WARNING: Graphic content:
A Hamilton woman is opening up about her road to recovery, four months after being hit by a truck while working and losing her ability to walk.
Darlene Keefe, 30, was hit by a truck on August 29, at the start of her shift as an attendant at a petrol station in Whitiora.
The incident left her with fractured ribs, shoulder blade and collarbone, and serious head injuries.
Her left lung collapsed and her left ear was torn off when she was dragged along the ground under the truck.
Her spinal cord was also fractured and a hole was torn in her left cheek.
A police spokesperson confirmed they were called to the corner of Ulster and Victoria Sts, in Whitiora, around 5.45am, after a report of a vehicle colliding with a pedestrian.
“Our records show that a 61-year-old man was convicted for careless or inconsiderate vehicle operation causing injury in relation to this matter,” they said.
Keefe said she had only been at work for about five minutes when the accident happened.
Her shift started at 6am but as per her usual routine, she was there a little early and had started to set things up.
“I went inside, I signed in, I grabbed my high-vis vest, grabbed two billboard-type posters and I went out onto the forecourt,” she said.
She changed the signs out outside the station and was making her way across the forecourt when she was hit by the truck from behind, as the driver pulled into the petrol station.
Keefe alleged the truck went over her with both sets of wheels before reversing back over her.
“As he reversed, the high-vis jacket I had on got stuck in his tyre, so I was dragged three metres. When I was dragged, it scraped the whole left side of my face and tore my left ear off.”
At this point, Keefe said some bystanders at the petrol station alerted the driver to what had happened/
“I was just screaming, because I was in so much pain,” she said.
The ambulance turned up promptly, Keefe said, and she was rushed to hospital.
She had three surgeries: one to sew her ear back on, one to put a drain in her collapsed left lung and another on her back, to prevent paralysis.
Over her time in hospital, Keefe said every movement left her in agony.
“Sneezing, coughing, standing, sitting up, yawning and laughing was the most excruciating pain.”
The driver was sentenced to 160 hours’ community service and one year’s supervision and had to pay Keefe $4000 in compensation, he was doing in $100 weekly instalments.
Keefe said she was on the road to recovery. Several days ago she stopped taking painkillers and was feeling more like herself.
But she was still in a lot of pain, she said, and was living a life vastly different from the active lifestyle she enjoyed before.
“I can walk, but it’s very slow and painful,” she said.
“I’ve got to use a stroller or crutches, sometimes a wheelchair.”
Before the accident, Keefe would go to the gym after work each day, before heading to her local pool for a swim and a sauna, to relax her muscles.
“That’s how I would end my day, and I’d do it all over again the next day.”
“I really enjoyed that.”
She hadn’t yet returned to work, and wasn’t sure when she would.
The accident had changed her life, she said.
She had gone from being a “happy, driven, motivated hard worker” to struggling to get in and out of a vehicle.
“I am suffering physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”