Motorist rescued after 36 hours on freeway

Published: March 30, 2004
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Associated Press – Information from: Houston Chronicle

FRIENDSWOOD, Texas – A motorist injured after a crash lay paralyzed in the middle of the Gulf Freeway with a broken neck for 36 hours before he was rescued.

Ed Theisen’s plight was blocked from the view of passing cars by some traffic barricades.

The 46-year-old chemical engineer from Friendswood, a Houston suburb, survived a night alone on the concrete, unable to move or summon help.

“Someone riding in the back of a pickup truck spotted him and called police,” Debora Rodeffer-Theisen, his wife, said Monday after her husband emerged from surgery. “The officer poked him with a nightstick thinking he was a dead body, but he was there and he was very much alive. It was a miracle.”

Worried that he had been carjacked, Theisen’s wife drove past the area twice as her husband prayed for small things such as the ability to grab a plastic bag fluttering nearby to wrap around his arm. He was on his side, staring at a concrete wall, his shouts inaudible to passing traffic.

Doctors later determined that Theisen had broken his neck and suffered a spinal cord injury. He underwent surgery Monday. Family members are eager for him to recover and also are searching for the person who spotted him and called police.

“That person, whoever it was, saved his life,” Debora Rodeffer-Theisen told the Houston Chronicle in Tuesday’s editions. “And I just want to find them and say `Thank you. Thank you for giving me my husband back.’ ”

Theisen’s mother, Mary Ellen Theisen, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the family was “overjoyed” at her son’s rescue, and he was resting after his surgery. She said doctors weren’t certain if his paralysis would be permanent.

“There will be a lot of rehab,” she said. “He was paralyzed when they found him, so there’s a lot of work to be done. But our spirits are good.”

The motorist had been rear-ended on March 22 near downtown and was exchanging insurance information with the other driver. To avoid walking in heavy oncoming traffic, Theisen had stepped between concrete barriers that separate the high-occupancy vehicle lane from regular traffic when he felt weak.

“He thought he was having a heart attack or a stroke,” said Rodeffer-Theisen. “He grabbed the concrete barrier and just went down.”

Instantly paralyzed, her husband could only move his right hand a few inches.

Police wrote an accident report after Theisen disappeared, saying he had walked away from the scene, his wife said. She said the tow truck driver who hauled off Theisen’s car about 7 a.m., and who likely was his last hope, did not see him.

His family feared the worst.

Rodeffer-Theisen, relatives and friends were plastering their Friendswood neighborhood with fliers including Theisen’s photograph when the Houston Fire Department called March 23 to say that he was alive. Rodeffer-Theisen called Memorial Hermann Hospital.

“They said, `We have him here and he is alive and he saying he loves you,’ ” she said. “He was covered in Houston pollution – it was coming out of every pore – but he was alive.”