What follows was originally written on November 9th, 2009 - to elicit prayers for an upcoming surgery for Amy. In remembrance of the tenth anniversary of our accident, I'm reposting it along with additional details of just how God used extraordinary details to save our lives.
The date was August 5th, 2004. It was supposed to be a day of fun – Michele and I showing our new friend, Amy, what a beach trip “Michele & Stephanie Style” looked like. I let Michele ride with Amy because they’d had less time together getting to know each other given Michele lived in Dallas, while Amy and I both lived in Eugene. So, splitting the 8 kids as evenly as we could, we set off.
By the time we were ten minutes from Lincoln City, cars were no longer moving forward. Apparently, there had been some kind of accident that had halted progress completely. So after wasting about 30 minutes trying to decide if we should keep waiting in the non-moving traffic line-up, Michele made the decision for us to U-turn and head east again to trackback to a route that would take us to a different part of the coast.
I was directly behind Michele and was approaching a stop behind her as she awaited oncoming traffic from a stationary position to take the left turn to get us back to the coast. I was alerted to trouble when I heard the telltale crunching of metal behind me and snapped my attention to the rearview mirror just in time to brace myself for collision.
It would be a while before I realized what exactly happened – but I can now report that a truck with a recreational 5th wheeler attached lost control of their brakes as they came down the slight decline hill prior to where we were stopped to turn left. In between me and the 5th Wheeler was a Nissan Sentra. The 5th Wheeler literally “mounted” the Sentra, leaving one of the two daughters in their back seat brain dead. (She has probably passed on by this time). The other daughter suffered significant injuries as well. These pictures do not show our vehicles - we were able to proceed forward a bit to park our vans in safer locations following the accident.
The force of their collision into my van propelled me into the back of Michele’s van. The resulting force of our collision caused both Michele and Amy’s seats to fall backwards (a defective car seat issue of Chrysler vehicles, resulting in a major lawsuit settlement involving a lot of anxiety and grief for Amy’s family). Because the seat propelled backwards, Amy’s head struck the back of Ellie’s rear-facing carseat.
The vast amount of injury within the group was heaped upon Amy. In fact, lawsuits and surgeries, and doctor visits by the dozens followed this accident. A person's seat is not meant to propel backwards like that - and certainly a head is not meant to make a collision into a hard plastic carseat with that force. Though she would never admit this, she hasn't had a day since the accident without being pain free - and sadly, the pain is often the least of the effects she faces. She is moving forward though - and the surgery she had a couple of years ago did help.
Among our group, I came in second among "after effects" - at least that we can be sure of*. I've done enough chronicling of my headaches to make it clear how I've fared. I would say the accident exacerbated a pre-existing degenerative disk condition - causing about 4-5 times the amount of frequency, intensity of pain, and length of pain as before - and it's only getting worse. For the record, we were awarded compensation money from the lawsuit - it felt like a lot at the the time, more than expected, but in the big scheme, it would have been GLADLY declined had we known the number of days I would lose in my lifetime. I know that Amy would say the same thing over and over - though we both acknowledge how God has used this event in both of our lives to glorify Him in our testimonies.
Among all of this heartbreak - and especially the grief of the couple that lost their daughter(s)? - there is light to this story. It should be known that the family in the Sentra were Christians - and overheard on the other side of the curtain in the small ER of the Lincoln City Hospital was them praying aloud - thankful for the time they'd had with their daughters and recognizing nothing they chose to do could have been second-guessed for a different result - and that God is GOOD no matter what. Absolutely heartbreaking - but that is eternal hope, the truest light and miracle we could ever cling to.
In our own family, we praise God for two MAJOR miracles that kept us from being in the same scenario as this other family.
The first of these had to do with a trip we'd be taking later that summer that would require my van to haul a trailer. Less than two weeks prior, we had a rear hitch installed on our vehicle. They did not have the lighter class of hitch we needed, so we paid the extra for an industrial grade of hitch. That hitch is what ended up taking the impact of the collision - radiating the damage throughout the entire frame** (totalling the vehicle) vs. allowing the back end to be imploded. My van was a "sport van" meaning, it did not have the full amount of rear storage space - if the rear end had taken the impact, (which would have happened had the hitch not been installed), Brayden and Amy's son, Andrew - who were sitting in the rear seats would probably not be with us today.
