Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One moment that changed it all.

On October 21, 1994, my world changed. My life changed. My family's life changed. At 11 years old, I faced death. I faced it and came back. October 21, 1994 is the reference point for everything in my life. Everything either happened before the accident or after. That night, I was coming home with my best friend,Lori and her parents from the fair and a 21 year old drunk driver hit the car we were in.
Everything happened so fast. I was barely awake. It was a late Friday night and we had been at school all week and now, we were no doubt crashing as the adrenaline left our systems from the rides that turned our little bellies all night. I remember that I had blue cotton candy in my hand and icy coca-cola between my knees because there wasn't a cup holder in back seat. I remember my head bobbing up and down as my eyelids grew heavy. Then suddenly and violently, the car shook and it was pushed off the road and my friend's father yelled his wife's name. What had happened? Did we hit a tree?

My next realization was that I couldn't breathe. I couldn't breathe. "Lori, I can't breathe. Help me. I can't breathe!" I was frantic. I was getting some air but I was getting enough. I didn't know what was wrong. Lori and I were in a state of confusion. I didn't know what to do. Lori kept telling me to get out the car. She kept saying, "Heather, you have to get out. Open your door." But I was frozen and I couldn't move. As Lori was urging me to get out of the car, the hood of the car caught fire. It was not a big one but it was big enough to scare me. I had seen enough movies that I thought the car was going to explode. I got out of the car.

We had gone off the side of the rode, which means I crossed two lanes of traffic to get to wear I laid down at. But I don't remember that. I don't remember the road. I don't remember cars. In my memory, it was dark and silent. There were no cars, no people. Just me. I don't know what was going on around me.

I immediately lay down. I still couldn't breathe. It was getting harder. It was getting more difficult and more painful to take breathes. People started coming. Horns started blowing. People were screaming. I remember seeing blue and yellow flashing lights. At some point Lori was beside me. She was on her knees and her hands were over her face. She rocked back and forth and was crying. Lori was tough. She never cried. She cried for her mother. (Her mother did not have on her seat belt and was trapped in the car. She suffered from short-term memory loss due to a head injury, her left hip was broken, her right leg was broken as well as her jaw. She was in the hospital in the in a rehabilitation center for months. She must walk with a cane now.) Lori could see the rescuers trying to save her parents but I didn't see anything. At some point they managed to get her father out. Her dad was a gentle giant. He was a big, burly man. His tall stature was one of the reasons he was injured. His right knee was jammed hard into the dashboard. (Lori, thankfully had no physical injuries except for severe bruises caused by the seat belt. But her emotional trauma can not be measured with words.)

As I lay on the grass, I remember digging my fingers into the earth and crying to anyone that would listen. On an Earthly level, I was alone. Everyone thought that I was having a panic attacks. No one thought that I was really injured. I remember my life rolling through my head almost like a slide show on a View Master-a camera like toy that I had as a child. Everything, from dancing classes to birthday parties, Christmas photos, my teddy bear, even my favorite fast food meal were flashing through my mind. I didn't want to die and I could feel myself slowing going away. I kept repeating bible verses that I learned in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Most had nothing do with the situation at hand. I just wanted to talk to God. I wanted Him to hear me. I remember wanting God to hear me.

A bystander had stopped. She knelt and said she was a nurse. She asked me if I was okay and if I needed anything. I said yes, I asked her if she could pray with me. She told me no. She told me no. That haunts me to this day. Any Christian woman I know would have prayed with a child on the side of the road if they had asked, I don't understand why she didn't. I remember she immediately got up and walked away, and I cried out a verse from Matthew that Mother had taught me, "Where two or more are gathered in His name, He will be there with them." But I know He was there with me.

Before long a paramedic came to check me on me. He shined a flash light in my face and asked if I was okay. I told him that I couldn't breathe. He began to radio people and shout at people and in moments someone brought oxygen. I thought, "They believe me. They are going to save me." (It turns out that my blue cotton candy helped save me! My lips were stained blue from the cotton candy and that is what alerted the paramedics.)

I was taken to the hospital and rushed to surgery before my family was ever reached. God sent an angel in the form of a man named David, a respiratory therapist. He held my hand in the entire time and went into surgery with me. The last thing I asked was that he would let my Mom, Dad and sister know that I loved them.

When I regained consciousness in the ICU, my parents were there. My Mom asked me to squeeze her hand if I knew who she was and I did. I had tubes everywhere and kept touching my face because I didn't understand. I was on a respirator and there was a tube in my nose. I was hooked up to heart monitors and IV's-basically anything to monitor and stabilize my body. It turns out that the seat belt had caused my injuries. The seat belt had tightened around my waist but not across my shoulders, allowing me to sling forever. My stomach and spleen were pushed through my diaphragm and into my left lung causing it to collapse (that is why I couldn't breathe). My colon and spleen had small lacerations.

