Sixteen years ago I almost died.
In late October 1995 my uncle Ron died suddenly of a heart attack, so my mom, dad, eighteen-year-old sister, and I (then fifteen) went to San Antonio for the funeral. The morning after the funeral, on Halloween, my family headed back to Dallas in our Nissan Altima. It was a drizzly morning, and I remember waving to my mom’s mom, Grandmacita, as we pulled out of her driveway. She always stood out in her front yard when we’d leave, holding one arm up with the other as she waved a long goodbye.
When we got on the highway, the rain started coming down harder, and soon it pummeled the car in sheets. We were near the Walzem Road exit on I-35 when we hit the truck. There was a big patch of standing water on the highway because of a stopped-up drain. A woman in a pick-up truck had almost gotten hit by an 18-wheeler that was jack-knifing, so she pulled over to the left-hand emergency lane. When we ran over the water, our Altima hydroplaned too, and we slammed into the back of the woman’s pick-up truck. The airbags deployed, and the car filled with smoke and powder. We’d never had a car with airbags before, so Mom & Dad thought it was on fire. They told my sister, Jenny, and me to get out of the car immediately. I got out on the left near the median, and Jenny exited on the right near traffic. Mom & Dad’s doors wouldn’t open in the front, so they climbed into the back to get out.
A Methodist minister driving his daughter’s Chevy Blazer hydroplaned next. I was walking away from our car when he hit me, then hit the back of the Altima. Mom & Dad heard me scream, and Jenny saw me get hit; but no one knew where I was. Then out of the corner of his eye, my dad saw me through the chain-linked fence on the south-bound side of the highway. We guess that the impact of the Blazer on my body threw me over the eight-food median. Mom, Dad, & Jenny climbed the fence and found me very broken and bleeding. My eyes were closed, and I looked dead.
Our family was in the middle of a difficult few years at this point: we’d lost our home the previous year, my sister and parents had very little trust between them, and I watched things bubble up and simmer down repeatedly, trying not to get in anyone’s way. As I lay on the highway, seemingly dead, my mom prayed Job’s prayer: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Right then I opened my eyes. Then my sister got on her knees, on the highway, and started confessing and repenting from all the things she’d been involved in the past few years. Jenny was convinced the accident wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t walked away from relationship with God. Of course it wasn’t her fault, but it was an important moment for her and for our whole family.
Jeff & Anne Marie Creekmore, a deputy sheriff and former paramedic, were on their way to Oklahoma to visit family when they saw us on the highway. They stopped immediately, climbed the fence, and helped us. Anne Marie tried to assess my wounds while she asked me my name and age. I could only respond in unintelligible groans. Jeff directed traffic away from us. A hispanic pastor stopped to pray with my parents. Pretty soon the paramedics came and took me away to Brook Army Medical Center. Daddy stayed with me, while Mom & Jenny were taken to another hospital for their more minor injuries.
At BAMC things progressed quickly. Initially there was a line for the CT-scan, so I waited, sedated, since I had fought the doctors trying to examine me at the accident scene. Then my blood pressure dropped suddenly. Doctors took a sample of my stomach fluid and found a tremendous amount of bad bacteria, so they rushed me into the CT-scan. It showed that my liver was lacerated and bleeding, and that means you’re going to die. So the doctors prepped for immediate surgery. Once inside of my abdomen, they saw that my liver was perfect, completely unscathed. We believe the Lord healed it instantly. My pancreas, just behind the duodenum, was completely intact. My duodenum, however, had exploded. So the doctors re-routed my intestines. In an experimental surgery I will be forever grateful for, they put in a false part to work while my duodenum healed; but once it healed, the false part would shut down. Ostensibly I’d never have to have another stomach surgery.
My skull was cracked in two places, so the doctors shaved a quarter of my head and drilled a hole to release the brain pressure. My right femur was broken into three pieces, so they inserted a titanium rod down the shaft of the bone to hold the pieces together, the rod held in place with screws in my hip and near my knee (pictured above). My left leg was incredibly swollen, but at this point the doctors couldn’t tell if there was any serious damage. Three teams of surgeons worked for two days to stabilize me. I was in a partially medically-induced coma, and there was no guarantee I’d survive, or even come out of the coma.
The doctors at BAMC were realistic with my parents: people don’t just wake up from this kind of head trauma. If she survives, Mandy’s most likely going to be in a coma. If she’s not in a coma, she’ll likely have amnesia. Expect the worst. But Mom & Dad refused to accept this. They prayed. Our whole extended family in San Antonio prayed. Our church, my school, and all our friends in Dallas prayed. Friends in California flew to Texas to stand with us in prayer. Friends from Florida did the same. Our story got on the 700 Club prayer list. Churches and youth groups all over the country were praying for us. And it worked. God answered.
After five days in a coma, I woke up. My dad’s youngest brother, Mark, was in the ICU room with me when it happened. I looked up at him and said, “Hi Uncle Mark.” Soon my parents were with me, praising God for a miracle. One of the first things I remember is singing The Doxology by myself in the room.
After I woke up from the coma, they moved me to a regular room. It was small, with only room for my hospital bed and an awkward recliner my family took turns sleeping on every night. I was on a lot of morphine at this point, so I don’t remember much, but I do remember watching a Fabian movie on the television in my room. Jeff & Anne Marie brought me a model of a red VW bug. The Walkers came from California to see me. All of my nurses were big Army men in fatigues. My sister bought me The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and the soundtrack to Bye Bye Love on tape to play on my Walkman. I dreamt that God wanted me to go on the roof of the hospital and throw down balloons like basketballs. And I remember Lieutenant Colonel Murray, my head surgeon, telling my parents and me that I was a testament to the power of prayer and the greatest medical technology they could offer me. My recovery was going miraculously and quickly. Ten days after the accident, it was time to move me back to Dallas.
To be continued…