By Alyce Collins
AFTER being hit by a DRUNK DRIVER this woman was left PARALYSED from the waist down after shards of bone shattered in her SPINAL CANAL – but only two years later she managed to successfully WALK down the aisle at her own dream wedding.
Freelance journalist, Erin Rollins (33) from Chicago, USA, was driving her car in November 2014 when a drunk driver travelling the wrong way came around a corner and collided with her, hitting her head on. Paramedics said Erin was lucky to survive the collision.
In the hospital, staff ran tests and checked Erin over while a nurse warned that she was putting a catheter in so not to alarm Erin, although Erin didn’t feel anything. Erin initially thought this was due to the pain medication, however she was found to have suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury and two burst fractures which sent shards of bone into her spinal canal, resulting in paralysis from the waist down.
The also caused holes in Erin’s colon, small intestine and bowel and internal bleeding, requiring emergency surgery to repair her organs and stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, Erin became septic following surgery and further surgery was needed 10 days after the crash. Surgeons were horrified by the extent of the sepsis as Erin’s colon was spouting at them when they operated.
Three days after the collision, surgeons had to operate on the spinal column to remove the shards of bone, which if left, could result in permanent paralysis. Erin began physiotherapy on December 6 and by December 18 she was able to walk with a walker and a harness for support. The crash brought Erin’s flourishing life to a standstill and she’s spent years regaining her strength, so she is now able to walk independently but requires braces on her feet as certain nerves and muscles don’t work, and she must catheterise intermittently.
Remaining optimistic has helped Erin to recover much of her movement and in October 2016 she walked down the aisle to marry her husband, Dennis (39).
“The crash happened on November 9, 2014 but I don’t remember it at all,” said Erin.
“My memory from after the crash is very spotty and I remember specific moments. I remember being wheeled backwards into the ambulance, but I had no idea what happened.
“The paramedic came over and said I was lucky to be alive because most people don’t survive crashes like that. I kept telling them I was in the worst pain of my life repeatedly.
“The next memory I have is of being in the hospital with nurses around me, taking me for tests and telling me they had to put an indwelling catheter in, but I didn’t feel anything though they told me it would be really uncomfortable.
“I remember thinking it must have been the medication to numb the pain, but it wasn’t until later that I found out that I actually had no sensation from the waist down due to the lower spinal cord injury I had sustained.
“At one point, someone came into my room and said they had to do emergency surgery, but they didn’t know what to do first. Apparently, the holes in my colon, small intestine and bowel could cause sepsis and kill me. I was also bleeding internally from the severed iliac artery and there was plenty of free-flowing fluid in my abdominal cavity.
“I had such severe spinal nerve compression that if they didn’t fish out the hundreds of shards of bone in my spinal canal, I could be completely paralysed for life. They did the abdominal surgery first, which was a laparotomy surgery to address the severed iliac artery and patch up the holes in the organs. Then they wanted to do the spinal surgery the next day.
“The laparotomy surgery failed, and I became septic so had to be rushed for my third emergency surgery on November 19. They caught it just in time and within hours I would have died because the colon was literally spewing at the surgeons when they opened me up.
“They needed to place a stoma bag to compensate for my bowel because without the stoma my chances of becoming septic again were very high.”
Erin has amazed many doctors after surviving so many obstacles which almost led to her death. Four years after the crash, Erin went to meet the incredible firefighters who helped remove her from the wreckage and take her to hospital.
Over the last four years, Erin has regained her ability to walk, but her life is still drastically different from what she once imagined. She is unable to carry anything heavier than 15 pounds because of her abdominal damage, carrying her own child will be very high risk because of the damage to her spine and abdomen, and may need a stoma bag indefinitely.
On the day of the drunk driver’s sentencing, just days and weeks before Erin and Dennis’ wedding, Erin forgave the driver and even hugged her in the court.
“I may not have physically died on November 9, 2014, but I lost my life,” said Erin.
“Before the crash, I had dreams of having a career in journalism, but now I’m faced with the harsh reality that despite gaining back a lot of function in my body, I still have devastating losses that people don’t see from the outside. I’m faced with these losses every time I have to say no to something because of pain, or because I’m physically unable to participate.
“I can’t just get up and go running or go on roller coasters. I can’t do anything that might potentially hurt my spine or have impact. I struggle with fatigue which is common in spinal cord injury patients and I can’t handle the heat as my spine has trouble regulating temperature.
“The inability to urinate on the my own, the complete dependence I have on intermittent catheters and colostomy bags is frustrating, discouraging and extremely expensive. What if I lose my medical supplies or I don’t pack enough for a trip? These are the things I worry about constantly.
“Due to the abdominal damage, I’m never allowed to carry more than 15 pounds. I worry about the fact that my husband and I want to try and get pregnant in the next couple of years, but I will never be able to safely pick up my child once he or she grows beyond 15 pounds.
“There is much more risk for me having a child than an average woman as there is a risk to my spine, and the abdominal mesh used to repair my stomach. I was told that a C-section is the only safe option for delivery, but a C-section will cut through the abdominal reconstruction, so my plastic surgeon would have to be present at the birth to close my abdomen properly.
“I will never be able to restore the time that was lost. I can forgive and move on, but the losses and sadness remain. People assume that because I’ve forgiven the drunk driver and maintained a good attitude, it means that everything is okay, but it’s not. The grief is real and will last a lifetime.
“You may not be in control of what happens to you, but you are in control of how you respond. Bad things happen to good people and you can choose to lie down and take it, or you can choose to fight.”