The $500 raised during a recent Zumba event is greatly appreciated by Sarah Parker, 39, of Swanton, but it pales in comparison to her desperate needs and the devastation that has shaken her life to the core.
“Sarah has already incurred well over $200,000 just in medical bills,” said her attorney, Michael J. Sabbeth.
“It was part of my bucket list,” Parker said of owning a motorcycle and riding alongside her boyfriend, John Jerome.
Parker successfully completed the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicle motorcycle-training program, bought herself a 2000 Harley Sportster, and began to enjoy evening rides with Jerome.
About three weeks later, on Aug. 1, Parker’s dream ended in a nightmare. A tragic accident left the mother of four with a severed lung, mangled legs, a gaping laceration to her chin and missing teeth.
She has undergone four complicated surgeries, is paralyzed from the waist down, and continues to suffer moderate to severe short-term memory loss.
According to the police report, Kaitlyn A. Lefebvre, 22, of Enosburg Falls, was at fault for the 4:15 Thursday night accident in August at the intersection of Route 7 and Wood Hill Road in Swanton.
To add to the tragedy, Lefebvre, driving a 2006 Ford Focus, was uninsured.
The implication is clear. “Sarah has no source of recourse,” said Sabbeth.
“That is one of the great injustices in this case, the fact that she was a driver without insurance, shows her reckless disregard for the public,” Sabbeth said of Lefebvre.
“While Sarah did have her own insurance, the policy has much less coverage than is needed,” he added.
“Sarah is a paraplegic and may remain that way for the rest of her life, and now she faces having to redesign her whole house, and who knows what will happen with her employment,” he said.
“This is a complete travesty, Vermont does have a victim’s fund, but Sarah doesn’t qualify for that, but we do intend to fight for whatever we can to help her,” Sabbeth said.
In the uniform crash report narrative submitted to the state (Vermont State Police did not issue a press release to inform the public of the accident) Trooper Michael Mattuchio, of the St. Albans barracks, said he was summoned to the accident scene and advised that a female motorcyclist was unresponsive. It was raining heavily and roads were “very slippery” said the trooper.
By the time he arrived, Sarah Parker had become responsive and was being transported to the Northwestern Medical Center (NMC).
Mattuchio said he observed the red Ford Focus in the middle of the intersection and a motorcycle on its side by the front passenger side of the vehicle. It immediately deduced that the car had turned left when it was struck by the motorcycle.
The policeman said Lefebvre told him she was “extra cautious” of motorcycles when she drove as her father drives one. He also noted that Lefebvre believed that she came to a stop prior to pulling out onto Route 7 where the accident occurred.
The 22-year-old told police she was well into her left hand turn from Woods Hill Road onto Route 7 south “when she heard a ‘thump’ from the passenger side of the vehicle.”
Mattuchio said Lefebvre “was very shaken up, tears rolling down her eyes and short of breath … and informed me that she was not sure if she had insurance or not and that she was going through some financial problems.”
The trooper stated, “I advised her that was fine and to call me when she got home to inform me whether or not she had insurance.”
Mattuchio said he had a second trooper standby until a wrecker arrived and then left for the NMC to hopefully speak with the motorcycle operator.
At the hospital in St. Albans, Mattuchio spoke with Jerome. Sarah’s boyfriend, according to the trooper, said that same morning he had offered to pick Sarah up from work due to the weather but she had decided to ride her motorcycle home telling him that she would have to learn how to ride in the rain sooner or later but would take her time.
Since Sarah was being prepped for transfer to Fletcher Allen Healthcare, the trooper asked Jerome to call him the next day and leave a voicemail updating him on her condition and providing information about the motorcycle.
In that subsequent call, Jerome told the trooper that Sarah was “OK” but had been placed in a coma so that she could heal. It wasn’t until 13 days later that Mattuchio learned from Sarah’s insurance company that the Swanton woman was paralyzed “and had a long recovery ahead.”
In the conclusion to his uniform crash report, Mattuchio stated that Lefebvre had failed to yield to on coming traffic, was therefore responsible for the accident, and had been issued a no-insurance ticket.
