CHICAGO — It seems like WGN covers crashes every day on the roads in the Chicago area, often showing them live from Skycam9 while reporters discuss what happened and the crash's effects on travel times. But you rarely get to meet the people inside those vehicles, or hear the stories of first responders who save their lives. Until now.
A drunk driver hit Erin Rollins while going the wrong direction on I-55 in 2014. She's been recovering from the crash for the last several years, and recently reached out to WGN's Sarah Jindrah to ask for help finding the people who rescued her so she could thank them for saving her life.
Video recorded by WGN showed the aftermath of the crash, including Erin surrounded by first responders as she lay on a stretcher set on I-55 near her smashed-in car. She had been heading back to the suburbs after catching a late movie with a friend. Then a drunk driver got on the expressway going the wrong direction, and hit her head-on at Ashland.
After the crash, doctors didn’t know if she would walk again. She had holes in several organs, three broken ribs, a broken foot and a shattered spine. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Still, she's one of the lucky ones. Last year, 1,098 people died in crashes in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
After multiple surgeries and a two-month hospital stay, she slowly began to recover. She regained some feeling, stayed positive and set her mind on being able to walk again. She took her first steps about a month after the crash with a smile on her face. Fast forward about two years to her wedding day, and Erin walked down the aisle and even shared a first dance with her new husband.
"When I have a goal in mind, nothing can stop me. So I was like: 'I’m gonna walk,'” Erin remembers.
An example of determination and forgiveness, Erin forgave the drunk driver who caused the crash, and even hugged her at her sentencing. She also started a Facebook page called "Peeing is overrated," because she still can’t urinate on her own anymore. There, she shares stories, and is working on a documentary about her journey as well.
"Her spirit and her ability to recover and dedication to recovering are just unparalleled. She's walking today mainly because of her force of will," surgeon Dr. George Cybulski said.
As she prepared to meet the nurses, paramedics and doctors who saved her life, Erin said she was nervous and excited. Along wither her husband, she headed from the southwest suburbs to the Chicago Fire Department's Engine 8 in Chinatown.
"I’ve been praying for this day for a long time,” Erin said. "I feel like everything that’s happened since then is truly a miracle."
Also at the fire station was Dr.George Cybulski, who operated on Erin’s spine, joining nurses who treated her at Northwestern in the I.C.U. and at rehab. Also in the crowd was Joe Davilo and Charles Krug, who wheeled her to the ambulance on the night of the crash.
"That’s what we hope for all our patients, that they can make a recovery like she did. It makes me feel like we did something to impact her life and she did something to impact ours. It's great,” nurse Courtney Dowling said.
Smiles filled the firehouse once they were all reunited.
"Sorry if I have few words," Erin said. "[I'm] really emotional — in a good way — and just really grateful to you guys.“
The thanks went both ways, as the firefighters and first responders thanked Erin for reminding them that their work makes a difference.