Tammy Hall-Mathews May Be a Victim, But She Doesn’t Act Like One
Tammy Hall-Mathews was called into third shift at Tri-County Animal Shelter on Sterling when she realized she left her lunch at home. It was 11:11 p.m. on March 18, 2013. She walked to her car, which was the last time she would walk without a limp.
Pulling onto Sterling, she set her cruise control to 45. She doesn’t like to speed. She checked her mirrors, saw Little Caesars Pizza, and then headlights coming at her. After seeing the windshield shatter, the next memory she has is waking up on her side. She noticed a tear in her scrubs, felt pain through her chest and a burning in her feet. Her phone was in her pocket, but her arms were numb. A witness ran to the car and kept her company until the ambulance arrived. People began to gather. She tasted the airbag, and she would continue to taste it for a week. CDs filling a sweater box in the back had each exploded from the sheer impact of a vehicle that had hit her head on, leaving plastic everywhere inside.
The EMTs told her, as many have since, that she was lucky not to have died. Tammy replied that “she’s got God in her corner.” OSF ER kept her for a week. Her husband, Rob, rushed to the hospital and stayed up 36 hours straight with her. Over the next 9 days, he would lose 10 pounds from stress.
The accident had shattered Tammy’s left foot. She had other broken bones, bumps, and bruises, but this was the main concern. The hospital ended up releasing her for a week because they could not operate until swelling subsided. The family waited. Rob came to our office.
While they put on a strong face, the family had much concern. Rob’s employer had recent layoffs, and their ability to pay for any medical treatment hung by this thread. Even if they had insurance, how would they pay for all these bills? The doctors were saying that amputation was a slight possibility, risk of infection was 50%, certainly she’d always have a limp and likely an ankle fusion. It was clear: she would never again dance or run. An entire reconstruction would be necessary using two doctors. Physical therapy would stretch for a year and a half.
Tammy also could not return to work for six months. The family stressed that “her job is probably the most important thing in the world to her.” At the ER, nurses recognized her from the vet ER. Tammy had just taken a pay cut to switch from the insurance industry to working with animals. She had no guarantee now that she’d have a job to return to – except that co-workers assured her that they would pinch hit until her return to make sure the position wouldn’t be filled.
The bigger problem was her schooling. She was also in pre-vet at ICC with only 6 weeks left to graduate. The parking lot was on the other side of the campus from class, and she couldn’t even drive to the parking lot. She would be forced to eat her student loans and drop out.
Rob’s mom flew in from Hawaii for six weeks to help. Tammy would need around-the-clock help, and they would take shifts during the night to wake up in two-hour increments to help her. Her surgeries began on April 4, and she would have two more.
During the entire period, Tammy remained upbeat. She prayed to God to help her deal with the day-to-day difficulties, and the thought that she would never have the same life again. As she sat on the couch with her leg elevated and contained in an external fixator, she read numerous articles praising the lady who hit her – a retired Bradley professor who we now know to have had a BAC of 0.352.
To her immense credit, Tammy did not grow bitter. She retained her sense of humor. Now, she’d just as soon talk about her hot new K-mart shoes as the scars underneath them.
Today, 9-11-13, is Tammy’s first day back to work and to the co-workers and job she loves. She has a year of physical therapy remaining, but she remains strong. And she has no ill will toward the driver who hit her. She is not “speaking out,” as the news has stated; she just wants to thank all those who have supported her. And she does not wish to pursue the lady’s estate. Her hospital liens will be adjudicated, with a court order reducing them so that the bills do not end up bankrupting the family. She may have a limp forever, but she is okay. As she says: “Rob is arranging a way for me to get safely into the house – but at least he isn’t arranging a funeral.” Just as the other driver is proof that good people can do terrible things, Tammy is proof that good people can remain that way in the face of terrible things.