This piece came together both by my sister and myself. I knew I wanted to write about The Accident. I knew I wanted to get it right. I wanted the reader to feel exactly what it was my sister and her family were feeling. My sister and I spent many night emailing back and forth. I came up with a rough draft. Many more nights were spent with her going through the emotions of reliving The Accident. She told me the facts, and I was able to put it all together. I hope this impacts you all.
The unthinkable happened. I know it sounds cliche. Something you may read as the first line in a Steven King novel, but no, my life was forever changed. There have been many of nights where I wish I could go back in time and change that night. So many nights I have cried myself to sleep. So many nights where I just wanted to close my eyes and never wake up. The guilt was too much. I blamed myself. I have spent the last twelve years blaming myself, although it is true that times helps, it never make you whole again.
Alyssa and Aunt Jen
My husband Dan and I decided to spend Thanksgiving with my parents in Oklahoma. We were currently living in Denver, Co and figured we could pull off the twelve hour drive. Early in the morning of November 22, 2000 we packed up our car with our six year old daughter, Alyssa, and everything else that comes along with a road trip.
Alyssa was in her own little world in the backseat, coloring in one of her many coloring books and I thought to myself how lucky I am. Dan and I were teenage parents. I had just barely turned 16 when I found out I was pregnant. To say that our family was disappointed would be a huge understatement. There was talk of of adoption, but Dan and I knew we could do it. It may not be an easy life, a life that we would never chose for our own kids,yet we knew we could do it.
It took some time, Dan working odd jobs, factory jobs, whatever it took for him to support his new family. I was able to pursue my GED and later go on to dental assisting school. Times were hard but certainly rewarding. We had a beautiful daughter, Alyssa Faith.
Dan had always insisted on the name Faith being in there and well, me being a child of the 80’s I was obsessed with Alyssa Milano and that’s how we chose the name for our beautiful daughter, Alyssa Faith. A beautiful little girl with chestnut colored hair and skin like Snow White. She was our angel and there would be nothing we would not do for her if it was within our power.
Alyssa and her cousin AJ
November 22,200 we failed our daughter, or perhaps if I were to be honest I failed my Alyssa. We were about an hour away from our destination, Edmond, OK. My parents were busy doing the prep work for Thanksgiving day, my brother was anxiously awaiting our arrival. It was going to be a good holiday. Too much time had passed since I had last seen my family and I could not wait.
About an hour or so away from Oklahoma Dan was tired. I had told him since we are so close to my parents house to just pull over and I will drive the rest of the way. I was hesitant, even looking back and remembering how clear that night was I do not understand my hesitation, but it was there. Dan and I changed seats and off we drove. If I could only go back in time and listen to that voice, maybe there would have been a better outcome, unfortunately, that is not what happened.
I proceeded to tell the voice in my head that “everything will be fine” just drive for this last hour. If Dan was able to drive the entire trip up to this point, surely I can drive the last hour. The speed limit on this particular stretch of highway was 75. As I was driving , I looked down at the speedometer and saw that I was going 72. With my eyes back on the road, I noticed that my car was on the shoulder, quickly I brought the car back into my own lane except it was too late. Somehow I over corrected and lost control of the car.
Everything from this point on happened so fast. Like a long running sentence without an ending,this is how the accident felt, only few pivotal details stood out. We were spinning non stop, just like the movies,I saw my entire life flash right before my eyes, spinning, heading into on coming traffic. Our car went over the median, we were now in on coming traffic, A gas tank truck coming straight for us, he managed to veer off and miss us with what seemed like inches, unfortunately the other two cars behind the gas truck were not so lucky. Both cars ended up crashing into our already spinning car. After the initial hit, everything seemed so surreal. My main concern was Alyssa, “Alyssa, can you hear me, Alyssa, Alyssa?” Over and over again I cried out to my daughter, “Alyssa, can you hear me?” Silence.
I looked over at Dan, blood. His entire face was covered in blood. He did not speak, or perhaps he could not speak, what he was able to do, or tried to do was to reach back in the backseat to get Alyssa. He could not reach her, his hip was protruding out of his jeans. That was the reality. He was unable to do anything to help his daughter. I opened my car door with every intention of grabbing Alyssa to safety, instead, I fell straight on the pavement. I could not stand. What I know now that I did not understand then, was my foot was stuck under the break , due to the adrenaline , I grabbed a hold of my foot and pulled as hard as I could. I tried to stand again, once again I fell.
