Car wreck survivor returns to work
KEYSTONE – Lauren Gentile said she was excited to return to work at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Keystone.The 19-year-old walks with a limp and tires easily, but she couldn’t be happier. Gentile was driving along Highway 9 south of Frisco on March 22 when a car with three men crossed the double-yellow line and struck her Ford Explorer head-on, sending both cars careening off the highway.”It was scary,” she explained. “My roof was cratered in, so my door was hard to open and I squeezed through and tried to walk but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do. I saw someone laying on the road face down. I saw the car across the highway – my car went over it like a tank – the guy was almost decapitated. I had a huge gash in my nose and I knew my foot was hurt.”All she could think about was the people in the other car and the dance competition she was supposed to attend that weekend.”I knew I was lucky right from the get-go when I looked at everyone else,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Is everyone OK in that car? Please tell me everyone is OK.'”
Two of the men died instantly; the third died within 30 minutes. Gentile was the only one who survived; she credits what she calls her “tank of a car,” a Ford Explorer.Her road to recovery, however, would be long, boring and depressing.Gentile’s heel was shattered in 40 pieces, so she underwent reconstructive surgery to put in a plate and nine screws.A month later, she got a bone infection and underwent three more surgeries to take the hardware out, to flush out the heel and to install a catheter in her heart through which antibiotics were dripped – three times a day for six weeks. Each procedure took 45 minutes.At one point, her white blood cell count dipped perilously, forcing doctors to take her off the antibiotics or risk her death. Her muscle mass shrunk to nothing.
“It was horrible,” she said. “Everything that could have gone wrong did. It was hard to stay positive, but I had a lot of support. I owe a lot to my friends and family for a lot of my happiness.”Gentile’s counselor, Deb Lucket, and English teacher, Denise Oaks-Moffett, helped her through the only class she had to take to graduate, and she was able to attend her graduation on crutches.But Gentile missed her senior prom. She missed the senior barbecue. At a graduation party, she sat in the corner to do her medication regime. She couldn’t party with her friends.”I had to be home every night by 11 to do my medicine,” she said. “And school conflicted with medication times. And the medications suppressed by appetite, I had no energy, I was sleeping 16 hours a day. I missed out on the second half of my senior year.”Because the hardware was no longer in her foot, it took longer for Gentile to heal. She was on crutches for more than four months. But slowly, she began putting weight on her foot until she got rid of her crutches.
The medical bills for 12 doctors, five anesthesiologists, the Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease Team and physical therapy is $75,000 – so far. And her mother, Susan, just lost her job after 22 years with the school district. She loses her family’s insurance at midnight Aug. 31, and isn’t sure what she’s going to do.But Gentile is walking and back to work. Soon, she heads to Antoine DeChez, a cosmetology school in Cherry Creek, where she’ll train in hopes of owning her own salon.”She is a way strong little girl, I’m so proud of her,” Susan said. “She’s incredible. She doesn’t have any hostility. She has to live with what this accident did to her, but she always says, ‘Mom I’m OK.’ She’s going to get through this.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or email@example.com.
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