Injured woman fights to regain life
METAMORA, Ill. -- Mary Crawford of Metamora last slept in her own bed on July 14, the same night she kissed goodbye her youngest daughter, 25-year-old Megan, and watched her head off on a road trip to North Carolina with her best friend, Amy Adkins of East Peoria.
"She was all excited about going. We told her to be careful. And she left," said Megan's sister, Monica.
Mary checked in with Megan shortly after midnight.
"I told her, `Be careful of the deer, Megan.' That's what I was worried about," Mary said.
The girls were on Interstate 75 near Richmond, Ky., shortly before 4 a.m. Amy was asleep in the passenger seat, cuddled in a fuzzy gray knit blanket Mary had made. Megan was behind the wheel.
Another driver, a painter who lived in the area and was on his way to work, inexplicably made a wrong turn and ended up going north on the interstate in the southbound lanes. Several cars had near misses, including the car directly in front of Megan and Amy. Megan wouldn't have seen the minivan coming at her until the car ahead of her dodged it. She had no time to swerve.
Amy, 26, and the other driver were killed on impact. Megan was alive, barely, but broken and unrecognizable. Emergency responders couldn't tell the girls apart from the information on their driver's licenses.
In the ambulance, despite being near death, Megan briefly opened her eyes -- her blue eyes.
The paramedics called the accident investigators. "We have Megan. She has blue eyes."
Megan has been frightening her parents and siblings pretty much her whole life. At 18 months, she was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes -- something complicating her medical care after the accident.
She had meningitis at age 3 and bladder reflux surgery at age 4. She's had her tonsils and gall bladder removed. She had chronic, debilitating migraines all through high school.
One night at age 5, after her parents had spent their entire day moving everything but the family's beds, including the contents of the refrigerator, Megan awoke in hysterics about dogs attacking her. Her blood sugar was dangerously low and there was nothing in the house to help her. Her parents called 911, and a police officer with a Pepsi in his car saved her life.
None of those scares comes close to capturing the terror Megan's mom felt when a police officer knocked on her door just before dawn July 15, handed her a name and a phone number on a piece of paper and gently broke her heart.
"There's a nurse in Lexington, Ky., that you need to call about Megan Crawford."
Megan's parents list a series of miracles they attribute to their daughter surviving an essentially unsurvivable crash.
Paramedics were able to intubate her while she was still trapped in her car. That car, not incidentally, Megan had purchased three weeks earlier after she and her mom had debated the Chevy Impala she ended up buying or a much smaller car. The location of the wreck -- within 35 miles of a weeks-old Level 1 trauma center, one of the best in the country. The time of day she arrived at that hospital -- about 5 a.m., when teams of doctors were ready and waiting for surgeries that were scheduled but not yet begun.
"If it had been at 8 o'clock in the morning, would she have had all those doctors right there?" Mary wonders.
Her parents are amazed at the speed with which she made it to that hospital. Motorists reported the wreck at 4 a.m. Firefighters had to peel back the roof of her car to get her out and into an ambulance. Yet within an hour, she was in the emergency department of that hospital 40 minutes away.
And the miracles continued. She suffered dozens of open wounds by compound fractures and glass and had not an infection among them, even though they were virtually untreated for days because Megan couldn't be moved.
"Somebody had to be watching out for Megan," Mary said.
She had compound fractures in both legs, a kneecap, ankle and her right elbow, which was shattered. Her hips, pelvis, right arm, jaw and two vertebrae in her neck were broken and her lungs were bruised. The only thing that wasn't badly injured was her left arm.
But worst of all, she'd suffered a traumatic brain injury.
"I wasn't ready when I saw her that first time," said her father, Mike. "She was a mess. She was one massive bandage."
Megan stopped breathing once that first day and was revived. The doctors would only tell her parents and five siblings to be optimistic but realistic about her chances of making it through.
The Crawfords have a large extended family. Reporters also continued to check on her condition. Her parents and the medical staff came up with a code to give to family, so the nursing staff would know information on her condition could be released to that person. The code was "blue eyes."
Three days after the accident, Mary was taken aside by her sister, Elaine -- a nursing director and the aunt Megan was on her way to see when she was passing through Kentucky.
"She said, `Mary, Megan's got a strong heart. If anything happens, would you be willing to allow her heart to go on?"'
The conversation was about organ donation, and Mary had no answer at the time. But it made her ask herself if she could find the strength to have the medical team cease its superhuman efforts to save her daughter if it became apparent it was futile -- to turn off the machines. Mary knew immediately what Megan would want.
"If there was a question of letting her go, I would have let her go," she said. "If there was no hope, I would let her go. But we've always had hope."
Over and over, people ask the Crawford family, "How is Megan?"
It's a complicated question. Megan before the accident loved many things: Dancing, shopping, meeting up with friends. She loved her job selling clothes at Motherhood at the mall, probably because she loved people and loved everything about shopping. She has an astounding number of shoes in her closet to prove it.
Megan has had 14 surgeries since the accident, and still needs more. After seven weeks in Kentucky, Megan was flown to Peoria and is a patient at Kindred Hospital, the former Greater Peoria Specialty Hospital, a post-acute care facility. Mary continues to stay with her every night and monitor her incremental improvements every day.
But only time and excellent medical care will tell how well she can recover from her brain injury.
"We don't know what's in her future," Mike said. "We just don't know."
Her family has a lot of reason to believe her spunk is still in there, to not pack up her dancing shoes.
"She's bright-eyed. She's watching the doctors," her mother said. "She's listening to us. She reacts to what we're saying. She's tracking."
"It's so hard when you're leaving her," Monica said. "She follows you."
She shows them her personality daily, by shooting daggers at a therapist who wants her to move her arms and playing with her siblings' children, when they're allowed to see her.
"She does a perfect little thumbs-up. Like this, but not all the way," said her 6-year-old niece, Gracie. "If you say `Thumbs-up,' she'll do it, easily."
Megan has yet to be told about the loss of her dear friend, Amy. That's something her family isn't ready to burden her with.
Soon, Megan and her parents will begin the next phase of her recovery, at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of the best in its field.
At some point, all of the medical bills will have to be unraveled, insurance sorted out, and plans made for Megan's future, when she comes home to live with her parents. Mike is particularly concerned about the likelihood of Megan losing the insurance she has through her parents in February, when she turns 26.
It's a worry for another day, but a real one, nonetheless.
"I pray a lot. I put a lot of stuff in God's hands," Mary said. "Material things have to be taken care of. But they're not my No. 1 priority."
Megan's three sisters and two brothers, all of whom rushed to Kentucky in the hours after the accident, are doing what they can. They bring her pictures their children have drawn her when they visit. Monica has taken to painting Megan's toenails every week.
And all five are working hard to hold two benefits to help pay for their sister's care and all of the secondary costs, such as hotel rooms and meals on the road in Kentucky, the lost pay from the weeks of work Mary has missed at her part-time job at Snyder Village, and even trying to ready a home for a wheelchair and medical equipment. The financial toll is nowhere near tallied but promises to be staggering.
But there's joy in those problems, because they mean Megan is still with them, said Megan's oldest sister, also named Mary Crawford.
"No matter what the outcome, we all agree. Megan's a miracle," she said.