ANNAPOLIS, Md. — WTOP traffic reporters regularly catalog collisions that affect commutes, but those reports only tell a part of the story. Beyond the clean up and the investigation, survivors often start a long road to recovery.
For 25-year-old Katie Pohler of Glen Burnie, Maryland, the recovery from a nearly fatal crash in 2014 with a drunken driver has involved immense physical and emotional healing.
“I had maybe six or seven surgeries overall, the first of which was to save my life,” she said.
Pohler adds that she doesn’t feel especially angry toward the drunken driver that hit her and her boyfriend. But she does want people to be more conscious of how their decisions can affect someone else. “I understand that people like to go out and have fun,” she said, but advised that people who drink alcohol should always make sure they have a safe way home.
The accident happened on a sunny June day, Pohler recalls, when she and her boyfriend, Todd Green, were riding their bikes on a segment of Maryland Route 450 that’s marked as part of the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail. Their ride was violently interrupted by a car that crashed into them. The woman who was driving the car was later convicted of drunken driving.
Pohler was critically injured and Green had serious — but not life-threatening — injuries. The pair were airlifted to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
“I don’t remember the impact. As far as the accident itself, I remember about two seconds of the helicopter ride. That’s it,” Pohler said as she sat with Green in the kitchen of his Baltimore town house, two years after the crash.
Daily reminders of the crash that nearly took her life physically mark her. “I had a broken fibula, a broken left arm and my right hand has plates in it,” she said. Pohler also suffered fractures to her right collarbone, right shoulder blade and spinal cord.
Scars spread across her right shoulder out from under her sleeveless top — evidence of the crash — and there are other scars across her throat. Pohler added, “Something went through to my airway and hit my vocal chords and carotid artery.” She says that injury changed the way she speaks: damage to the vocal chords has given her voice a raspy quality. The plate in her hand restricts her movement somewhat, and Pohler says she doesn’t think her right shoulder will ever return to full function; that’s something frustrating for an athletic young woman who, with her boyfriend, loves to take part in sports.
Pohler talks calmly about the collision now, but she remembers that the emotional impact didn’t hit until after she’d gotten past the most intense parts of her physical recovery. She says it wasn’t until after she was out of the hospital that she learned how seriously she’d been hurt. “They didn’t think I was going to make it to shock trauma [center] alive — that was pretty hard to hear.”
And this June, as the two-year anniversary of the collision approached, Pohler says she found herself feeling more emotional. “When you’re going through rehabilitation and stuff, you have your mind set on that,” she said. “Once that’s over, then you have the time to really think about what happened, and I think that’s when it gets pretty hard to deal with.”
Green was able to appear with police two days after the crash and appeal to area drivers to be more careful, especially as they approach cyclists. He and Pohler have gone on bike rides since the crash, and he reminds drivers that they need to give cyclists room on the road. It’s the law.
“You need to give them three feet, and if you don’t think you can make that pass around them, then don’t do it. Just wait until there’s a better spot [for passing],” he added.
Pohler has also made an effort to get people to realize that they need to be responsible drivers. She even posted photos of herself in the hospital on her Facebook page with a message urging friends and family to take care. Green said, “I really like how Katie reached out on social media trying to push people toward thinking about those decisions. If you’re going to go out and drive, you’re there to drive, you’re not there to get drunk, or you’re not there to be texting and playing games.”
Now the one emotion she’s left with in the aftermath of the crash is sadness: feeling that time was taken from her and her boyfriend, time they could have been enjoying life instead of having to deal with a long physical recovery and the court case involving the driver who was eventually sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Pohler’s stance on the decision to drive after drinking is firm: “It’s not worth it — it’s just not.”