Veil of tears
“Not a day goes by that I don’t cry,” said Parker as she sat in the Healing Garden on the Fanny Allen Campus of Fletcher Allen Healthcare Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation in Colchester.
“This is really hard for me,” said Parker, who has been a Licensed Practical Nurse for 15 years. She had just recently become director of Social Services at the Redstone Villa Nursing Home, and also teaches the Licensed Nursing Assistant programs at Northwest Technical Center in St. Albans.
“I’ve lost the ability to walk, lost so much time with my kids, and lost the chance to see my daughter (Ava Jerome) off to her first day of kindergarten,” she said.
Parker also faced being at the rehab center for her son, Zachary Campbell’s 12th birthday. She also is the mother of 21-year-old twins, Kelsey and Joshua Parker.
“There have been so many tears cried,” she added, “I was doing so well in between my two jobs, and I’ve already been out of work for two months. I don’t want to be poor; I don’t want to be in debt.”
Parker finally was to be discharged from the hospital and return home on Friday. She was able to obtain a grant from the Vermont Dept. of Independent Living and Disabilities to build an entrance ramp to her home, but still has to pay to have her split-level ranch-style home remodeled to make it wheel-chair friendly.
“I want to work. I miss my jobs, and I really miss my patients,” she said wiping away her tears. “This has changed my whole perspective (about the nursing field),” Parker added.
“Even my approach to teaching will change; experiencing what it’s like on this side has given me so much more to add to my classes – but it has taken so much from me.”
On her final motorcycle ride Sarah was on her way home to get ready for her second-to-last class of the psychology course at Community College of Vermont in St. Albans. The class is a prerequisite as part of her studies to become a registered nurse, something she still wants to pursue.
Parker does not remember much about the accident, just that a Good Samaritan came to her rescue as she lay there helpless and bleeding. She found out later that it was Walter Woodward III, and that he knew her boyfriend.
Woodward took off his shirt and used it to help stop the bleeding from a gash on her chin. He then covered her with beach towels he had in his car. He also called Jerome, who rushed to the scene.
“He (Jerome) heard me yelling when he got there, I was saying that it wasn’t my fault, that I had been driving carefully,” Parker said.
The next thing she knew she was awake in the hospital and felt she couldn’t breathe.
Her mother, Debbie Call, picked up the story. “They got her to the Emergency Room at Northwestern Medical Center and immediately transferred her to Fletcher Allen as a trauma case,” said Call, herself a seasoned nurse of 28 years.
“They had to induce a coma so they could work on her, but they did manage to save her leg,” Call said.
She explained that the medical team felt her daughter had suffered an esophageal or tracheal tear, but she insisted there was something else going on with her daughter, such as a punctured or torn lung.
She was correct.
“Sarah’s left lung was nearly amputated,” she said.
“A miracle occurred that her lung came to rest on her heart, and they were able to get in there and reattach her lung,” Call added.
“But that is what is believed to have caused Sarah to be paralyzed,” she added. “The pressure compromised the oxygen supply to the spinal cord.”
While she faces an uncertain future and untold obstacles, Sarah is beginning to put things into perspective.
“I am just lucky to be alive,” she said.
To Support Sarah Parker…
The Messenger offers its assistance to publicize efforts to assist Sarah Parker and her family in the weeks and months ahead. Those needs, of course, include financial support, assistance with handicapped accessibility and other modifications to her home, and help achieving her degree as a registered nurse.
Individuals or groups planning to assist or volunteer with such efforts are asked to contact Sarah’s mother, Debbie Call, at 802-865-8399. The sale of t-shirts showing support for Sarah is already underway – visit the Support for Sarah J. Parker Facebook page for more information on the shirts, which feature a motorcycle and the words “Look Twice.”
Donations are currently being accepted at youcaring.com (http://www.youcaring.com/medicalfundraiser/sarah-j-parker-fund/86895).
Those wishing to publicize additional efforts may contact the Messenger at 524-9771 (press 5 on your phone to get the newsroom) or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Postings also may be made at the Saint Albans Messenger Facebook page where additional updates will be made available.