BURLEY — A crash on a cold November night 14 years ago changed a 3-year-old’s world forever, but the kindness hospital staff offered afterward inspired him to find a way to encourage other children to be brave when faced with scary circumstances.
Burley High School student Paytan Fairchild, 17, developed comfort kits with a soft blanket, fuzzy teddy bear, bottle of water, ChapStick and a toothbrush and paste in a little bag to donate to Mini-Cassia hospitals, fire and police stations for children involved in car crashes or other traumatic events as part of his senior project on accident prevention.
A card attached to the bag explains why.
It was dark and snow lay on the ground Nov. 14, 2003, when Paytan’s father, Corey, his mother, Desiree, and his 8-month-old brother, Breyden, drove from Burley to their Rupert home in their soft-top Jeep Wrangler.
As Corey drove along a canal bank near Minidoka Memorial Hospital a tire came off the Jeep. The vehicle rolled three times into the canal landing on its top. Corey was killed, and Desiree thrown from the Jeep into the snow, a spinal injury paralyzing her.
“I could hear the baby crying,” Desiree said Wednesday, as Paytan delivered the first batch of a total of 160 kits to Cassia Regional Hospital.
The remaining kits will be delivered to Minidoka Memorial Hospital, Rupert Police Department and Burley Fire Department.
Sending her toddler off into the night by himself to find help was their only hope.
Desiree zipped up Paytan’s little coat and asked him to bring her the baby, which she cuddled on her chest.
At first Paytan, who was afraid of the dark, was reluctant to go.
“There were no lights anywhere, it was pitch black, and when he stepped away from the headlights I couldn’t see him anymore,” Desiree said. “I didn’t have any idea which way to even tell him to go or if the road was to the left or the right of us.”
Somehow he made his way up and out of the canal and traversed several hundred yards through snow to tap on Freddy and Stacie Cantu’s door.
Desiree met the Cantus for the first time on Wednesday when they arrived at the hospital to witness Paytan’s donation.
“There was this light knock and we opened the door and saw this little guy standing there,” Stacie Cantu said.
Freddy said Paytan just walked right in the house and said his mom needed help.
“He just pointed to a dark field covered in snow,” Freddy said.
Stacie said they couldn’t see the Fairchild’s vehicle upside down in the ditch.
Paytan refused to go back outside so he stayed with the Cantu’s children while the Cantus went to investigate.
When they found the Jeep, the battery was wearing down and they could barely see Desiree lying in the headlights. No one knows for sure how long she’d been there or how long it took Paytan to find the house.
“The baby was really cold,” Freddy said.
Burley Firefighter and first responder Justin Jensen said it was one of those calls he can’t forget.
He has been Paytan’s mentor for his senior project.
“If he hadn’t gone for help, it would have been a very different situation,” Jensen said. “They probably wouldn’t have been found until morning.”
Cantu said it was unbelievable that a child so young was able to do what he did.
“He told us his father brought him to the house,” Cantu said, prompting tears to cascade down Desiree’s cheeks as she listened.
“I’ve never heard their story,” she said. “Today has been so good for us. We are able to finally put the pieces together.”
For Paytan, many of the memories of that night faded but he vividly recalls the hospital staff afterwards as they rallied around the family providing kindness and a Christmas that year.
Maria Hoggan, emergency room and EMS manager at CRH said providing a bit of comfort can really help a child cope with a trauma.
“It especially helps when a child has been in an accident and their belongings were thrown out into the road. It is really nice for them to have a little blanket or something,” Hoggan said.
Stephanie Curtis, spokeswoman at CRH, said the hospital gets many donations.
“But this one is probably one of the most meaningful,” she said.
For Paytan the project means more than just a grade.
“I remember how I felt,” he said. “I knew I would be fine but I had help from a lot of people.”
After graduation he plans to attend Brigham Young University — Idaho and become a physical therapist.
“I tell him all the time that he’s my hero,” Desiree said. “He saved both of us.”