Home News ‘Reunited with Winnetka officers: Car accident survivor grateful for second chance’

‘Reunited with Winnetka officers: Car accident survivor grateful for second chance’

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‘Reunited with Winnetka officers: Car accident survivor grateful for second chance’

Almost two and a half years after the near-fatal automobile accident that will change her life endlessly, Dana Cagen walked into the Winnetka Police Department on her own two feet, defying the percentages.

There, on April 8, she told her story to a room stuffed with officers — a few of whom had been on the scene of the accident on Dec. 13, 2021, and worked to avoid wasting her life.

“Though I shouldn’t have a memory of the crash or the time immediately following, I even have thought of these officers loads during my recovery,” read Cagen, a Northbrook native, from her speech as she addressed the officers of their training room. “During these past two years, I’ve wanted to succeed in out to them simply to share how thankful I’m for them being there for me that night, and I feel so privileged to be here today to precise my gratitude.”

Officers were just ending up their roll call at 7:20 p.m. Dec. 13, 2021, once they received a call a couple of automobile accident on the 1300 block of Willow Road. Cagen, then a university student, was driving a automobile that was hit head-on by a vehicle traveling at 70 mph — no less than 30 mph over the speed limit. The opposite driver unexpectedly switched lanes into oncoming traffic to cause the crash.

Each drivers were trapped of their cars. The 61-year-old driver of the opposite vehicle was pronounced dead at 8:01 p.m. at Evanston Hospital.

Considered one of the officers on the scene was Sgt. Karl Larson, who was excited to listen to from Cagen and see her doing well when she spoke to the department. She called Cagen a “fighter.”

He described the extraordinary scene to The Record via email: The front end of the vehicle that had been driving at 70 mph was on fire. Cars had stopped to attempt to assist the motive force, with Larson recalling that one man could have had a golf club that he was wielding in an effort to interrupt the windows. Larson and his fellow officers used fire extinguishers in an try to stop the fireplace from spreading to the passenger’s seat as they concurrently attempted to remove the unresponsive driver.

Within the chaos and confusion of the moment, at first, Larson hadn’t realized Cagen was trapped in her vehicle, too.

“I remember taking a look at Dana’s automobile and seeing an individual or two standing outside the motive force’s door calmly watching us,” Larson told The Record in an email. “I believed those people were the motive force [and/or] passenger, and [I was] thankful they were okay.

“As the fireplace department arrived a minute later and took over putting out the fireplace and removing the opposite driver, I went over to Dana’s automobile,” Larson continued. “I spotted someone was behind the steering wheel and rushed over. Dana was sitting in the motive force’s seat with the dashboard pushed into her legs. I vividly remember Dana asking me several times to get her out of the automobile. After I checked out her legs, I spotted I used to be not going to have the ability to remove her and told her she needed to remain there until the fireplace department got here over. I kept reassuring her that she could be okay and held her hand.”

The fireplace department used extraction tools to open the motive force’s door, which had been crushed. When firefighters took over, Larson said he stepped away to take command of the scene and call in additional resources.

Within the parking zone on April 8, as Cagen left the event on the Winnetka Police Department, where she was given a bouquet of flowers after her speech and took photos with a number of the officers who had saved her life, Larson shared this memory of being at her side when she was trapped in her vehicle together with her, hoping, he said, to offer her some piece of the lost time.

Though Cagen can’t remember the night of the accident or the times that followed, she said there was something about Larson and their reencounter years later that felt familiar. She found it comforting, too, to be the topic of the officers’ kindness within the training room; it reassured her that she received this same kindness and care when she was trapped in her automobile.

The After

On the hospital the night of the accident, Cagen was placed in a medically induced coma. When she woke, she said she thought she was in a dream, and he or she was convinced nurses had confused her with one other patient — if she had been in an accident, surely, she thought, she would remember it.

Cagen spent roughly one week within the ICU and had three emergency surgeries. She suffered from a broken left femur, broken left clavicle, a shattered right patella (after she had slammed on the brake through the accident — a response that likely saved her life), and perforated small intestine.

The surgeon who’d operated on Cagen’s leg was surprised when he saw her using a walker as he was unsure she would walk again.

The body does keep the rating. Even if you happen to don’t have the memories, sometimes your body can still feel anxious.
Dana Cagen on attempting to drive again following a horrific 2021 crash

In subsequent surgeries, doctors found shards of glass and pieces of Cagen’s leggings in her right knee. Her right knee is now missing cartilage, and he or she knows she is going to should cope with discomfort and proceed strengthening it endlessly, which she said is a “very small price to pay.”

Through physical therapy and the facility of will, Cagen eventually was in a position to walk with out a brace. By April 2022, Cagen, an avid traveler and once avid runner, could hike at Joshua Tree together with her mom.

“At first, there was a lot anger because my life had really been flipped upside-down,” Cagen said of her emotional state after the accident. “You’ll be able to really take yourself down this rabbit hole and [into a] really dark place. … It took me time to permit myself to feel [my] emotions and focus more on the gratitude side.”

By “gratitude,” Cagen means a shift in her mindset to see her recovery as a “blessing” and the “best case scenario.” A Facebook group for automobile accident survivors helped give her hope that her life could return to a way of normalcy, with one one that’d found himself in a wheelchair now in a position to ski again.

Because she cannot remember the accident, it was easier for Cagen to get back behind the wheel starting in the summertime of 2022. She now drives to town and wherever she must go, but she avoids driving at night within the winter.

“The body does keep the rating,” Cagen said. “Even if you happen to don’t have the memories, sometimes your body can still feel anxious. In that case, I’ve form of made my automobile a blissful place — put some snacks in there and a stuffed animal and stuff like that.”

In keeping with Cagen, talking to the officers on the Winnetka Police Department felt like her “final piece of closure” — a approach to say “thanks” and have that powerful exchange with the officers.

“Life can still be very beautiful,” she said.

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