Monday, August 27, 2012

Remembering Nate Avery

Dear Friends. This is a sad time. We have lost a cherished friend and gifted man. The loss has left us stunned and overcome by the enormity of the tragedy.

Regular readers of my blog may not know who Nate Avery was. But, if you were in Jackson Hole when our daughter Lynne married Barry McNees, you may remember the affable and friendly young man, who probably introduced himself to you and then wanted to learn more about you. I don't think Nate ever met a stranger.

Lynne, and Nate's wife, Annette (Netter) worked together at Host Communications while Nate was doing his neurosurgery residency at the University of Kentucky Medical School In Lexington. They became devoted friends. Annette sat with us when Lynne had her emergency hysterectomy and we hugged and cried together. As Lynne recovered, she would often wake up from a nap to see Netter sitting beside her, waiting to provide comfort, a cup of ice cream or holding a deli sandwich for them to share. Later, while Lynne was recovering in Jackson Hole, the Avery's left Lexington to move back to their hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona. Nate had decided to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. He was the only physician doing brain surgery in Flagstaff, not to mention doing amazing and delicate procedures on newborns. When Lynne could finally return to Lexington and go back to work, the void caused by the absent Avery's was overwhelming. Then she met Barry, and I thank the Lord every day for him.

Nate and Annette met when he was elected to the Student Senate and she was Student Body Vice President at Northern Arizona University. During college summers they worked as rafting guides on the Colorado River. Nate often wondered to friends how a river rat like him wound up doing brain surgery for a living. But do it, he did, with unfailing kindness and caring, even as he often had to deal with the most difficult and heart wrenching cases. There is nothing more painful to a parent than not being able to ease the suffering of their child, but in "Dr. Nate" they found a doctor who could heal their little one, and could also walk them calmly through those terrifying days. And walk to him they did, and drive and fly and come from all over the world.

Nate Avery was only forty-five years old when he died after slipping on the rocks and falling unconscious into the water at Lake Powell in Arizona. Friends made multiple dives into the murky water before finding him and pulling him out. They began CPR and he had a pulse on the helicopter that took him to Page Hospital, but the pulse stopped and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

There was a "Celebration of Life" gathering at the Arizona Snowbowl outside of Flagstaff on Friday, August 24th. Daughters Lisa and Marja drove to Phoenix and picked up Lynne at the airport, so they could all be at the service for Nate. As they drove through Flagstaff, every billboard on every business in town had special messages about Nate. "We love you Nate" "Thank you, Dr. Avery." The tributes were everywhere they looked.

Lynne was able to spend some quality time alone with Annette before the memorial service began. Over 1,500 people were on hand, and many of them were people whose life he had saved. Nate's favorite saying was always "Best Day Ever." He felt that about every day of his life. What a wonderful attitude to have.

Nate was a notoriously bad dresser. Spiffy clothes were just not important in the big scheme of his life. He'd rather spend time with his wife and kids and his close knit group of brothers and sisters. It was so obvious that Nate and Netter were soul mates, best friends, and devoted parents.

Nate loved old cars and the joy of all kinds of outdoor activities. I remember a time when we met at the Cracker Barrel in Flagstaff on our way back to Tucson from Jackson Hole. With Nate at the wheel, the Avery's came roaring into the parking lot in an old, open air military transport vehicle. It was his newest, old toy, and he loved it. Actually, it was so unusual, it looked like a one-vehicle parade. His combination of surgical training, working on cars and an architectural background led him to invent and patent a cervical plate for children with injuries to the junction of their head and spine. He received a prestigious fellowship at the University of Utah's Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, and that fellowship will now bear his name.

The memorial was summed up with the words:

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

May God's Blessings always smile on you, dear Netter, Cora, Thad and Maddy.

With Annette at the podium, surrounded by some of Nate's family, they salute the crowd with Nate's favorite gesture for "Best Day Ever!" For more information about Nate Avery, visit the official website set up in his memory:

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