Accident leaves Hannahs paralyzed from the shoulders down by David Lias The Sept. 11 traffic accident was so serious that efforts were made to contact the victim's pastor as soon as possible.
But a Vermillion woman is continuing to defy the odds. She has discovered how easily one's life can change — or even come close to ending — in just the blink of an eye.
And her family is learning that they are not alone as they struggle to cope with the devastating effects of a mishap that can be blamed on a camper's blown-out tire.
A fund has been established at First National Bank in Vermillion for anyone who wishes to help the Tim and Wanda Hannahs family with medical expenses.
Wanda, an employee of the billing and maintenance department of the Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus, is a patient in the rehabilitation unit of Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls. She is paralyzed from the shoulders down after things went terribly wrong approximately a month ago as the family began a camping trip.
Wanda was driving the family's pickup which was pulling their camper. Passengers in the pickup were their daughter, Dana, and the family dog. Tim was following on his motorcycle.
He watched in horror as a tire on the camper blew out, causing the camper to fishtail out of control when Wanda was attempting to pass a semi-trailer.
The pickup rolled into the median between the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 29 approximately 2 1/2 miles south of the Alcester/Wakonda exit. Dana and their dog were tossed into the back of the pickup. Dana received minor injuries, and was treated and released at the local hospital.
Wanda was thrown through the front windshield of the pickup and landed on her shoulder in the left lane of southbound Interstate 29.
"Talk about a courageous woman," said Larry Veitz, her boss at the Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus. "They (the doctors) gave her almost no chance of living. She is a real pillar of strength. When her surgery was successful, she had to cope with the reality that she probably will have to live as a quadriplegic."
Wanda may be alive today because of the people who stopped by on the highway to assist her right after the accident. Larry said the first person to stop at the scene was a neurosurgeon who was traveling from Sioux City to Rapid City. He was soon joined by two nurses and a minister.
An air ambulance helicopter from Marian Hospital in Sioux City was in the area, and soon landed at the scene. Larry said Tim, who is director of maintenance at the Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus, would have preferred at that point that Wanda would have been transported to Sioux Valley Hospital. But the helicopter pilots told him they didn't have enough fuel for such a trip, Larry said, so she was transported to Sioux City.
Wanda sustained injuries to her spinal cord and around a cervical vertebrae. Three vertebra were fused by surgeons Sept. 14 to stabilize the fractured portion of her back.
Rev. Johnson was in Pierre when he was contacted about the accident, and he rushed back to be with the family.
"I learned that she was stable, but in critical condition," he said, "September 14 was a long, long long Monday to see if she would survive surgery. For the longest time, the main question was if she would even be able to breath following the operation."
Both Larry and Johnson agree that the fact that Wanda is alive today is nothing short of a miracle.
By late September, Wanda began to show signs of some improvement. Doctors discovered that she had a blood clot, but were able to successfully dissolve it before she suffered a stroke. Doctors also had been concerned with fluid that had built up in her lungs. That problem, too, improved.
Wanda also began to regain sensation in her arms, hands and ribs.
"She continues to regain function in arms and thorax," Larry said. "And she has gained some sensation in her feet and legs."
But, Larry said, it appears that there's no guarantee that Wanda will regain the use of her arms and legs.
It's a condition, Larry said, that Wanda said she can accept.
"After it became apparent that she had survived the surgery, she told Tim and she told me that she has to live with the hand that's been dealt her," Larry said.
Johnson last met with Tim on Monday.
"There's a large group of people who are wanting to help in a concrete way," he said.
Johnson said a group of volunteers are exploring the construction of a new bedroom and bathroom on the main floor of the Hannahs' home for Wanda when she returns home.
"I'm always amazed at the benefit of living in a small town," Johnson said. "There is nothing like the community that rallies around people when they are in a crisis."
The Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus has set up an account for Wanda to help cover medical expenses. Employees there may also donate vacation time to either Tim or Wanda for up to a total of 40 hours in a calendar year per employee.
Larry encourages members of the general public who wish to help the Hannahs family to donate to the fund that has been established at First National Bank in Vermillion.
Larry added that Wanda has told him to thank everyone for the continued support she has received from her "family" at Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus.
Anyone who wishes to mail a card to Wanda may mail it to: Sioux Valley Hospital, 1100 S. Euclid Avenue, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5039.