Maria’s Dance with Death

Maria’s accident crushed the entire left side of her body.

Editor’s Note: Maria Rea suffered horrible injuries in a one-car accident. She was unconscious for a week, heavily sedated for 6 weeks, and lived in the hospital for 9 months. Her life, the life of her family, and the life of her community were changed forever on February 25, 2011, when Maria answered a telephone call on her cell phone as she was driving to work. This remarkable story tells the true story of a courageous woman and the family and the community that never gave up on her. Part 2 of a 5 part series.

When the paramedics arrived, they first thought Maria had a brain injury, but thankfully they were wrong. The wreck had, however, torn and broken the entire left side of her body. Maria’s liver, lungs and spleen had been ruptured, and her hip and pelvis were fractured along with her knee, shoulder and arm. Maria’s back was broken at the T11 and T12 vertebrae. The paramedics rushed Maria to the nearest hospital; however, after taking x-rays, the doctors wanted her airlifted to a larger hospital. The weather was too severe to fly there, so she was sent by ambulance to Savannah Memorial Hospital, 2 hours away.

Once they arrived, she was rushed into surgery to save her life. She had a total of nine surgeries while at Savannah Memorial. According to Maria, “Stabilizing my spinal cord, my back, and my hip were the first surgeries. Two rods were inserted into my back, and the doctors cleaned up the bone fragments out of my back and spinal cord. They decompressed my spinal cord and put a metal plate in my hip with screws. The next day they performed surgery on my arm, cutting my arm from my wrist almost to my upper arm, to relieve the pressure and the fluid buildup in it. I was told that my arm was four times as large as it should have been. Even after the surgery, the doctors weren’t sure that they’d be able to save my arm. My arm was left open for 2 days before the doctors sewed it back up. I was in intensive care in Savannah Memorial Hospital for 4 weeks.

Maria’s family, friends and entire community were praying for her.

Unbeknownst to Maria, there was a higher force at work as her family and community prayed for her. Maria believes it was the power of praying that kept her alive. She recalls, “My husband told me that right after the injury, my body started breaking down. I got blood clots in my lungs, and there was a big concern that one of those blood clots would break loose and kill me. My blood pressure was going through the roof and my heart rate was off the chart from the medicine being used to fight infection.  My sister and my husband’s sister kept my children. The school superintendent came to visit Maria. She was told that a job would be waiting for her when she got ready to return.

The support didn’t stop there. Her family set up a Caring Bridge site on the internet to keep everyone updated on her condition, and she received 27,000 messages of hope and prayers by the time it was all said and done. But even with all the support, Maria was devastated to learn she had caused her family so much pain and grief. “I knew how upset my mother and dad were. I realized how hard it was seeing their baby girl lying in that hospital bed, broken, unconscious, with all types of tubes running out of me, and hanging onto life and death. I know it was hard for my husband seeing his wife totally unable to help herself much less her family. When I learned that I was the reason for everyone being so upset, the thought alone almost crushed me. My family asked me if I remembered what caused the accident. I didn’t remember. I wondered, ‘Why did this have to happen? Why did I have to be the one responsible for this wreck, and all the heartache that it’s brought to my family and my community?’ I knew I hadn’t intentionally caused the wreck but I also realized I’d been careless. I was depressed for a very long time. Since my children came and stayed for the weekends, I’d be fine from Friday through Sunday. But as soon as they’d leave, I’d cry the entire next week. Being away from my children was horrible. Without my faith in God, I don’t think I would have come out of the depression or lived. I always believed that my condition was temporary, and my family and community reinforced that idea. I knew that one day I would be back home.

 Next: Maria Rea’s Long Road to Recovery at the Shepherd Spinal Center 

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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