At 10:50 a.m. on June 26, 2007, I was almost killed while returning to the office following a meeting at church. While making a left turn at a green light, I was hit by a car driven by a 19-year-old male who was late to work and ran the red light. In addition to speeding, he was high on marijuana and Xanax. He never touched the brakes, and his SUV, traveling at 50 mph, hit my car directly on the driver’s door.Fortunately, an off-duty fireman was cutting grass nearby and immediately reacted to the crash. He was able to assess the severity of my injuries and cleared my windpipe so I could breathe.
When my husband arrived on the scene minutes later, he was informed by one of the rescue personnel that I was dead and that the crash investigation had been assigned to homicide detectives. The off-duty fireman, a family friend, then recognized my husband and realized it was me he had helped in the wreck. Fortunately, the quick actions of the fireman kept me alive, and he later received an award for his actions.
I was cut out of the car with the Jaws of Life and taken by helicopter to St. Joseph’s Hospital. In the helicopter, they diagnosed that I had a dissected aorta,which, if ruptured, would result in almost instant death. At the hospital, the doctor told my husband that I was very severely injured, and my chance of survival was about 20 percent. I did die on the operating table, but I was resuscitated. I suffered a closed head trauma, a dissected aorta, broken ribs, a spinal injury, a collapsed lung, a sliced liver and a perforated bowel and bladder.My pelvis was shattered front and back, and I had a compound fracture of the right leg and a broken left ankle.
The doctors were able to address all of my injuries except the aorta, and I was then kept in a drug-induced coma for six weeks so my movement would not rupture the aorta and the bleeding in my brain stabilized. My five children and family flew in from all over the country, started a prayer chain that stretched to Asia, and immediately had a sign placed above my bed in intensive care, “Miracle in Progress.”
After six weeks at St. Joseph’s, I was transferred to Northside Hospital, where surgeons completed the placement of a thoracic aortic stint. I was then transferred to Tampa General Hospital for a month of in-patient rehabilitation. Four months after returning home, I was readmitted to St. Joseph’s, where three of my lower-back vertebrae were fused and a cage inserted.
I probably will never be able to work again, I live in constant pain and my rehabilitation from this crash will be a lifelong process. My life and the lives of my husband, our five children and other family members have been forever changed by the actions of a person driving under the influence. The other driver walked away from the crash without a scratch. I survived because of my will to live, great doctors and nurses, prayer by a loving and supportive family, and the grace of God. God gives us free will, but I truly believe it was no coincidence that the off-duty fireman was nearby; that Tampa General’s Emergency room was full so the helicopter was diverted to a closer St. Joseph’s; that the helicopter nurse correctly diagnosed the dissected aorta, (otherwise, I would have bled to death); and that the appropriate specialists were on duty at the hospital at that time.
My recollection of this story ends as I was leaving work to go to the church for the meeting and begins again at Tampa General Rehab. Words cannot adequately describe the stress, anxiety and pain my family and I have been through. As I try to make sense of why this happened to me, I believe it will be meaningful if just one individual who reads this story understands what driving under the influence can do to another person and a family – and doesn’t get behind the wheel. Sparing other people and families may be the blessing and gift I can give from this experience.
This story appeared in the "Recipes for the Road " 2009-2010 published by the Florida Department of Transportation Community Traffic Safety Team and the Tampa Bay Times.