2015-09-10 / Views

Filling in ‘what ifs’ and connecting people

A column by Patti Brandt

I can’t imagine waking up in a hospital and not knowing where I am, how I got there or what that big contraption is around my head.

That’s exactly what happened to Amanda Loucks.

It had been almost a full year since the car accident that fractured a vertebrae in her neck and left her with a brain injury when I wrote about Amanda and her amazing recovery.

She had gotten rid of the halo traction device she wore screwed permanently into her skull for months until the neck fracture could heal. She had completed the therapy she needed to get back into physical health and doctors were ready to give her their stamp of approval.

She was back to work at her summer job as an Empire Beach attendant, albeit a year later.

But she has a black hole in her memory that claimed a two- to three-week period of her life.

Amanda can’t remember the accident or its immediate aftermath.

And she is resigned to the fact that she may never remember.

I had written about the collision when it happened. The car driven by a young woman from California had spun out on M-72 in a heavy downpour. Her tires may have been bald. She was badly injured.

But she was young and I assumed that she was on vacation, that she would heal up and return to her life in California.

She was a blip on the radar of the Enterprise newsroom.

About a year went by and Claude Fields of Empire sent me an email. Amanda had stayed in the area, he told me, and had been through a lot over the last year.

He thought she had the makings of a good story.

He was right.

Amanda was doing great and was now ready to take on the world with the college degree she had earned just before moving to Empire.

But there was still that black hole.

Rescue workers and a sheriff’s deputy who were there had told her what happened, but she said it always felt like they were talking about someone else.

There was also the matter of the four people from Germany who were in the vehicle behind Amanda on M-72 – the vehicle that slammed into her when she spun out and buckled her car like an accordion.

Who were they? Had they been hurt?

And then I got another email.

It was from Doris Eiche, one of the four visiting Germans. She was living in China, but a friend from Glen Arbor had seen the article and sent it to her.

Doris knew that Amanda had been badly injured, but that was all. She and her husband, Thorsten, have been thinking about Amanda ever since and wondering how she was, whether she had recovered.

They had been trying to get some information, but confidentiality laws had gotten in the way.

She read in the article that Amanda had lost all memory of the accident and asked if I would be willing to forward a letter to her.

“We have thought a lot about you this past year, wondering how you were doing and hoping that you will find a way back to normal life,” Doris wrote.

“So we were very happy when friends in Glen Arbor forwarded the newspaper article in the Leelanau Enterprise to us – we finally got some news from you, and it was good news!”

The German foursome had been to a wedding in Glen Arbor and were heading back to Chicago when the accident happened.

Doris then fills in some of the blanks for Amanda, providing details that could only come from someone who was there — details about Thorsten trying to get Amanda out of the crushed car, other people who stopped to help, that Amanda was in shock and wasn’t breathing.

Doris says they have all thought about the ‘what ifs.’

“What if it had been one of the guys driving our van?,” she wrote. “They would surely have driven faster, so we wouldn’t have hit your car. Would you have been better off if we hadn’t impacted, or would you be dead now, having overturned on the roadside? What if we had rented a smaller car?”

Those questions and others will never be answered, for Doris or for Amanda.

As for me, I consider myself privileged to have been the gobetween for Amanda and Doris. After all, being a reporter is kind of like being a conduit.

I hope that Doris’s letter helps to fill in some of the blanks for Amanda and I’m glad that email was able to connect the dots for the people involved in the story — from Empire and Glen Arbor to China.

And I’m really glad that I got to know Amanda a little, that she became more than a radar blip for me — and for readers of the Enterprise, who I know enjoy a good story.

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