Survivor describes recovery after crash

<p>Kimberly Sultan plays with the hair of her 2-year-old daughter Emily, Tuesday at the adult foster home on 31st Street and Grand Ave. where Sultan has been living while recuperating from a car crash on Bradley Hill April 14. Sultan has faced a long recovery from the accident in which the car carrying her ex-husband Ivan, their 16-year-old son Keanu and daughter Emily was hit on Bradley Hill by a drugged driver.</p>

ASTORIA — What started out as a leisurely Sunday drive changed the life of Kimberly Sultan forever.

Now, from an adult foster home where she lives fulltime, she works to recover from the 22 broken bones she suffered at the hands of a drugged driver.

Lucas William Brown, 36, of Longview died when he struck Sultan and her family on Bradley Hill April 14.

His son Noah, 8, died from his injuries one week later. The Browns were returning from a weekend visit to the Long Beach Peninsula, where some of Lucas Brown’s family lives.

“I’ve been avoiding the accident — the pictures and stories and all of that since it happened,” Sultan said.

“I accidentally saw a picture of it for the first time a couple of nights ago and I cried and cried for about three hours. I don’t exactly know why I was crying — except maybe that it was a realization of what actually happened, even though I’ve been living it.”

The foster home took in Sultan and her 2-year-old daughter Emily, who also survived the crash, without charge.

There, Sultan makes a sandwich for both her and the girl, Tuesday, after several hours of physical and occupational therapy. An act many may take for granted, Sultan preparing a sandwich and lifting her daughter into her high chair is a huge step towards recovery.

“Bones are going to heal, internal injuries are going to be taken care of, and by the end of the summer I’m going to be just fine. And knowing that, I think, has helped me recover better because it wasn’t some major life thing that I was going to have to ultimately learn to live around,” Sultan said.

“It’s like the framing of the outside of the house is all up and now the plumbing and the internal stuff, which takes forever, has to still be done.

“I feel like I’m doing really good and I am healing so much faster than anybody expected and every time I go to physical and occupational therapy, they keep telling me how great I am still doing. But I still have a long ways to go.”

Sunday drive gone wrong

On April 14, Sultan, her ex-husband Ivan, their 16-year-old son Keanu and Emily, were on U.S. Highway 30 coming back from Portland. With Sultan behind the wheel, Ivan was reading a story to the family. The cruise control was on.

“I was travelling at exactly 55 miles per hour because I wanted to hear the rest of the story,” she explained.

She was passing a car in the left westbound lane.

That’s all she remembers.

“I don’t remember a lot,” she said. A doctor explained to her that a pain drug given in the ambulance can have an effect similar to amnesia. From Longview, Wash., to the accident, she has no memory. “I know that it happened, and I was awake and it was a clear sunny day and beautiful. I just don’t remember any of it. And I think that’s from the drug that they gave me.

“The micro-seconds before the accident, I know that there was nobody on the road. It was just me, and the car I was passing, and there was a car far, far away. Keanu was leaning forward in his seat, we were listening to Ivan read this story, we were all just having a great leisurely time coming back home from Portland. And I all of a sudden realized we were going to be in a crash. There was nowhere to go. I remember looking at the speed I was going, I remember looking at the time, and I looked at the yellow line.

“Those three things and then I don’t remember anything else.”

The crash

Sultan’s Mini Cooper was struck by Brown’s Volkswagen Jetta, which crossed the centerline. Brown died on arrival at the hospital. Noah Waite-Brown, 8, died in the hospital after several days. Brown’s 7-year-old son Kaine survived.

Brown’s toxicology results showed he had methamphetamines, amphetamines, marijuana and lorazepam, a sedative, in his system. Dispatch records show several drivers had called to complain about Brown’s erratic driving and speeding up until the crash.

Ivan Sultan, a physical therapist at Columbia Memorial Hospital, doesn’t remember the accident. He broke his nose. Emily had a bruised collarbone from where the child safety restraint pressed on her. She also bit her tongue. Keanu broke his collarbone and bruised a rib. He is the only one who remembers the accident. He had his eyes closed throughout the ordeal, but heard everything. Emotionally, he has been the most affected.

“Keanu looked up and saw the car and had just enough time to sit back against the seat before we crashed,” Sultan said.

A one-time excited student driver, Keanu is now scared of getting behind the wheel, she said. He also suffers some nightmares.

Sultan had thought Emily was not affected following the accident, but during a recent shopping trip, Sultan was in the dressing room and an emergency vehicle with a siren on went by. The little girl panicked and was desperate to find her mom.

“I think there is some residual stuff there,” Sultan said.

Waking up

Sultan notes her recovery is gradual.

“I woke up after the crash, or came to, and I felt really clear-headed,” she said. She had an overwhelming sense of peace and heard a man tell her that everything was going to be OK, and everyone in her car was OK. She isn’t sure who the man was, but it was before emergency personnel arrived.

