On Nov. 23, 2019, Brittany Nance, then 23, clocked out from the senior living facility where she worked at 5:01 p.m. She had completed a couple of hours overtime at the request of her manager and was on her way to pick up her son from her mother’s house. It was lightly sleeting as she pulled out of the parking lot on onto the road.
“As I was rounding the bend, my car started to hydroplane,” Brittany recalls. “By the time I figured that out, I hit an oncoming vehicle, an SUV, and that knocked me unconscious.”
Brittany doesn’t remember much from the incident, but reports from the fire and emergency services, law enforcement, her family and witnesses provide the details she’s missing.
“Someone headed to a holiday party in the same direction I was stopped and got out of vehicle. I don’t remember this, but I told him who I was and who my mother was. I gave him my mother’s number and asked about my son. From there, he called and told her I’d been in a bad accident. By the time my mom got to me, the ambulance and firefighters were already there.”
It would take two hours for the first responders to extricate Brittany from her car using the Jaws of Life.
“I remember coming to and being in my seat,” Brittany says. “I looked to my left and the driver’s side window was completely shattered. I remember seeing EMTs and firefighters and hearing the noise of the jaws. Then I passed back out again. They had to completely crush my left foot to pull me out of the vehicle. My mom said my scream was so loud and you could feel the pain in it. She dropped to her knees.”
The accident crushed the left driver’s side of Brittany’s car, trapping her feet but saving her life in the process.
“The only thing that kept me alive was my feet getting trapped,” she says. “I would have flown out of the back window otherwise.”
As Brittany was transported to the region’s trauma center by helicopter, she was near death, going into cardiac/respiratory arrest four times before she arrived. Her mother, brother, boyfriend and best friend all rushed to be by Brittany’s side.
“I can only imagine what I looked like, but when my brother came in, he lost it,” Brittany shares. “I was covered in blood. In addition to the crushed foot and ankle, I had broken the tibia and fibula in my left leg and the ulna and radius in my left arm. On my right side, I had crushed my patella. I broke or fractured six ribs and three vertebrae in my lower back. I had a ruptured spleen and a contused right lung.”
Cared for overnight in the intensive care unit (ICU), Brittany underwent nearly nine hours of surgery the next day. A team of surgeons addressed all her injuries during that procedure.
Incredibly, just two days later, Brittany came to our inpatient rehabilitation unit at Mercy Health – Anderson Hospital to start rehabilitation.
“They told me my recovery time would be a minimum of eight months,” Brittany shares. “I started with therapy instantly, four times a day with occupational therapy and physical therapy. Four hours a day, I worked tooth and nail.”
Brittany adds, “many people lose hope, fall into depression and go through the phases of grief because something like this, it stops you in life. It didn’t do that to me. Even on my second day in the ICU, I stood up with help, ready to conquer the process of getting better. I’m a stubborn person and I set out to beat the odds. I cried because I was in so much pain, but I woke up every day with the mindset that I was going to do my best.”
Brittany’s care team, including the sizable one at Anderson Hospital, impressed her.
“From day one, I had the utmost respect and support from every team member who walked in my room,” she shares. “I had a whole team of doctors, nurses and PCAs helping with my care plan, and I fell in love with the team I had. The day before my accident happened, I signed my papers to go back to school as a patient care assistant. I told them, ‘I work in your field,’ and did my best not to put them through hell. I had the best care possible, and I had a bit of fun in there, too.”
Brittany’s primary nurse was Kim Hefler, and the two developed a bond. Kim even came to visit Brittany on Thanksgiving Day.
After 10 days, Brittany was discharged to continue her recovery at home.
“I told them the day I left that I would be back to show them that I was walking,” she recalls. “I was not supposed to start walking until June or July of 2020, but I was standing and practicing every day. I did assisted walking with a walker not long after I left the hospital.”
Brittany continued therapy on an outpatient basis for six weeks, motivated by her desire to be able to care for her son. While the COVID-19 pandemic kept her from showing Kim and her care team at Anderson Hospital her progress in person, she kept them updated with videos.
Although the accident kept her from the studies, Brittany eventually signed up to start and felt a calling to work in a health care setting.
“I reached out to Kim, thinking ‘why would I not want to work for the hospital that saved my life? Who wouldn’t want to pay that back by helping people like me?’ That experience inspired me to apply myself. When you know you know, and I know I want to be there.”
Brittany started work as a PCA in Anderson Hospital’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit in the fall of 2022. Kim is now her manager, and she works alongside many of the team members who cared for her during her stay.
“I take care of patients and am able to show them that you can get better. If you get that second chance to live from something that was supposed to kill you, we’re going to help you get back on your feet no matter.”
This holiday season, we are celebrating by spreading the good news! Read more thankful stories, like this one, that feature our team members, patients and the wonderful communities we are blessed to serve.
Also, learn more about the rehabilitation and physical therapy services we provide at Mercy Health.