In addition, it was both the driver and passenger seats in Michele's vehicle that failed upon impact causing the seatbacks to crush backwards. Amy's head collided with the rear facing carseat that held Michele's youngest, Ellie. This was why Amy was so injured compared to rest of us. Michele fell all the way back. It was jarring, but not a long-lasting injury. However, just a few minutes prior to the accident, Mikayla had been seated behind Michele - front facing. She got in trouble, though, for unbuckling herself and was put in "time out" back in her mommy's vehicle. Had she stayed in that position in the car, Michele's seat and body weight would have crushed her in the collision. It's not often a time-out saves lives...
For me, personally, one of the most memorable moments happened when our carload determined we were "well enough" to walk to Michele's car and ascertain how they were all doing and get Andrew back to his Mom, Amy. Amy truly believed, based on her own 'collision experience' that she had lost her son in the accident - and even had enough time living in that mindset to make a phone call to husband, Mark, reporting the situation. So, just to witness the reunion was something. It was quickly downplayed, though, when we realized Amy wasn't doing very good and would indeed need to be seen at the hospital. (I initially declined, and only agreed when they said I might regret it later in the event of future lawsuits, etc - glad I listened to the paramedics!). I'll never forget the poignancy and proudest-moment-of-my-life-as-a-mom-up-to-that-point - when Brayden, age 5 - yet to begin Kindergarten - turned to Andrew and suggested they pray together for his mom. It surprises Brayden when I retell him, because that's not really his M.O. But, it proves to me how real the moment was, because I wouldn't have made up something like that. Way to put it all in perspective, Brayden - and have faith and recognize God had His hand in even that moment.
His hand has been with us every day since. As I wrote it out on Instagram:
Ten years ago, five families were involved in a car accident that would forever change our lives. Had I known on that day the lasting impact it would have upon our lives - the number of days sacrificed to ice packs and dark rooms due to neck issue migraines, or the pain I'd witness in the other families' struggles- I would have been crushed with overwhelming despair. But God walks us through, giving us one day at a time - and hope beyond reason. I'm humbled knowing our family didn't even take the worst of it. #Godisgoodallthetime
* One of the biggest anomalies that happened after that accident was that one by one, each of the kids' vision began to show problems of decline. Brayden, Nati, Mikayla, Ellie, Christina, and Jackson - all necessitated not only corrective lenses to see - but, in three of the cases, "vision therapy". Traig still has better than 20-20 vision, and Andrew only needs glasses on occasion when reading (the two oldest). Brayden's script is +6.0. Mikayla's is +3.75. Nati's is +4.75 and I think Ellie's is somewhere between Brayden's and Nati's. The initial assessment when we took Brayden in to see the eye doctor when he was in first grade was that he may never be able to drive - even with corrective vision - as we'd waited so long and it was that bad. Thank God - that's not the case! Ellie, Nati, Christina and Jackson all demonstrated differing levels of amblyopia (lazy eye). Basically, their brains decided to give one eye all of the strength and let the other one suffer from much lesser eye sight. In Brayden's case, his brain decided to make both eyes equal at sub-par levels. With correction, all of the kids have improved dramatically - and will be legal to drive. ;) Jackson's case has been the most difficult to resolve. That kid has put in years and years worth of vision therapy and has seen so many different doctors for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th opinions. But, that kid is a fighter, and I'm so thankful to report that even the last couple of months have brought forth the most hopeful conclusions to the restoration of his full vision and ultimately, ability to use it - particularly in reading/computation applications. (The brain is one complex piece of connected work!).
Whether or not all of this could be attributed to the accident will probably never be determined. Their impact was not that severe as they were all secured in seatbelts or carseats. All of us parents to these kids do have some eye issues in our own family lines. But, who knows if the trauma even had to be physical to do the damage...
** I never took a look at what my van was like from the rear after the accident. We were shuttled to the hospital with the paramedics and my red van was never seen by my eyes again. However, John and Michael, later that night, went to retrieve belongings left behind in that vehicle from where it was impounded. They were so shocked with what they saw, in how the impact was received and radiated. The doors along the sides were misaligned from the bottom up - it was absolutely totaled, but the damage didn't look at first glance that bad because it wasn't "crunched".