May 29--It's the kind of reunion that seldom occurs, but on Thursday a woman who was critically injured in a car accident two years ago and was not expected to live, let alone walk again, met and thanked the first responders who helped save her life.
"I can't say enough to thank them," said a tearful Tina Mora, during an emotional gathering at the Albuquerque Fire Department Academy.
"I remember the night before the accident but don't remember anything until 10 days after the accident," she said. "I woke up in the hospital. It was the day after Mother's Day. The next thing I remember after that was my trip to rehab."
May 3, 2013, started out like any other Friday. Mora, then Tina Romero, left the West Side home she shared with her boyfriend, now husband, Mark Mora, and their 1-year-old son Mark Jr., about 6 a.m.
Tina was headed to her job as a pre-kindergarten teacher. Mark, having the day off from his job at Home Depot, left about the same time with their son in the car to go to a local Starbucks, then to a restaurant for breakfast.
"I was going to surprise Tina and bring breakfast to her at her job," he said. "I called her on her cellphone to tell her I was on my way, but there was no answer. I tried at least four or five times. Then I drove to the school, and she hadn't arrived. Her car wasn't in the parking lot. She always parked it the same spot. I went inside, and they said they were about to call me to ask where she was."
Mark began driving back to his home when a radio announcer alerted listeners to a bad vehicle accident at Unser and Central Avenue.
"When he said the intersection, I put two and two together. I was hoping and praying it wasn't her, but I just had this horrible feeling."
Mark immediately drove to the site of the accident, and his heart sank when he saw Tina's car with a caved-in driver's door from where her compact car had been broadsided by a SUV. The driver of the SUV, he learned, was drunk. The police had cordoned off the area and stopped him from getting closer. When he explained who he was, an officer told him, "I'm sorry for your loss," apparently believing she was dead.
Tina, however, clung to life. Fire Department rescuers removed her through the passenger door and paramedics from Albuquerque Ambulance rushed her to University of New Mexico Hospital. Mark said he was later told that while the ambulance was en route to the hospital, Tina went into cardiac arrest and was revived.
She was in surgery for more than seven hours. The most serious of her injuries was an "internal decapitation," in which the neck separates from the spinal column. Doctors repaired it with a bone graft from her hip and a cervical spinal fusion. Tina also had a broken pelvis, three broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, fractured vertebrae and a concussion.
Mark said doctors told him initially that she might not survive. When she did, they told him she might be paralyzed. When that proved to not be the case, they warned him she might not walk for two years.
About 30 days after surgery, and with some help, "Tina walked out of rehab, and 12 days later walked on her own," Mark said.
He, too, thanked fire department and ambulance responders. "It's kind of unreal to think about what she's been through. It all comes down to what you guys did that day."
Today, Tina is four months pregnant.
Among the paramedics who attended to Tina was Daniel Spohn. This was his first time meeting someone he had rushed to the hospital after a serious accident.
"It's really nice to see someone come out the other side and see how her life has advanced and progressed from that kind of extreme injury," he said.
Lawrence Baca, the driver of the SUV who set it all in motion, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and causing great bodily injury, felony cocaine possession, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and unrelated charges of criminal sexual contact of a child under 13.