Road to Recovery
Miracles: Every bone in Millie Perez’s body is healing.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
It was supposed to be a simple visit to the grocery store and then right back home. The date was Dec. 24, 1997. The time was 10:30pm. Millie Perez was sitting in the passenger seat of her Toyota Corolla as a friend steered it down the Reservation Road ramp off Highway 1 in Marina.
They were headed back to her Marina home to rejoin her 1-year-old son and her sister-in-law to spend a quiet Christmas Eve together. They didn’t make it that night. It would be three-and-a-half months before Perez would see her home again.
“We were driving and suddenly I saw all these cars ahead of us swerving off the road,” says Perez, now 38. “Then I saw a pair of headlights coming right at us. When we moved to the left, the lights went left. When we moved right, the lights moved right.
“And that was it. It was total darkness, total silence.”
A drunk driver heading into oncoming traffic slammed head-on into Perez’s car, breaking bones in every part of her body except her spinal chord and her right arm. The drunk driver, as well as Perez’ friend, walked away from the crash.
She wasn’t so lucky. Her face was broken in 15 places. Also broken were her hips, ankles, knees and femur.
Despite the injuries, Perez, now 38, did not once lose consciousness. She recalls being laid out on the stretcher by ambulance workers, as well as the excruciating jolts of pain through her body every time the speeding ambulance hit a bump on the way to the hospital.
Perez underwent two surgeries, but doctors weren’t optimistic that she would ever walk again.
But eight years later, after much physical therapy and loads of personal courage and determination, she’s beat the odds and started walking.
“I count my blessing every day,” she says. “I tell people that it’s all thanks to luck, my doctors, and God.”
Perez says all the time she spent in the hospital gave her time to reflect about the nature of life. And the lessons she learned then, she still carries close to her heart.
“I realized life isn’t about us, us, us,” she says. “There’s a big world outside our lives and we should help others whenever we can. People have to slow down, if they see something that isn’t right, then do something to help make it right.”
For the first few years after her accident, Perez admits that she was consumed by resentment, especially for the drunk driver that caused the crash.
“But then I learned that it takes a lot of energy to be an angry person, to be mad all the time,” she says. “And I don’t want to use my energy for that. I want to use it for my recovery and for my son.”
In 2005, Perez continued to make great strides in her recovery. A few weeks ago, she ran into Alain Claudel, director of rehabilitation services at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
Claudel, who used to be a clinical supervisor, hadn’t seen Perez since the accident eight years earlier.
“It’s always heartwarming when you see a patient who’s pulled through,” Claudel says. “She’s doing so well now compared to when I last saw her.”
As for Perez, she says she’s concentrating her energies on raising her son, now 9 years old, and maybe going back to school. As the thick of the holiday season fast approaches, Perez pleads with drivers not to drink and drive.
“You’ll not only hurt yourself,” she warns. “But you’ll hurt an entire community of people.”