‘Thanksgiving Day’ for stabbing survivor’s family

Thanksgiving is a mere four days away, the official start of the holiday season and the time of year when folks celebrate with family and friends, reflecting upon the people and things they’re truly grateful for in their lives.


Thanksgiving is a mere four days away, the official start of the holiday season and the time of year when folks celebrate with family and friends, reflecting upon the people and things they’re truly grateful for in their lives.

Skylar Nelson, who survived an apparently random stabbing that left him with a punctured aorta, has a great deal to be thankful for this holiday season. The 28-year-old father of a 6-year-old son took time Friday to say mahalo to the people whose Herculean efforts ensured he was around to express his gratitude — Hilo Medical Center surgeon Dr. Daniel Hudak and the talented trauma team at the hometown hospital, who saved his life.

Sitting in a small conference room, he said, “The people I want to thank are all out there,” referring to the HMC lobby, where the trauma team was. He thanked Hudak, who declined an interview, and the others, privately.

Louise Fincher, HMC’s Trauma Program coordinator, described Nelson as “a walking miracle.”

“This is a happy occasion because Skylar is here and he’s with his family,” she said.

According to court documents filed by police, Nelson and his girlfriend, Sarah Steinbrecher, were standing outside Hilo Town Tavern in downtown Hilo shortly after midnight May 23 when a stranger stabbed them, then fled on foot.

Nelson was originally taken to HMC in critical condition. There, he was stabilized and underwent emergency surgery for the aorta, the largest artery in the body, which extends from the heart to the abdomen. He was later transferred to The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, Fincher said.

“Our boy’s alive today because the trauma team was on it,” Nelson’s father, Tom Nelson, said. “… We want to thank Hilo Medical Center and all those involved, like the trauma team and people we don’t know that we just met this morning, and people behind the scenes and stuff who literally had a hand in Skylar and on Skylar. They didn’t give up on him.

“Dr. Hudak, when I first met him was 100 percent honest and he was 100 percent correct in his diagnosis to us on Skylar’s condition when he was taken over to Queen’s.”

Steinbrecher was treated at HMC for a stab wound to the lower left flank of her back and released.

“I don’t understand (why) Skylar’s still alive (and) Sarah’s still alive,” Tom Nelson said. “It (the knife) bounced off her rib cage. It could’ve been a different outcome.”

The Nelson family and Steinbrecher declined to talk about the night of the attack, Steinbrecher said, on the advice of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Asked how the incident changed his life, Skylar Nelson replied, “Not much.”

“You live your days now instead of just going through them,” he said and added he doesn’t recollect his eight-hour stay at HMC because he was unconscious.

The alleged assailant, 28-year-old Varaha Mims of Hilo, reportedly went to Wainaku and shortly after the downtown Hilo attack, allegedly stabbed his former landlord 26 times. The victim, 49-year-old Raghunatha John Giuffre of Hilo, suffered a punctured lung. Giuffre was admitted to HMC, where he recovered from his wounds.

Mims, who was arrested about seven hours later, was charged with attempted first-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder, and various other offenses. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is awaiting a court’s determination of his mental fitness to stand trial.

Fincher said the walking miracle that is Nelson is because of “a group effort from this facility.”

“Since we started the trauma service in 2009, the way we are able to collaborate to save our trauma patients has been a 200 percent improvement,” she said. “We are doing things that we weren’t able to do, so when something as awful as this happens, we’re able to get the team together before the patient arrives, and that’s something we were (previously) not able to do.

“… People used to say, ‘People go there to die.’ People don’t come here to die anymore. They come here to be saved.”

Nelson’s mother, Vicki Nelson, described her family’s meeting Friday with HMC’s trauma team as their own “Thanksgiving Day.”


“I want to thank the hospital team for working on my son and on Sarah. I can put my arms around him again. He’s alive and healthy. It’s indescribable,” she said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-

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