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Update: Tesoro’s Matt Gumbel is gone, but not forgotten

Matt Gumbel - Courtesy photo
Matt Gumbel
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Matt Gumbel, 34, the longest-surviving victim of the deadly April 2 Tesoro blast, passed away at 2:45 a.m., Saturday, April 24, at Harborview Medical Center while surrounded by immediate family.

The explosive fire claimed six other Tesoro employees, Daniel Aldridge of Anacortes, Matt Bowen of Arlington, Darrin Hoines of Ferndale, Kathryn Powell of Burlington, Donna Van Dreumel of Oak Harbor and Lew Janz of Anacortes.

Matt’s father, Paul, a Teroso employee who’s worked at the Anacortes refinery for eight-and-a-half-years, was among the first responders to locate Janz, Powell and Van Dreumel after the early morning blast.

Paul knew Matt was also on duty that morning, but couldn’t find his son.

“I was pretty sure he was involved,” he said in an interview this week.

Matt wasn’t with his injured coworkers because he’d walked 100 to 200 feet to the control room and wrapped a fire blanket around his burning body to extinguish the flames, just as he’d been trained to do in such an emergency.

Matt reportedly walked to the gurney and laid down by his own power, other first responders later told his parents.

The Gumbels arrived at Harborview at 4:45 that morning and waited five hours while doctors dressed the burns covering two-thirds of their son’s body. There was so much damage, it’s easier to list the unburned areas, Shauna said in a Monday morning interview.

The flames spared both arms from wrist to shoulder, both feet, and areas of his upper chest and back.

“We’d had hope because he’d been fighting,” Shauna said. “From day one, the doctors gave him a fifty-fifty chance of survival.”

Gumbel’s family and friends followed his condition through a blog on CaringBridge.org. Since the accident, hundreds of people have left messages of encouragement and condolence on the electronic guestbook and the site’s log recorded more than 53,200 visits as of Tuesday afternoon.

Matt continued his personal battle at Harborview Medical Center — with many medical ups and downs — for three weeks and one day until his death last Saturday.

The Gumbels are waiting to hear from the medical examiner for the official cause; however, doctors suspect infection played a part in the swelling and multiple organ failure that ended Matt’s struggle.

During cadaver skin replacement surgery last Friday, the medical team discovered “suspicious spots,” which turned out to be mold under the cadaver skin on Matt’s legs, Paul said. The fungus may have gotten into Matt’s blood stream and sent his body into shock.

Gumbel spent several hours in emergency exploratory surgery late Friday, but his doctors could not determine the cause of swelling and multiple organ failure.

By mid-evening his body was swollen and his kidney and liver had failed, Shauna said. Matt was no longer on sedatives or medication and the family needed to decide their next move.

About 10:30 p.m., Dr. Pham told the family that Matt’s chances of survival were slim. Paul and Shauna decided to keep him comfortable. They contacted family and friends to say their last goodbyes. Together, with their 31-year-old daughter, Amy, the family stood vigil at Matt’s bedside.

“Matt fought a good fight and I think his body was telling us that it was tired and he didn’t have the fight left in him,” Shauna wrote in a CaringBridge.org blog post Saturday afternoon. “I told him I love him, he fought a good fight and it was okay if he couldn’t fight anymore.”

Just after 2:35 a.m. Matt was taken off the ventilator. At 2:45 his heart stopped.

“There were a lot of people at the hospital that night. I’d say about 40 family, friends and a few people from Tesoro,” Paul said.

But at the final moments it was “just family and that’s how we wanted it,” Shauna said.

Tesoro supplied the Gumbel family with food, lodging, shuttle service, two $3,000 cash cards for Shauna and Paul, and a company representative who checked in to make sure their needs were being met. Amy also received a $500 cash card to cover expenses.

“His sister did no leave his side,” Shauna said of Amy, who spent countless hours at her brother’s bedside.

The refinery also supplied Kristin Griffith, Matt’s fiance, with a $3,000 cash card, food, shuttle service, and lodging for herself, her mother, father and sister. The company also paid for her father’s airline ticket to Seattle.

Over the last several weeks, the refinery president and refinery manager visited Matt more than once, Shauna said.

“Through all this Tesoro has been amazing and wonderful,” Shauna said. “They provided the necessary support so we could be with our son.”

The Harborview Medical Center staff helped Matt’s family and friends keep their sanity through this endeavor.

“The nurses, doctors, staff ... through all of it, not only did they take such good care of him, but us as well,” Shauna said.

Like so many other young families, the Gumbels moved to Whidbey Island in 1976 for Paul’s Naval career. Matt was 6 months old when the family moved from Seattle to Oak Harbor.

“He was my little buddy,” Shauna said of all the time she spent with her son during their first two years on the island while Paul was deployed.

The family will make funeral arrangements as soon as they hear from the medical examiner. The details will be announced at a later date.

Remembering Matt

Matt Gumbel’s friends have organized two events to raise money to help the Gumbel family settle Matt’s debts and cover other expenses.

• Friends and family gathering and remembrance at Mi Pueblo Restaurant, 916 SE Bayshore Dr., Oak Harbor, Saturday, May 1 from 6 p.m. until close.

• Benefit Show/Live & Silent Auction For Matt Gumbel Friday, July 2, at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge, 155 NE Ernst St., doors open at 6 p.m., Afrodisiacs play at 8:30 p.m. Contact Gerry Oliver, 672-6847.

• Tesoro Anacortes Refinery Survivors Fund: Donations are accepted through the first week of July 2010 at any branch of Skagit State Bank to account number 3117046362, or mailed to Tesoro Anacortes Refinery Survivors Fund, Skagit Community Foundation, P. O. Box 1763, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Contact Lynn Westfall, (210) 626-4697.

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