LEPANTO, AR (KAIT) - She's helped many a patient at NEA Baptist and St. Bernards hospitals as a respiratory therapist. But this time, 28-year-old Meredith Ruiz finds herself dependent upon specialized hospital care after a car accident that could have claimed her life.
"I still can't walk," Ruiz said from her hospital bed at Health South Rehabilitation Hospital. "The doctors say I'm very lucky. I remember hitting the gravel on the right side of the road with my car. I think I just turned too sharp."
Ruiz was driving back to her home in Lepanto on Highway 308. She had worked five shifts in a row and was exhausted on December 17, 2017, around 9 p.m. The car left the roadway and she remembers going into a wooded area.
"Every airbag had been deployed. I remembered trying to reach my phone in the back seat and I couldn't move," Ruiz said. "A boy from Marked Tree found me. I knew him. His name is Clifton Mitchell. If he hadn't found me and called 911, I don't know what I would have done."
But, surviving the accident didn't mean that Ruiz's nightmare was over.
"I was just paralyzed and couldn't move. Not being able to move was so scary," Ruiz said. "They told my parents I would never walk again."
First responders brought her to Jonesboro, where X-rays would reveal that she had shattered her T11, T12, and L1 vertebra. Ruiz was then sent to Regional One in Memphis for extensive surgery.
The surgery to repair her back and spinal cord would be difficult.
"They took out my bottom left rib, cut through my diaphragm, and deflated a lung so that they could get to the back," Ruiz said. "He (the doctor) used a special 'cage' and the rib he had removed, to repair the damaged area."
It will take some time before Ruiz can return to her job. She had worked full-time for NEA Baptist as a respiratory therapist and a couple of days a week at St. Bernards.
"It's such a very dramatic change to my life!" Ruiz said. "I had my first surgery that took 8 hours. The second surgery took 5 hours. It's a lot to take in and especially not being able to walk. My little boy tells me that he wishes I had never had my wreck."
Ruiz' son, Maxx, is 6 years old and has celebrated a birthday and Christmas while his mother has been hospitalized.
She has been in Health South Rehabilitation Hospital since January 4 and is expected to be there until January 26.
"She's trying to learn how to walk again," Pastor Jeff Miles, organizer of a fundraising event for Ruiz, said. "She's doing great. We're believing and with God's prayer, she's going to walk again and work again."
A gospel singing event featuring the gospel group, Reborn, will take place Saturday, January 20 inside the cafeteria at EPC. The gospel singing will begin at 6 p.m. But, a bake sale to benefit Ruiz will begin before that. Anyone wishing to donate baked good can drop them off between 3 and 5 p.m.
"This is part of what Reborn is, is to give back," Judy Murphy, a member of the gospel group said. "God has been good to us. Reborn was formed two and a half years ago when I lost my husband to cancer. But, God had a plan. We're excited. We're expecting God to show up. We're expecting healing for her."