I never thought I would be grateful for a charley horse, but, well, life is weird.
On Saturday, June 8th, 2019, Daphne, our very spirited 2.5-year-old little girl, woke us up at about 5:30 a.m. by banging loudly on the bedroom door. It was an especially ungodly hour given that it was a Saturday. Still lying in bed, I stretched and yawned. Suddenly, YEEEEEOOOUUCCCHHHH! I got a major charley horse in my left calf. I roused my husband with a mixture of pain, and well… glee. I said, “Frank has a charley horse! Frank has a charley horse!” The leg I very nearly lost because of an impulsive, bad decision by a teenage driver was finally functioning like a normal leg, after almost 5 years of healing.
Frank is short for “Frankenleg.” We call “him” that, with affection, because he was miraculously put back together using spare parts from other areas of my body and a bunch of metal. He is made up of some skin from here, some muscle from there, a titanium rod and complete ankle rebuild. I got the charley horse because the muscle from my back that the trauma surgeons painstakingly stitched into the space where my original calf muscle had been had finally grown in and even learned how to act like a regular leg.
But Frank isn’t the miracle in this story, Soren, our 5-year-old, is. When we were struck, he was 5 weeks and 1 day old. I’m going to let my letters - one I wrote to the young man, and one I wrote to the judge in our case - tell the rest of our story, but if you don’t read those, please at least read this:
- Teens are always out and about, on their way to hang out with friends, jobs, sports games, and everywhere in between. Talk to them about what it means to be a safe driver. The teen driver that was speeding and ran a red light, resulting in my infant and I getting hit on the sidewalk, was late for a baseball game and showing off for his friends in the car. He never intended for this to happen, and if you asked him today, I would bet a million bucks he would say it wasn’t worth it.
- Buckle up those babies and kids in the right restraints- car seats, booster seats, etc. When Sam ran the red light, he hit a car, which hit my infant son and me. That car had a properly-restrained 5-year-old boy in it, who was emotionally traumatized but otherwise unharmed. My tiny son was buckled in an infant car seat in a stroller, and after seeing that car seat face-down on the sidewalk several feet away after impact, I am 100% sure that he would not be here if not for being buckled into that car seat.
(Names have been changed and the letters have been edited for length.)
Letter #1: To Sam, the teen driver.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
I am hoping we will have the opportunity to talk face-to-face before the proceedings, but I have no idea what will happen on Tuesday and I really need to say some things to you, for both our sakes.
I am certain that the emotional and physical injuries your actions on June 24th caused me and those who love me were completely unintentional. Everyone makes mistakes and the consequences of those mistakes vary- yours just happen to be dire this time. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to June 24th, I’m sure you would do things very differently that day. Despite what you might think, I am not bitter, nor am I vindictive. That is not who I am or how I want to raise my son. I can’t be certain that you care whether I forgive you, but if you do, I want you to know that I absolutely can, if you do three things.
First, you must promise me that you will never, ever drive recklessly again. Regardless of the circumstances, driving the way you did on June 24th is not the way to get wherever you’re going. I’m sorry if this next part sounds like a holier-than-thou lecture but just indulge me because I’ve earned the right to say this. When you get behind the wheel you are putting your life in the hands of the drivers around you, and the drivers and pedestrians around you are putting theirs in yours. There is this mutual trust between strangers that we will do what we need to do to keep each other safe. Promise me and my little boy that you will never break this social contract again. You must understand that on June 24th not only did you endanger other people (including a 5-week-old infant), you endangered yourself. You can’t imagine what it would have been like for your parents to get the call that they had lost their son forever because he was late for a baseball game… but try.
This brings me to the second thing. If you have not done so already, you must look both of your parents in the eyes and apologize for what you have put them through, both for jeopardizing their son’s life and for all this stressful legal and financial stuff. Then you must thank them for helping you get out of this mess. I hope you never take them for granted after this.
Finally, when you are a parent you must promise to tell this story to your kids when they are learning how to drive.
Letter #2: To the judge in the appeal trial for Sam.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the court today. On June 24th at four in the afternoon I was a newlywed and new mother to a 5-week-old baby boy named Soren. I was working hard to reestablish my active lifestyle while nursing my son around the clock and preparing to return to my full-time job in mid-July. One hour later I was gazing down in horror fearing my son was under that hot, blue car that had me pinned against a brick wall by my leg. I will never forget seeing his car seat, face-down on the concrete sidewalk, a few yards away from the intersection where moments earlier I had stood, babbling down to him about where we were going and what we were doing. My husband will never forget seeing his newborn son in a full-body brace with an IV, laying in a sterile hospital crib while he awaited any trauma-related diagnoses. Given the magnitude of the impact that our stroller took, it is truly remarkable that Soren is alive, let alone thriving. As it happens, today, May 19th, is his first birthday.
For the next 5 weeks my family worked in shifts to care for my newborn son at home, and me in the hospital, 24 hours a day. They watched me endure excruciating pain in the aftermath of each of my 7 surgeries and helped me work through the many complications I faced including a collapsed lung, extensive deep vein thrombosis, excessive blood loss, bed sores, recurrent fevers, and narcotics withdrawal. Apparently during one of my surgeries I lost my pulse, went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. In short, I am lucky and to be alive.
As a result of his decision to drive recklessly, Sam put my family and me through an ordeal I would not wish on anyone, and left me permanently disfigured and to some extent, disabled, as it is unclear whether I will ever be able to again do many of the things I formerly enjoyed. Make no mistake, my ability to walk today is a testament to the excellent medical care I received, the ongoing support of my husband and family, and my motivation to be ready to chase after a rambunctious toddler. Even after these 11 months, I am still on a bevy of medications as my pain and blood must be constantly monitored and managed. My husband and I have had to put our plans for more children on hold as I continue to heal. Worst of all, this accident stole 5 precious weeks of my son’s infancy from me as I lay in a hospital bed instead of at home, nursing him, where I so desperately wanted to be. That one is hard to get over.
I will not presume to speak for anyone but myself, but I have forgiven Sam. He and I had a chance to speak face-to-face this morning and I am certain that the injuries he caused us were completely unintentional. I have asked Sean to promise me that he will never drive recklessly again, that he will look his parents in the eyes and tell them how sorry he is that he put his own life in danger as their son and thank them for helping him deal with these consequences, and finally, that he will tell his kids this story when he is teaching them to drive. I realize I have no way of knowing if he will make good on these promises, but he has agreed to these three things and I believe he is sincere.
I thank you, Your Honor, for listening to my statement and weighing it in your deliberations. What I desperately needed today was to be heard and for our experience to be acknowledged and honored. I trust in your experience and I have made a conscious choice to be at peace with whatever the court decides in this matter.