As Karen Border cruised along I-485 on her motorcycle with daughter Conner on the afternoon of July 28, she looked forward to seeing friends. That anticipation may be indescribable on Oct. 21.
The 47-year-old single mother will be reunited with friends and supporters – some going back several decades – who are holding a fundraiser for her three months after a motorcycle accident so grisly that family members began discussing where to bury her. The Oct. 21 event at Amos’ Southend, organized to help with Karen’s massive medical costs, mortgage and other bills, will also celebrate those lifelong bonds and two recoveries that many have deemed a miracle.
“It’s amazing, phenomenal, that people have stepped up like they have – especially for someone who was out of it for so long,” Karen said slowly and softly while recovering at her parents’ home in Florida. “It’s like talking about something that’s not even real to me. But here I am.”
She and her daughter have no memory of the accident. Family members and close friends say that according to eyewitness accounts, the motorcycle began to fishtail near the Beatties Ford Road exit after the rear tire went flat.
Conner, then 13, was thrown from the bike. Her mother either got caught on or was hanging onto the motorcycle, which flipped several times. The totaled Honda ended on top of her.
Conner suffered a minor brain hemorrhage, broken collarbone and severe road rash. She was in a coma for a little more than a week at Carolinas Medical Center, where her mother – also in a coma – was one of the most critical patients in the hospital.
Karen recently ticked off her litany of severe injuries: eight facial fractures; three broken right ribs and two broken left ribs; fractures in both arms; a broken left hand; and road rash on her knees, both arms, elbows and all along her right side.
She left out the worst.
According to longtime friend Kelly Carl, the results of two MRIs said Karen had diffuse axonal injury, a traumatic brain event over a widespread area.
“Ninety percent of people never even wake up from it,” said Kelly, who kept a journal on Facebook for friends and family after the accident. “That injury is the same thing as children who have been shaken so badly that they’re brain-dead.”
Ruth Border will never forget the phone call from the highway patrol.
“This is something you never want to hear, that your daughter or your children have been in an accident,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. We were told that first week and a half she probably wouldn’t make it, and after that we still didn’t know for sure.”
Family began planning for the worst. Kelly and other friends of Karen said their goodbyes.
Rob Thorne was another of Karen’s first visitors at the hospital. A longtime member of the local band the Spongetones, he’s known her for 30 years.
“We were playing the Double Door that night, and Karen and Conner were supposed to come and see us but didn’t show up,” he said. “We found out around midnight that she had been in an accident. I saw her the day after the accident and could not recognize her.”
While Karen remained in a semi-coma, Kelly logged the activity: Doctors inserted plates inside Karen’s jaw, each cheek, in her nasal cavity and her right eye socket. Plastic surgery helped correct a scar along her right eye. A feeding tube was inserted through her nose. A lung infection developed and was quickly controlled.
Meanwhile, Conner began recovering after coming out of her coma and was released from the hospital Aug. 9. The turning point, like the accident, came out of the blue.
Aug. 17, Karen Border began talking through her wired-together mouth. She was responsive to those speaking to her and even got out of bed and into a wheelchair for the first time. The next day, she took a few baby steps – on her own – toward her daughter and Kelly.
Although Karen was released from the hospital Sept. 12, she faces physical and mental obstacles.
In addition to lingering soreness, she’s still not taking normal strides and has had to relearn things as simple as getting into a car. Her right eyelid remains closed; it’s unknown if it will reopen.
Carl Flowe, Karen’s ex-husband and Conner’s father, said it’s hard to predict what will happen with her memory: “Sometimes her long-term memory is good; sometimes her short-term memory is not so good. She may not remember exactly what she did this morning. It’s all coming back very slowly in bits and pieces.”
These challenges come amid overwhelming financial burdens.
“It’s just astronomical what she and Conner’s medical bills are going to run,” Kelly said.
There is no timetable for Karen to return to work, no end in sight for the increasing debt.
Friends remain undaunted. Their focus is on the work ahead and celebrating two lives. They marvel that Conner is attending classes as a freshman at Mallard Creek High School and back with her band; they support Karen’s grueling recovery daily and help with chores around her University Place home.
“It’s just hard to believe that so many people have come forth to help with medical bills and everything,” said Ruth Border. “What (Amos’ Southend owner) John Ellison is doing, and Rob and his friends are doing, is just overwhelming.”
Said Thorne, 68, a leading force behind the fundraiser who’s been with the Spongetones for 33 years: “We’re going to celebrate like crazy, and Karen will be there. Conner’s band, Retrospect, will also play that day.”
Thorne said silent auctions are planned around the time of the event, which also seeks to raise awareness for motorcycle safety. Although state troopers said Karen and her daughter were wearing safety helmets when they crashed, that’s often not enough: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics from 2007 said motorcyclists were about 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a vehicle traffic crash.
“Nobody thinks it will be them,” Karen said. “They think it will be somebody else.”