Local News

May 11, 2014

Crash victim hopes to use experience to be a better nurse

CHATTANOOGA — Cynthia Hidalgo knows she’s fortunate to be alive. She knows she’s come a long way since March 6 when a head-on collision in Dalton left her trapped inside her car, her legs a mangled mess under the dashboard.

Still, struggling through the past two months of hospital stays, therapy sessions and temporary commitment to a nursing home, the Chatsworth mother of three can’t help but think of what her life would have been had the wreck not happened.

She was a straight-A nursing student at Dalton State College, set to graduate last Friday with her class. She was already a nurse technician at Hamilton Medical Center. This was to be the start of a career she’d been dreaming of ever since she could remember.

She was active physically, too.

On March 6 around 7:30 a.m., she was on her way in her Nissan Versa to work out at Bradley Wellness Center. Suddenly, a Chrysler 200 Touring coming from the opposite direction crossed the centerline on Underwood Road and hit her car head-on, knocking the car off the road. Investigators have said the wreck was caused by a drunk driver, and records show the man has a criminal history.

What happened after the crash is a blur of pain and chaos. Hidalgo remembers calling for help. Authorities would later charge the driver who caused the wreck with leaving the scene of the accident. Hidalgo remembers a woman who witnessed the brutal crash coming to her aid.

“I told her how bad it hurt. She called the police,” Hidalgo recalled. “She kept me awake the whole time.”

Hidalgo didn’t know it then, but she had an open fracture in one leg and an obvious hip dislocation. The car’s airbag had deployed, but the dash had crunched in on her lower extremities.

She couldn’t move, and her car door was twisted shut. At times, she struggled to remain conscious. When first responders arrived, she began begging them to get her out. The pain was excruciating. About 45 minutes later, rescue workers were able to cut her out of the vehicle and get her to Hamilton Medical Center. Hidalgo had one of the employees there explain she wouldn’t be reporting to work that day.

She hasn’t been back since.

“I barely remember the first two or three days, and even the first week is a blur,” Hidalgo said.

From Hamilton, Hidalgo was quickly taken to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga where she would spend the next two weeks. She’s undergone nearly a dozen surgeries to repair the leg with a broken bone and a badly injured opposite leg. After her hospital stay, she was sent to NHC HealthCare Chattanooga for rehabilitation. A setback put her back in the hospital for two more weeks. Then she was sent to NHC again where she spent several more uncomfortable weeks in a wheelchair. On May 3, Hidalgo finally got to go back home to Chatsworth.

She’s expected to recover, and while the most critical part of her journey is past, she has a long road ahead. She still can’t walk. Doctors sent her home with a machine to help her do physical therapy until she’s well enough to actually put weight on her legs again. It costs $150 a month. Now out of work because of the wreck and with mounting medical expenses, she doesn’t know how she’ll afford to pay for them.

Still, she said she’s glad to be back home. She hated for her three children — one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school — to be without their mother.

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