I spent nearly a month in the hospital and two of those weeks were in ICU. I was so happy to come home but my homecoming was tainted by a black cloud that I couldn't seem to shake. I was loosing weight at an alarming pace. I was constantly running a fever. I was loosing hair. I was sick and the doctors did not know why. My parents and I spent most of our days at the doctors' offices. I slept away many hours in darkened examining rooms. My parents were worried but I didn't know it and to be honest it didn't occur to me that something could be wrong, but then again, I was just a child. The doctors finally told my parents that if I was still sick on Thanksgiving that they were going to admit me once again to the hospital and find out, once and for all what was wrong. And they did.

I was admitted to Children's Hospital the first week of December and the tests began and that is when it was discovered what had been terribly wrong me with. The night of the car accident and first emergency surgery, the surgeon had told my parents that there was a blood clot around my right kidney but it was most likely due to trauma and would heal on its own. They had been taught in medical school not disturb the blood clot around the organ if they didn't perceive any immediate danger. It turns out there was serious danger. There is a very narrow tube that runs from each kidney to our bladder called the ureter. The force of the accident had ripped my ureter from right kidney (thus causing the blood clot) and for six weeks urine had been leaking into my system undetected and making me very sick. As soon as the doctors realized what was wrong, they did a procedure to insert a catheter into my right side. The catheter was in for the weekend, which I was able to spend at home. Before I left the hospital, over 6 liters of standing urine had already been drained off.

It took two more surgeries to correct my kidney. One right before Christmas of 1994 and one right after. The third and final surgery, my right kidney was removed. It was so damaged that it hardened and rotated. It was to the point that the organ couldn't be saved and honestly, I couldn't have emotionally gone through another surgery at that point. My kidney surgeon was a blessing. He was a wonderful and generous man. He did not even bill my parents a fee for the two surgeries he performed because he knew of their mounting medical bills. It had been a long and painful journey for us all.

My entire family bears scars from those traumatic months. Scars we will never loose. I lost so many things that night. I lost my childhood. I lost my innocence. I learned early on what we, as humans, are capable of. I also lost my best friend. I was devastated. Lori and I were never friends again. It hurt so bad. The older I got, the more I realized that she was going through her an emotional crisis of her own that I could never understand. I hope she knows that I have never blamed her. My sister was 7 years old when this happened and I have been not been healthy ever since. It breaks my heart because my sister doesn't know me any other way. I am afraid of the dark and of the night. I am not the same person that I was.

This accident not only caused this havoc so many years ago but I am reminded daily because the doctors seem to agree that between the traumatic injuries my body sustained and the serious infection caused by the urine afterwards, by body was compromised, allowing the Dysautonomia to take over when I was 15.

It is a hard pill to swallow. The young man that caused the accident was a repeat offender at the age of 21. The same week that I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia is the same week is was arrested for causing our accident. Pretty ironic, huh?

The accident is not just some curse that looms over my family. Blessings have bloomed from the brokenness it has caused. My family is stronger today because of what we went through together. I may have been the one in the physical accident. but the wreck happened to my entire family. The accident taught me compassion and empathy. It also showed me God' love. I am a walking miracle. If He could see me through all that then He can see me safely through anything!

If you read this, God bless you and thank you. I appreciate your support
Remember, never drink and drive. Always have a designated driver. Call someone if you are unable to drive. Trust me, they will care far less about coming to get you than if you caused an accident.


The Pilston's said...

I remember so much of this, or being told about it. I remember coming to DCH to visit you. Thank you for finding my blog so I could see yours! You are a talented writer and your bedroom looks like my whole house would look like if I were a single lady. You are so special Heather! Do you mind if I blog about your SUPER cute space?

Anonymous said...

Dear Heather ~

Tears sprang to my eyes as I read this. I pause now to pray for you.
Dear (I am a mother, so I hope you'll forgive me for the term) :), I hope that writing this was therapeutic. Also, I hope that you had a cup of soothing tea & a wee nap afterward writing as I can only imagine how emotionally exhausting it was to write.
It is my hope that someone who knows where your friend Lori is now will somehow get a copy of this to her (or point out your post/site) for her own healing.
It seems that the Lord does carve out 'deep places' in us through suffering and fills us up with more of Him.

yet grateful for His gifts, HveHope

Sophie said...

I'm in tears. You are a walking miracle!
I've been told that G-d only tests His beloved. I hope that from here on G-d will shower you with His blessings and restore you to good health.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

Kelly said...


I knew you had been through a lot with the accident, but I never imagined all of that! You are an amazing person and I admire you so much! Your faith in God at the age of 11 is so inspiring and I know it has grown so much since then. Keep on pushing through life, you will be a great therapist soon :)

<3 always

alli michelle said...

This is such a powerful story. I can't believe the tiny detail you included about your lips being stained blue from cotton candy, which ended up getting the paramedic's attention. That, at least, is an amazing miracle in and of itself. I'll be keeping you in my prayers.

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