Monday marked 10 years since the devastating accident that left Southold resident Kim Haeg, now 28, clinging to life.
After the 2004 car accident in Peconic left her a quadriplegic dependent upon a ventilator, the journey has been long and marked by challenges for Kim and her mother Lorraine.
Remembering the dark night that changed her life forever, Haeg wrote on Facebook Monday, “Ten years ago today I was getting ready to go off to college and excited for my new life, as was my mom who, was ready to retire and move down south, when suddenly life changed within the blink of an eye. I had no idea this could ever happen to me. I never heard of spinal cord injury until that day when our lives were completely shattered and changed forever.”
Yet despite the challenges, Haeg finds hope and optimism. “Today I am grateful I’m alive and love the people who have come into my life after this accident. And the ones who have stuck by me through everything since. It’s a different life than we ever expected but we have learned not only to survive but to live and enjoy each day. Please remember to appreciate what you have and don’t take for granted the little things in life, like taking a breath of fresh air.”
Speaking to SoutholdLOCAL, Haeg said on the night of the accident, she’d left her job at Curves not feeling well.
“My stomach was bothering me and I felt very weak. I had called a friend to bring me ginger ale and went out to his truck in the parking lot for a break during work. He wanted to drive me home and I refused saying, ‘No, I’m okay.’ That night after work, I drove home took a shower and changed my clothes, then proceeded to drive to my grandparents’ house in Mattituck.”
While with her grandparents, Haeg again said that she didn’t feel well. “They begged me to stay there for the night and not to drive, but again I was stubborn. I left their house and drove to my boyfriend’s, who also lived in Mattituck. When I got to his house, i remember saying I needed to lie down.”
Haeg said she remembered waking up and wanting to get home to share a scholarship she’d just received with her mother; again, she refused a ride.
‘I promised him that I would call him as soon as i got in my house. I vaguely remember getting in my car and don’t remember the planned drive home. My last memory was waking up in Stony Brook’s ICU.”
Haeg had become unconscious behind the wheel while driving east on County Road 48 in Peconic; her car entered the grassy center median, and struck a concrete drainage structure.
The days ahead were dark with fear and uncertainty for Haeg and her mother, as the teen saw her vision for a bright future drastically altered.
“My dreams before the accident were to go to college for interior design,” Haeg said, adding that she had applied to five colleges and been accepted to all, with her first choice having been the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“I really wanted to go there,” she said, adding that she’d been awarded a merit scholarship by the school. Haeg’s mom had plans to move down South, she said. “That was her dream.”
Down the line, Haeg had oped to open her own shop and design for hotels and offices. “All the professors were amazed at my work, done just in high school. I was so happy,” she said.
But instead of college classes and textbooks, dorms and dances, Haeg found her future filled with physical challenges. Injuries sustained during the accident included broken ribs, pelvis, pubic bone, jaw, four teeth, and femur in both legs. Her lungs were bruised, liver lacerated, and she suffered a contusion to a kidney. In addition, Haeg said she suffered a closed head injury that caused fluid on the brain, which required a craniotomy and a bolt in her head to relieve the pressure, compartment syndrome in her abdomen due to having been crushed, adult respiratory distress, and an aneurism on impact.
Life-altering injuries also included a compression fracture of her cervical spine, which left the formerly active and free-spirited teen paralyzed.
“Learning to accept my new life was hard,” Haeg said. “I faced many challenges such as looking at myself in the mirror in a wheelchair, having to depend on other people for things like combing my hair, brushing my teeth, washing my face, feeding me, changing the channel on TV, holding the phone for me when I have a call — basically performing my every need.”
Even today, the reliance on others bothers her, Haeg said. “I can’t just drive anywhere I want to go; I have to find someone to drive me and have someone always there. I don’t have any privacy. Granted, I’m given privacy when I ask for it, but it’s not the same.”
Still, Haeg finds joy in pastimes such as shopping. “When I go out with friends, it uplifts my spirits,” she said.
Over the years, Haeg has found joy in sharing her story with teens, inspiring them to face their challenges with courage.
And she’s found hope and personal inspiration while attending fundraisers with Anthony Testaverde, founder of the Testaverde Fund for Spinal Cord Injury, Inc., such as a Rally for the Cure in New York City, where she sees glimpses of hope for the future as new innovations in spinal cord and stem cell research are unveiled.
Haeg has also found an outpouring of support in the North Fork community that has come together to carry her through the hard times, by helping to remodel her house so that she could live comfortably at home after the accident, and by hosting yearly fundraisers in her honor.
To others that might be facing the same challenges, Haeg has a message: “I like to encourage other people facing the same situation I’m in to look past their injury and go out and do the things they love to do.”
By Lisa Finn