Editor’s note: All this month leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon, WTOP’s Jamie Forzato is bringing you stories of runners who have endured loss, persevered through personal struggles and found hope.
WASHINGTON – Lori Falcone, 43, could have died instantly in a freak accident on Aug. 8, 2011.
One minute, she was sitting outside a café in Stamford, Conn., where she lives, having lunch with friend. The next minute, she was being hurled through the glass window and a car landed on top of her.
“It was a beautiful Monday morning,” Lori recalled. “What started as a great day ended as a life-changing experience.”
Around 12:30 p.m., a 92-year-old driver attempted to park in a handicapped space just in front of where Lori and her friend were sitting at Cafe Oo La La when the driver accidentally pressed the gas instead of the brake.
A split-second later, the car jumped the curb and smashed into the crowded restaurant.
“(He) hit me head-on, barreled me 25 feet through the restaurant until my body stopped the car,” Lori said.
That’s when her memory ends. She can’t remember the aftermath but says that according to news reports and police, her body slammed through the tempered glass and came to a rest underneath a countertop inside the café, pinned under the still-running car. She was bleeding profusely and her injuries were obviously very serious, but bystanders didn’t know, at the time, whether her spinal cord was damaged.
The shopping center manager witnessed the crash and Lori’s trapped body. He had to make the difficult decision: do nothing or pull her out and risk paralyzing her.
“He saved my life that day. He had the courage and fortitude to pull me out and say, ‘I can’t watch this girl die. I’m going to pull her out and stop the bleeding.’ You wonder how many people would have made that difficult decision,” she said.
An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, and Lori remembers wanting to contact her husband. “I knew it was bad. I didn’t have pain at that point. I was in and out of consciousness,” she said. “But I was determined to get in touch with my husband and tell him it was okay for him to move on.”
Once at the hospital, doctors confirmed her pelvis was fractured multiple times and her organs began failing. But, incredibly, her spine was not damaged.
“My break was about a tenth of an inch from my spinal cord. I wasn’t paralyzed. My injuries could have been so much worse. To this day, I really don’t know how I survived,” she said. “The fact that I lived is incredible. The fact that I wasn’t paralyzed is a miracle.”
Meanwhile, nine other people, including her friend, who was six months pregnant, were also injured in the crash, but no one died – another miracle.
During Lori’s recovery, a nurse encouraged her to make short-term and long-term goals. Lori decided that if she could walk again, she wanted to complete a marathon. “I started in a wheelchair, went to crutches and a cane. Finally I was able to walk again. It was a very long road to recovery. I had to re-learn how to do everything.”
Doctors warned Lori that she may have to remain in the hospital for six months, but Lori was released within a month and continued getting stronger. She started with a 5K and built up her confidence. In February of this year, a colleague suggested running the Marine Corps Marathon.
“I said, ‘Okay! Let’s do it!’”
She decided to run the marathon to raise money for the Semper Fi Foundation, which provides financial support for wounded Marines and their families.
“I try and look at the bright side, the silver lining, because so many times you can give up. But I wanted to fight.”
She says the experience changed her life, and made her realize some very important lessons: Spend more time with loved ones; don’t sweat the small stuff, and ask for help when you need it.
And finally, she suggests, don’t sit outdoors in front of a parking spot.
The driver, 92-year-old Samuel Leighton, was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and reckless operation of a motor vehicle. He passed away in March 2013.