CAMBRIDGE -- In an instant, the course of your life can change forever. In the early spring of 1996, Michelle Frith's life took a turn that would drastically alter the course of her future. Frith was 24 years old, had a beautiful toddler, and a promising life ahead of her. However, what began as a short trip to the store ended very differently than expected. Frith was returning home on State Route 209 west of Cambridge when the unexpected happened.
"It had just started snowing -- an icy snow," remembers Frith.
Within a mile of her home, on a flat, straight stretch of road, her car began sliding down the road sideways.
"Nothing I did made a difference," she said. "Then I saw a car coming toward me."
At the last second, she recalls asking God to help her. Her car miraculously turned in such a way that the passenger side was impacted. Frith remembers the crash as the two cars collided. Her next memories are of the cold snow coming through the car window, her numb body, ringing ears, and the inability to catch her breath.
Her extensive injuries included a torn thoracic aorta, a collapsed lung, a fractured pelvis and a ruptured diaphragm causing her liver to be forced into her right chest cavity. Due to poor weather conditions, helicopter transportation to a larger hospital was impossible. Her injuries gave her a very poor chance for survival if immediate action was not taken. Dr. Michael Sarap, assisted by surgeon Dr. Jackson Flanigan, anesthesiologist Dr. Brady Stoner and a small group of skilled Southeastern Med surgical staff members repaired Frith's life-threatening injuries. This required opening her abdomen and both chest cavities, relocating the liver back into the abdomen, repairing her diaphragm and replacing a portion of her torn aorta with a synthetic graft. She credits Dr. Sarap, Southeastern Med staff surgeon and member of Southeastern Ohio Physicians Inc, for saving her life.
"It's a miracle that I am alive today. I can't thank Dr. Sarap enough for all he's done for me and my family," she noted with a smile.
In spite of very life-threatening injuries, Frith is fortunate to be alive. She recovered at Southeastern Med for 10 days before going home in the care of her mother.
Circumstances in Frith's personal life gave her the willpower to recover as quickly as possible. Her unwavering determination enabled her to return to work in just three short months. She was advised by Dr. Sarap that future pregnancies might be problematic due to the extent of her internal injuries. A year later, Frith chose to have had her tubes tied. In preparation for her procedure, she took a pregnancy test and had blood work completed. At the time, her pregnancy test came back negative and the procedure was completed two days later. She was actually one day pregnant at the time of the procedure, but it was not yet obvious through a standard pregnancy test. A month after the surgery, Frith began feeling sick. Her pregnancy was confirmed after taking several tests. Her obstetrician, Dr. Vickie Pavlick, as well as Dr. Sarap closely monitored Frith throughout the course of her pregnancy. She was referred to the Obstetrical Service at Ohio State University Hospital (OSU). The OSU physicians reviewed all of the Southeastern Med hospital records and felt very confident that she would be in excellent hands staying at Southeastern Med for the birth of her baby. On Oct. 14, 1997, her daughter, Tori Flesher, was born.
Frith is grateful for the care she received at Southeastern Med.
She noted, "Dr. Sarap is awesome. He still recognizes me and tells me that my daughter and I are a miracle. He is so nice and down to earth and talks in understandable language. Dr. Sarap is amazing and wonderful and a blessing. If it weren't for him we wouldn't be here today!"
Her accident has caused her to live intentionally and purposefully. When reflecting upon her experiences and the past 18 years, she noted, "You just don't think about how lucky and blessed you are until something like that happens. And you don't realize how many people love you and care about you. I had people from all over coming to see me and check on me. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. It takes two seconds. There was nothing I did wrong or could have changed at that time."
Frith feels lucky to have been cared for by the Southeastern Med team and recognizes how fortunate she is to be alive and well. She wants you to realize that your circumstances can literally change in the blink of an eye. She encourages you to live in such a way that you have no regrets. Always let those you love know how much they mean to you through both your words and your actions. Because your life, even five minutes from now, isn't guaranteed.
"I am such a believer in God and everyday miracles. I believed in God before and I used to go to church but it (the accident and experience) entirely changed my faith and made it stronger. I am so thankful for Dr. Sarap and Celeste and Southeastern Med for taking care of me and doing the good work that they did. I can't believe that my daughter and I are here today!" Frith said.
Nineteen years ago, the course of her life was uncertain, but today Frith is able to celebrate her life and the lives of her children. She gratefully attributes this to Southeastern Med, her doctors and the Grace of God. Today, Tori is 18 years old and a senior at John Glenn High School. She has always had an interest in hair and beauty and hopes to pursue a career in cosmetology.
Her son, Dustin Chappelear, was a toddler at the time of Frith's accident. After high school, he studied mechanics at Wyotech Blairsville. Dustin will be 22 years old in January. She is proud of both of her children and their kind and giving spirits.
She is thankful for each day and the continued opportunity to experience life and love with her family.