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Young Quake Victim Receives Sympathy Across the Nation

October 20, 1989

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ The heroic rescue of 6-year-old Julio Berumen, who could be saved from a mangled car only by amputating his leg and sawing in half the body of his dead mother, has sent waves of sympathy rippling across the nation.

The hospital where the boy and his sister are recovering is tallying toys and phone calls, and a fund has been set up for Julio.

″The story just brought us back to reality about how important life is,″ said Heidi Palkowitz, who brought stuffed animals for Julio and his 8-year-old sister, Cathy, who was also pulled from the family’s crushed car.

″You never know if that was going to be one of your family,″ Ms. Palkowitz said.

Julio was reported to be conscious Friday. Cathy was in fair condition with head injuries.

The boy was one of the last survivors pulled from the debris of two-tiered Interstate 880 after it buckled and tumbled during Tuesday’s earthquake.

The story of the four-hour, flood-lit rescue, including a doctor’s skill and courage, brought calls from throughout the country to a bank, where a trust fund has been established.

″The phone has been ringing off the hook,″ said Jerry Barnes, a vice president at Summit Bank in Oakland.

Rescuers who reached Maria Berumen’s car Tuesday were able to remove Cathy, but Julio was pinned in by his mother’s seat.

Doctors decided they had to saw through the seat and Mrs. Berumen’s body to get to Julio, and then found that Julio’s right leg was pinned under a highway pillar that had fallen on the car.

Dr. Jim Betts, lying on a board pushed into a narrow opening carved in the debris, performed the operation in about 10 minutes. The doctors used local anesthetic and pumped morphine and Valium intravenously into the boy’s system.

After more than four hours, Julio was finally freed from the mangled car and taken to the hospital. He had surgery Wednesday, but surgeons did not have to amputate his other leg.

″This was your worst nightmare,″ Betts said Thursday. ″I’d do it again. I know if I was up there or one of my family members was up there, I’d want them to do it.″

Children’s Hospital, where Julio’s father, Pastor Berumen, and several friends and relatives waited, was deluged with similar calls of support and sympathy.

Hospital officials said Berumen, of Richmond, was aware of the attention his son had attracted, but wanted to stay out of the public spotlight.

″He’s very much in touch with this, but in his grief, he has asked everyone to leave,″ said hospital spokesman Dennis Green.

President Bush met Betts on his tour of the earthquake-ravaged area and talked with Berumen by telephone at his son’s bedside.

″The most touching moment was ... when this doctor, this marvelously heroic doctor and his associate told me of pulling a kid out and having to amputate his leg to get him out of this crushed car,″ Bush said.

Green said Berumen had been at the hospital almost constantly since the accident and was being supported by relatives, friends and hospital counselors.

Julio’s classmates at the year-round Downer Elementary School in San Pablo are on a vacation break, but officials said they were already making plans to help the family.

Noraleen Dowell, a school secretary, said Downer’s parent club was going to hold a benefit raffle on Nov. 15, with proceeds going to a fund for the family.

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