People were pulling their cars over to help us. There was a young man, and I begged for his help,”please, please, help my baby” He did not budge. There was a woman. She was running and screaming “don’t touch the child, don’t touch the child!” She saw my cell phone laying near by on the road. “Is there someone I should call for you?” “I cant remember, I don’t know…… wait …… my dad” I could not remember his number. She told me she was a nurse and again said to both myself and the bystanders that no one was to touch Alyssa.
The paramedics were now on the scene. While attending to Dan, one of them came over to me and tells me “your husband says he loves you” and then I broke down. Whatever little piece of sanity I had had was now gone. Dan is immediately taken to the ambulance. Alyssa and I go to another one , we have to go to two different hospitals.
After a couple hours of me being alone, not knowing what condition my family is in , I get discharged with the diagnosis of shattered ankle, need surgery asap. My dad is there at the hospital ready to pick me up while my mom and brother were with Alyssa at Children’s Hospital. I needed to go to my daughter but my dad being the much needed voice of reason at the time told me “You’re going to be here for awhile, lets go get your bags from the car.”
Dad drives to the lot where our car is, it was after hours. Dad had explained to the owner that we were just in a pretty bad car accident and we really needed our bags. The owner opened the lot for us. Thank you. The owner asked me if I was prepared to see the car. “Yes, I am prepared, I just need to get to my daughter.” The car was crushed, there was nothing besides the passengers seat barely in tact. A scene that you have probably seen many times in the movies, except this was no movie, this was now my life. “If you don’t mind me asking,is everyone ok that was in this car” the owner asked me. With tears streaming down my face I was able to say ” I just don’t know yet, but I have a feeling yes” “Well , there was someone watching over you , because this car next to you, with just a few dents here and there had 5 fatalities.”
We finally arrive to Children’s Hospital. The surgeon comes out to me, gently yet accurately explains how severe Alyssa’s wounds are,he goes into great detail about how him and his surgical team had to repair her intestines. “I am sorry, I am just not sure if she can pull through.
I would not take that answer, I could not take that answer. My beautiful daughter has only been on this earth for six years, no, that was unacceptable, I broke down in my parents arms, my parents called people they knew from church and who were strangers to me. They all came to the hospital to pray for our sweet Alyssa.
It seemed like forever, waiting for the surgeon to let us know the full diagnosis of Alyssa… it took hours and then it was time. The surgeon came out to give us the news. “No head trauma, I cannot believe she pulled through the way she did , but I have to tell you , she has no feeling in her legs, she has an L2 fracture of her spinal cord, she is now a paraplegic.”
It was such bitter-sweet news. On one hand Alyssa was alive. She survived an accident that even her doctors were baffled on the hows and whys. Thank you God for keeping her alive! On the other hand, Alyssa was now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Everything we knew, everything we were familiar with was about to change. My family had to create our new reality.
The time had come for me to tell Alyssa the news of her diagnosis. Her new life, her new reality. She asked me what happened, “Why can’t I feel my legs mommy?” I remember praying to God. I asked him to guide me while telling Alyssa the news, not just “the news” but her news, our news. I sat down next to her and said “Alyssa, we were in a bad accident, your body was very hurt, you will not be able to walk again, and you will be in a wheelchair now.” I never cried, I was as calm could be. I had to be, there was no other option.
“But mommy, I just signed up to be in jump rope class.” “Well, we will have to find something else to do now, the good thing is we are all still together”. This was our life now, our new reality. We had to stay in Oklahoma for 6 months for rehabilitation.
Once everyone was well enough to travel, we moved back home to Colorado. Alyssa was welcomed back to school with open arms, everyone so happy she was there wheelchair or not. Unfortunately , this was only the beginning of medical problems.
To date, Alyssa has had 12 multiple surgeries. She has grown up feeling the hospital was a second home. I was always with her for her hospital stays, even working, I would bring my work clothes to the hospital, stay the night with her , get up and go to work and then come straight back to the hospital. One of our longest stays was a two month stint due to a pressure sore, which lead to a staff infection. At the age of 7 she had to deal with a full body cast, being reclined in a wheelchair for 8 weeks. Never a “why me” , never a “I cant do this anymore” Alyssa always dealt with what was given to her.
And now, as I write these words down on paper, all the memories of that day come flooding back to me. Our life changed that day, our love and strength did not. Tomorrow, my Alyssa will be 18 years old. All I have left to say, is thank you God, thank you for seeing us through. Thank you for holding us up and giving us strength. Thank you.
~~~~ October 26, 2012 Almost a month to the 12 year anniversary of “The Accident.” Tonight, Alyssa Faith was crowned Homecoming Queen
After The Accident, every time the family had heard Leann Womacks song “I Hope You Dance”, we would think of Alyssa.
I do believe tonight, she took her first of many dances to come.