Opinion

A daughter nearly lost in drowsy driver accident

We often read in the newspapers or hear from friends about someone who was injured or killed by a drunk driver. Throughout middle and high school, our children are constantly educated by the local D.A.R.E. and M.A.D.D. programs about the important issue of drug and alcohol abuse and of driving while intoxicated.

There are public service announcements against drunk driving in the media and even warning signs about it on our highways and roads.

Most of our recent high school graduates and young adults are not aware of another cause of reckless driving. It is one rarely talked about. It hardly gets headlines, school programs, local or national awareness groups or highway signs warning about the dangers of it. But its statistics are just as tragic as those of deaths and injuries from accidents caused by someone driving while intoxicated: Driving while drowsy or fatigued.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov), “Police have cited driver drowsiness/fatigue in an estimated 56,000 crashes annually, resulting in roughly 40,000 non-fatal injuries and 1,550 deaths. According to the National Sleep Foundation, researchers in Australia showed that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; .08 is considered legally drunk.

To most of us, bland statistics and cautions about accidents from driving while drowsy are without much meaning. We shake our heads, and hope it never happens to us or to our loved ones. But every one of those 1,550 tragic deaths and 40,000 injury victims could have been prevented — by something as simple as a good night’s sleep.

Our 17-year-old daughter Mora Shaw was a 2006 graduate from Issaquah High School. She was ready to start college and attend Western Washington University in Bellingham. Mora looked forward to a future of learning, making new friends, to traveling the world and finding her own way in life. Until the morning of July 18, 2006.

Mora was a passenger in a car traveling on the Blewett Pass highway. The friend who was driving the vehicle had stayed awake the entire night before and fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted off the road and crashed. Mora suffered multiple broken bones, collapsed lungs and traumatic brain injuries. Three passers by and one a trauma nurse — tried to save her fading life. While the aid crews and State Patrol quickly converged on the scene, Mora quietly expired. Miraculously, a minute or so later she began to register vital signs on her own while the nurse and aid crew worked to get her out of the wreckage.

With injuries so terrible, Mora drifted back and forth between life and death. She was resuscitated in-flight on the Airlift Northwest chopper and again in the Harborview ER. As we learned of her massive injuries at Harborview TICU, my wife Mary Beth and I began to live every parent’s nightmare.

Agonizing over Mora’s many broken bones was quickly eclipsed when we were told by the trauma specialists that they did not to expect her to live — to make plans for Mora’s funeral. They later confirmed that Mora was in a coma and had suffered significant brain damage. If she survived, it was unknown if she would ever gain consciousness. If she recovered, they did not know if she would be a vegetable, or have the facility of a third grader. It got worse. Even with her fractured shoulder-blade, breastbone, ribs, pelvis, sacrum, leg and crushed ankle, the orthopedic surgeons were unable to do the desperately needed surgeries because of the swelling in her brain.

Despite all the odds, four hellish weeks and three surgeries later, Mora survived and slowly emerged from her coma. With a battered body and mind, she spent the next three months healing in a body cast. As she tried to regain her memory, Mora also had to re-learn all the simple things she was taught as a child — to eat, talk, wash, dress, read, write, and eventually, walk.

The past year, Mora has fought with steely determination and true grit to regain her old self back. She is dealing with some cognitive deficits and faces yet more surgery to try and save her crushed ankle. With luck, Mora will be looking forward to regaining more of her old life in the fall. But it will never be the same. All because one young adult decided to drive 182 miles with no sleep the night before.

Our young adults will spend the rest of this summer working, playing and getting together to party with their high school friends. As they do so, every teen and parent is aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. On this anniversary of Mora’s accident, when you remind your young adult children about the dangers of drinking and driving, please also educate them about the dangers of driving while drowsy or fatigued.

Their lives may depend on it.

William Shaw is an Issaquah resident and is the Advertising Manager for King County Publications, Ltd., the parent company of the Mercer Island Reporter.

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