“I looked to my left and saw my broken arm. It didn’t look right, I didn’t feel it, I could just tell it was wrong. I couldn’t tell that there was anything else, any other damage. I remember there was something just lightly blowing in the wind that was scratching me, a piece of metal from the window. I couldn’t really look at it. But I could see the steering wheel was in the middle of my car, with its airbag deployed.”

The dashboard was pushed into her lap, adding to her internal injuries, which included bleeding from her spleen and liver.

“In my head, I was thinking, ‘I’m going to be fine,’” she said, noting she could feel her toes and had no pain. “I thought, ‘I just have a broken arm.’ So I closed my eyes and I?just said, ‘All right God, here I am.’ I was just filled with this incredible peace that everything was going to be OK, regardless of whether I lived or died. It didn’t matter at that moment, I just knew I was going to be OK.”

Physically, she was not OK, however. Ivan was telling Keanu to touch and talk to her because they were losing her, she later found out. She asked five questions over and over again: Why can’t I feel my hand? Why am I driving? Why were we in Portland? How are you? How is Emily?

By the time the Jaws of Life extrication tool was used and Sultan was pulled from the car, Ivan had the answers down pat.

Sultan broke 22 individual bones, not counting multiple breaks to the same bone. She broke her pelvis, dislocated all of her toes, broke each bone in her left arm, broke her hip socket, nine ribs on one side, three ribs on the other, and her shoulder, among other breaks.

“I remember consciously making the decision to wake up, and I got really scared, but then I remember thinking, ‘No, I was promised everybody else was OK, so it’s OK for me to wake up because I can deal with what has happened to me, as long as everyone else is okay.’ So I just clung to that feeling,” Sultan said. “I chose to wake up and it was funny because it was a real distinct choosing. And I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen not to wake up.”

Recovery

She did wake up. Later, she faced several surgeries, pins and plates, and a six-week stay in the hospital, including 20 days at Seaside Providence before Sultan was released to the adult foster home owned by the Kancharla family.

“Everyone else refused me because on paper, I looked so bad,” she said of other care facilities.

For the first several days, she was confined to a wheelchair.

“It was all pre-arranged, but I didn’t take (Emily) for two days because I was really scared about taking her again and being a full-time mommy,” she said. “I didn’t know, because at that point, I could only be in the chair for five hours in a day, and taking her I knew I was going to be in the chair all day, and I didn’t know if I could handle that.”

Emily celebrated her second birthday in the foster home.

“They’ve been so great to us,” she said. “And that allowed me to gradually have help with Emily while I was getting stronger.”

Sultan was not expected to be able to bare any weight until mid-July, confined to a wheelchair or hospital bed until that time.

But, when she went in for x-rays June 3, her doctors informed her she had healed more quickly than expected.

She would be able to walk.

“I want to walk right now,” she recalled telling her doctors and Ivan Sultan. “Ivan got up and got into his physical therapy pose, and they got me up, and we all just cried. I walked about 10 steps, it was really hard to take those 10 steps, I thought my hips were going to give out at any moment. But the nurse, orthopedist, physician’s assistant, said they don’t usually get to see this part. People usually go home and tell their physical therapists and walk then. Everyone was in tears.”

Since then, Sultan has celebrated each of the little milestones every step of the way.

Her pastor, Stephen Wall, said her positive attitude is what he thinks has brought her through.

“When I first saw Kimberly in the hospital, she was smiling, and I was thinking, ‘is this lady nuts or something?’” Wall said with a laugh. “Her positive spirit is what has brought her through this.”

The owner of the foster home is a leader in the Seaside Seventh-day Adventist church that Wall oversees as an interim pastor. The home has offered to keep the duo until mid-August, but given the quicker than expected recovery Sultan has had, she hopes to leave the care facility early, in a couple of weeks.

“There are still things that I don’t know if I can do, if I can hold her and cook, and do things that I have to do as a mom, but I’m getting to a place where I really feel like I need my independence back,” she said. “And that’s now overpowering my feelings of needing to be here and having somebody take care of me.”

Sultan says she turns to her favorite Bible verse (Psalms 27:1) in her recovery. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”

Aftermath

By all accounts, Sultan said she should not have survived, according to studies on vehicular accidents. The National Traffic Safety Board seized the Mini Cooper to study what it was about the car that saved her life.

“The federal government came in and confiscated the car from the wrecking yard, because according to what they figured out happened and was put into the report, none of us should have lived,” Sultan said. “So they came and confiscated the car to study it and find out what about the car kept us alive, which was kind of fascinating.”

Sultan was already on her path to becoming a nurse before the accident occurred. She’ll resume studies next spring. She said on the bright side of her hospital stay, meeting nurses she didn’t know existed — like a skin care nurse — helped her to learn about possible future professions.

The family is also looking into a Portland-based vehicular trauma counseling service center for the long-term effects they may deal with in the future.

But for now, they’re focused on recovering, one step at a time.

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