in a church whose beliefs led to withholding blood transfusions that Nancy later concluded would have saved Kurt’s life. Loss of relationships formed during their time in that church. Lost educational opportunities for children traumatized by their father’s death. Lost income from the family provider that left Nancy, previously a stay-at-home mom, to seek work and try to raise her children alone in an expensive valley.At the same time, the Paynes have found strength they never thought they had, and have become closer as a family. They’ve gained an appreciation for how much support their community provides even years after tragedy strikes. Today, they also have a new home, the culmination of a dream dating back to when Kurt was still alive.The Paynes’ belief in the good in humanity has helped Nancy to regain some sort of spiritual beliefs as well.”It’s sort of like an awakening, of having new faith in, I don’t know what to call it, faith in something greater than yourself or other people,” she said. “There have been things that were like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Things just fall into place,” she said.Nancy spoke while sitting at the kitchen table of her home in New Castle, while flanked by her two youngest children, Cody, 13, and Jesse, 16. Although the home is new to them, it’s old in age and needed major renovations, and the Paynes are storing household goods on the front porch to make room for the work that has been going on inside.In the living room, though, the family has found room to arrange photos of Kurt with his family. The Paynes still have some of his cremated ashes, too, which Nancy said is the subject of joking from some friends.”They’ll say, ‘oh, so Kurt made the move OK, huh?'”While it’s dark humor, it fits with the family’s choice over the years not to dwell so much on Kurt’s passing, and think more about the fun times they had with him.”It’s like you’re half crying and laughing at the same time, remembering all the funny stuff,” she said.

Still there in spiritAll joking aside, in a sense Kurt has made the move with his family. His name is still in their phone book listing. Nancy looks at her children’s appearances and personalities and sees resemblances to their father. “I guess it’s like we feel like he’s still with us in some ways,” she said.Kurt also remains present in fond memories of him – the fun dad whom even the neighborhood kids took to. Jesse remembers once his dad was taking him to school in Carbondale and they were running behind schedule.”He said, ‘You’re late anyway,’ so we went out to the (Village) Smithy and had some breakfast,” Jesse said.”We bought a bunk bed and we put it together,” Cody recalled. “Well, he did. I was pretending to.”Cody was only 3 when his father died, and Nancy wonders how many of his memories of his dad are partly a result of stories he’s heard over the years. But one memory he’s sure of is putting on yellow hospital scrubs and visiting his dad in the burn unit at University Hospital in Denver before he died, and seeing his skin peel off.”The nurse would say, ‘save some for me,'” Cody reflected of a caretaker’s attempts to lighten the situation for him.”She was just trying to make it so you wouldn’t be afraid,” Nancy told him as they recently thought back on the events of 10 years ago.Kurt was all but done with flooring work when the accident happened. The occupation was physically hard and exposed him to toxic chemicals. He had landed a full-time job in security and was finishing a remaining floor project on July 30, 1996, in the King Mall in downtown Glenwood Springs when an explosion occurred. Something apparently sparked fumes from solvents or other chemicals used in his work, and he suffered burns to 70 percent of his body.”I think the worst part is, actually at the time, I never thought he would die. He was 32 years old, strong as an ox,” Nancy said.

She thinks that’s one reason she went along with the tenets of her church at the time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and didn’t allow Kurt blood transfusions.After he died, the autopsy pointed to organ failure due to lack of oxygen, Nancy said.”He had no blood to carry oxygen in his body. … I know for a fact that if my husband had had blood transfusions he would be alive today. He would have been scarred, but you know what, that would have been OK with everybody,” she said.University Hospital has a bloodless clinic for patients who want to use alternatives to transfusions. But Payne said a doctor was frustrated in Kurt’s case by the church position.”He knew he could save his life but he felt like he was doing it with his hands tied behind his back,” she said.Nancy, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, was constantly in the company of church officials in the hospital and now regrets that she didn’t go against their wishes and allow a transfusion.”I constantly live with that burden of what could we have done differently,” Nancy said.But she added, “That’s behind us and we can’t undo it.”Yet the question lingers not only for Nancy but for her children, who still think about the role of church officials in keeping the hospital from taking actions that might have saved his life.”If none of them were there, I’m sure after a couple of days of thinking you would have been like, yeah, do it,” Jesse told his mom as they revisited their memories surrounding his death.Church officials, contacted for this story, released a statement (see information box).Nancy said she tries not to have hard feelings over her husband’s death.



“I don’t hold any person responsible for what happened, but I just realized that a manmade teaching cost my husband his life. And logic would tell anybody else or me now that if God has given us the capacity to be smart enough to develop the science to take care of people when they’re that severely injured, why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?”Life after lossLosing her husband in such circumstances eroded Nancy’s beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.”I struggled with how do you have any sense of faith after something like that happens?”In withdrawing from the church, she said, she lost the support network of a church membership that tends to keep to themselves. For years, even her relationship with her mother, also a Jehovah’s Witness, was strained. But Nancy said it later improved when her mom realized she didn’t want miss out on spending time with her grandchildren.After being part of what was an insular group of believers, Payne suddenly was not just widowed but on her own, she said. But in losing one community, she became better acquainted with a greater community of concerned valley residents who have been willing to help.”All the people I know in the valley now, I missed out on that before. I think they’re just great people here, they’re always willing to extend a helping hand, and I’m just really thankful that we live here,” she said.Despite the rising costs of living in the valley, Nancy was committed to bringing up her children here. She worked a series of jobs, selling cars and furniture, waitressing, even trying to take over Kurt’s flooring business, a move that upset her children and ended when she seriously cut her hand. She has been at Mason & Morse in Carbondale for six years, where she works in marketing. She also has begun driving a school bus to help make ends meet.Mason & Morse assisted her in her home purchase, including waiving her share of the commission fees. Others in the community have contributed time toward the home’s renovation. “I really wanted this really bad because no matter where my kids ended up living I wanted a place here in the valley where Kurt and I started our family,” Nancy said. “I wanted a place where they could come back to.”Growing up without their father has been hard on the Payne children, including in school.

“Going to school and dealing with school was like the last thing I wanted to do” when Kurt died, Jesse said.Nancy is proud of how her children have coped in the face of struggles in school and other challenges. Colette, 24, and Jeremiah, 20, are now out in the working world. Jesse is no longer in school but has been busy helping in the renovation of the Payne’s new home. Cody attends Riverside School in New Castle.Nancy thinks Kurt would be impressed with the way their children have turned out.”These kids are really, really bonded. I mean, all families are but I think maybe these guys will have something special for years to come,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.comThe church’s positionWhen contacted for an interview about its position on blood transfusions, the Carbondale congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses released the following written statement:”Jehovah’s Witnesses actively seek medical care when needed, and many work in the health-care field. They accept the vast majority of treatments available today. Christians are commanded in the Bible at Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29 and Genesis 9:3, 4 to “abstain from blood.” Since the Bible makes no clear statement about minor blood fractions or the immediate reinfusion of a patient’s own blood during surgery, a medical process known as blood salvaging, the use of such treatments is a matter of personal choice. Jehovah’s Witnesses accept reliable nonblood alternatives, which are increasingly recognized in the medical field.”Information on the Jehovah’s Witness Web site, http://www.watchtower.org, also points to risks related to blood transfusions, such as contracting disease or having adverse reactions.


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