Madison Regatta Victim Has Long Road To Recovery - News, Weather & Sports

Madison Regatta Victim Has Long Road To Recovery

By Lori Lyle

(LOUISVILLE) -- On July 2nd, Indiana's Madison Regatta turned into chaos when a car driven by 18-year-old Michael Bowen plowed through a crowd of spectators. In a matter of seconds, lives forever changed. For the first time, the most critically injured victim is sharing how it changed her life. WAVE 3's Lori Lyle has more.

Jennifer Willette from Madison Heights, Michigan, was the most seriously injured when Bowen's car slammed into her while she enjoyed a day at the Madison Regatta. When she awoke from her coma a month later, she instantly knew something was terribly wrong.

"I went to scratch my face and my arm wasn't there," Jennifer says. "I went to move my leg and I couldn't."

Jennifer had no idea why she was in the hospital, no memory of how she was dragged by Bowen's car into the water, or how her fiance, Eric, held her unconscious in his arms. And she had no memory of losing an arm and part of her leg.

Other victims, life Jennifer's father, Rory, were rushed to the nearest hospitals, but Jennifer needed to be flown to a Level 1 trauma center, and even doctors at University Hospital were shocked by her condition -- open head and chest wounds, and open fractures to both her legs.

Chief Resident and trauma surgeon Dr. Eric Davis calls Jennifer the "worst case I've ever seen."

At home in Michigan, Jennifer's mother, Sarah, got a call from the hospital telling her that her husband, Rory, was going to be OK.

Then she got the call from University Hospital in Louisville about Jennifer. "They said you probably won't get here in time. Your daughter's not going to make it."

Dr. Davis says he had no time to stop and think. With multiple fractures and bones ripping through skin, he says the first step was to "conquer the bleeding, then contamination.

Jennifer's open wounds had allowed river water to seep in.

Jennifer's sister, Tiffany, says when they arrived at the hospital, they were greeted with bad news. "They said you have about three hours with her."

Rory says doctors estimated Jennifer had about a five percent chance of survival, even after she had been stabilized.

Dr. Davis says Jennifer had lost an incredible amount of blood and received about 25 units of blood during her first 12 hours in the hospital.

That's equivalent to her own blood volume several times over.

The family looked at every minute with Jennifer as a gift, and soon the minutes turned to hours and then to days and weeks, and Jennifer was still hanging on. Then, one day, she woke up and started to talk.

It was a miracle.

Now after nearly 30 surgeries and two amputations her family is thankful she's still alive.

Jennifer has been transferred to a facility closer to her home and family. She's struggling to adjust to her condition -- even the simplest tasks now take incredible effort, and physical therapy can mean excruciating pain.

Jennifer's parents hold Bowen responsible for her pain. "I do wish that he could see what he's done," Rory says.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is concentrating on getting on with her life. Eric, her fiance, is seeing to that. "He came back and he bought the house," Jennifer says. "The one I had fallen in love with."

She's now planning a fall wedding, and perhaps another trip to Louisville to remove the large skin graft that closed her stomach.

Both she and her family are thankful to Dr. Davis and others at the trauma center for everything they've done. "If it weren't for them, we wouldn't be planning her homecoming," Tiffany says. "We would have already planned a funeral."

"I'm thankful everyday," Rory says.

Dr. Davis says Jennifer changed his life. He's staying at University Hospital and UofL to teach his philosophy: never say never. And when Jennifer returns to the hospital, it won't be in a wheelchair, she's now standing on her prosthesis, and could finally be going home early December.

Online Reporter: Lori Lyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever

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