Colonel Carter's story in her own words...
I had taken Friday off to make a four-day weekend for Memorial Day. My husband and I were spending time together before I departed for a short military assignment. It was a lovely day; sunny and mild, a day to take slowly and enjoy. We were driving our Miata convertible with the top down along the quiet back roads that are not traveled much.
As we headed home, we came around a bend in the road. I caught a glimpse of an animal crossing the road. My husband instinctively hit the brakes and twitched the car slightly right. I saw fur. I felt us hit the animal. I felt the right tires slip off the narrow pavement, and in a heartbeat we slid down into the ditch. I closed my eyes tight. We began hitting brush and small trees then I heard a loud bang. Through my closed eyes, I saw a white flash and puff of white smoke. I kept my eyes closed tight. Everything seemed to be happening at once. For what seemed like an eternity, I felt my face being pelted by branches, dirt, and sand. There were many loud bangs, one after another, after another, as the car tumbled end over end. I thought to myself, I must relax so I can live through this. I never opened my eyes but kept feeling hits to my face, crunching of metal, and loud banging.
Then, I heard my husband say, “Kelly, can you move, we have to get out if you can.”
"I am so blessed. I easily could have been killed, or paralyzed and I was not. I still have full use of both my arms and legs, I can still wiggle my fingers and toes, I can run my fingers through and feel my dog’s fur, and I can walk by myself."
~ Colonel Kelly Carter
I realized the banging had stopped. That was the first time I opened my eyes. We had come to rest upside down facing the other direction, in an 8 ft. deep drainage ditch. I unbuckled my seat belt and grabbed the tall grass to pull myself out of the car. I immediately knew I had a spinal injury because I had no strength. My husband was on the low end of the car trying to turn the engine off so it would not catch fire. I sat above the car, in the ditch holding my head. I was bleeding from my ear – another bad sign. I had no phone, the maps had gone flying out of the car. I was trying to figure out how we would get help and tell someone where we were.
As my husband crawled out from under the car, miraculously, a North Carolina State Trooper pulled up with his lights flashing. I asked my husband if he could get to the other side of the ditch; he did, and spoke with the Trooper. When the paramedics and ambulance showed up they put me in a neck brace, and built a bridge across the ditch with a ladder. I sat on a backboard holding my head as they scooted me across the ditch, and then put both my husband and I in the ambulance.
In the emergency room, I could feel them methodically press my arms and legs checking for other broken bones. The next thing I knew the ER doctor was telling my husband, who was now standing beside me, that they were going to have to fly me via helicopter to a trauma center.
The local hospital could not handle my injuries. Shortly, the transport team arrived and prepped me for the helicopter flight.
In the helicopter, it was claustrophobic with all the medical equipment. Strapped to the gurney with my head immobilized, I began to vomit. The next thing I knew the back end of the helicopter opened. I never felt it touch down. At the trauma center, they diagnosed me with multiple fractures to my first and second cervical vertebrae. The spinal surgeon characterized my injuries as the hangman’s break. During the tumbling, we hit something hard enough that the car door on my side was torn away from the car in a downward direction. My right side from my waist to my knee was purple with bruising. Thankfully, between wearing the seat belts that restrained me inside the car and having a true certified roll bar that fended off the most vicious impacts, we were spared fatal injuries.
I spent the next five days in the hospital. I had four titanium screws inserted into my skull to immobilize my neck with a halo. I wore the halo for 12 weeks 24/7. I could not do much for myself, and for me, losing my independence was a horrifying experience. I could not bathe myself, I could not put on a shirt myself, I could not sit upright for any length of time, and I certainly could not drive. Often I needed help to change position. Luckily, I have a wonderful and understanding husband who took care of me through it all. He was kind, and empathetic, and tended to my every need, in spite of my less than good humor.
I am so blessed. I easily could have been killed, or paralyzed and I was not. I still have full use of both my arms and legs, I can still wiggle my fingers and toes, I can run my fingers through and feel my dog’s fur, and I can walk by myself. I was wearing my seat belt, so even though the car tumbled end over end, and my door was torn off, I stayed in the car. Thanks to an aftermarket Hard Dog M2 roll bar, even though we landed upside down and hit things hard enough to tear my door off the car, we were not crushed. My neck may never be the same – it may always hurt but I will never complain.
I am so thankful to my husband’s foresight to buy a convertible with a real roll bar, and to the several medical teams that tended to me. I am also thankful for the Metro Aviation pilot – his superlative skills and judgement, and to God for the opportunity to continue in this life.