This is the first in a three-part series by Drunk Driving Victim Erin Rollins:
My entire body shook. My closest friends, family and I had waited for this day for months.
October 18, 2016 represented two years of waiting. Two years spent in-and-out of hospitals undergoing several surgeries, totaling six thus far, and hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy.
Everyone who had supported me hoped for a conviction and agreed the offender should go to jail. This agreement wasn’t due to unforgiveness; rather, the knowledge that forgiveness and justice are separate things.
I had forgiven her for the reckless decision that led to her driving at a BAC of twice the legal limit, traveling the wrong way on the expressway and hitting my car in a head-on collision. But I had trouble forgiving her complete lack of remorse for those two years.
I may not have physically died November 9, 2014, but I lost my life. The Erin I once knew no longer existed. My body was damaged, broken, ravaged, and sliced open several times. It left me with three long scars, one from right below my ribs to my groin area, one from the middle of my back to the tailbone and one stretching horizontally from my left rectus muscle to only a couple of inches away from the back scar.
I had lost so much—my car, job, independence and a possible love interest to name a few—with my body being the most devastating. But there was one thing that sustained me through it all: a prayer that I had prayed most of 2014.
I prayed for my best friend and father to return to Christ, to meet my husband and to make an impact with my life. After seven months, God answered.
On November 6, 2014, I took my little black-and-white Pomeranian for a walk, and asked God once again what it would take for the things I had prayed for to happen. This time, I heard God speak to me as if he was standing right next to me. He shared with me that something tragic needed to happen.
There I stood surprised, but without fear. So I made a request.
“OK, God, do whatever you need to do, just don’t take my life.”
On November 9, 2014, my life changed forever.
At approximately 1:29 am, the same drunk driver that I faced today struck me head-on.
I truly believe that had I not asked God to spare my life, I wouldn’t have made it.
On impact, my spine shattered. I sustained two burst fractures at L5 and S4, rendering me paralyzed—I couldn’t feel or move anything below the waist. I also suffered tremendous injury internally leading to holes in my bowels, colon and small intestine; a severed iliac artery, lacerated liver, fractured sternum, three broken ribs, and a concussion. My right foot broke in three different places, and the seatbelt tore my left rectus muscle in half.
The paramedics, state trooper and hospital staff told me repeatedly that I was lucky to be alive.
The surgeons explained that I needed two emergency surgeries and they needed to decide which to do first: repair the holes to my organs that would cause sepsis and kill me, or decompress my spine to prevent complete and permanent paralysis. Needless-to-say, they chose to repair my organs first.
The next day, the surgeons wanted to conduct an 8-12 hour spinal fusion. My family wasn’t comfortable with the pace they wanted to move because of how critical of a condition I was in. I was subsequently transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital two days later. There, they fused my spine, inserted two titanium rods and 10 screws, and removed as many shards of bone as possible that had taken residence in my spinal canal. The neurosurgeons said there was more damage than they anticipated, and they weren’t sure if I would ever walk again.
The third emergency surgery became necessary because the first one to repair holes in my intestines failed, and I became septic. The surgeons said had they not caught it in time, I would’ve died hours later.
I spent six more weeks in inpatient rehab learning to sit-up, catheterize myself, clean and change the colostomy that was formed during my sepsis surgery, and walk using a walker, while suspended in a harness that hung from the ceiling.
By discharge from rehab, I had survived the most difficult part of my life thus far, but I couldn’t have imagined the task of learning how to live once more with a completely different body and set of circumstances, as well as the emotional task of processing such profound trauma.
Additionally, for the first year and a half afterwards, I was too weak to attend court dates for the criminal case against the drunk driver who almost took my life. When it finally came time to read my victim impact statement in court almost two years post crash, I could never have anticipated what it would be like to face my offender, and the lesson I would learn on forgiveness that day.
Erin’s story is also featured in Chicago Now.