After near-fatal car crash, the medical bills mount

April 04, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Joyce Moser, 38, doesn't remember the car wreck that catapulted her 145-pound, 5-foot 4-inch body through the passenger window of her crumpled dark-blue Acura and left her sprawled on Ritchie Highway with multiple fractures and a broken neck.

Her memories begin 12 hours after the accident on Nov. 5, when she came out of a coma. Her father, Jim Moser, says doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital were surprised she survived.

Now, five months later, Ms. Moser is in good spirits, optimistic that with several months or maybe a year of physical therapy, she will regain the stamina and dexterity she showed on the tennis court and at The Strip Shop, a furniture stripping and refinishing business she owns with a high school friend.

Meanwhile, the bills keep piling up. Her mother, Elva, says Ms. Moser owes between $5,000 and $6,000 for therapy. Visits to her rehab center cost $240 a day. She has three therapy sessions each week. And it is estimated that the Hopkins bill came to $70,000. The family doesn't know how much of that will be covered by insurance.

Lynne Marie McGowan, a friend who also is a masseuse, is trying to make sure Ms. Moser will have some money to cover those bills and to continue her therapy. She's running a benefit raffle, with a prize of 12 massages at her office in her Linthicum home. So far, 70 of 300 $25 tickets have been sold. All the proceeds will go toward Ms. Moser's bill. The drawing is scheduled for April 16.

"We all pretty much live paycheck to paycheck," said Ms. Moser's sister Kathy Sours. "We don't have [lots of money] to give. If we did, we would. We give our time."

Her family drives her to therapy sessions in Glen Burnie. Guest Quarters near Baltimore-Washington International Airport has given her a free, one-year membership to its fitness center, which includes a pool and a hot tub. Her racquetball club also has held a benefit to help pay for her therapy.

"I can't believe how many good friends I have," Ms. Moser says. "It's too bad it takes something like this to make you realize it. I mean really realize it. I never thought of myself as popular.

"Every time I opened my eyes in the hospital it was another visitor coming through the door or another florist."

What caused Ms. Moser to lose control of her car as she drove north on Ritchie Highway remains a mystery. The family passed out fliers seeking witnesses, but no one responded.

This much is known: She swerved as she drove in the left lane, slid into the median and went into a counter-clockwise spin that sent her to the southbound side of Ritchie Highway, where she clipped one car. She drifted north, then another car hit her, spinning her clockwise.

Her family and friends say she was adamant about wearing her seat belt. They figure she thought the worst was over when her car came to a rest, and might have been unbuckling her seat belt when another car hit her from behind. The collision threw her from the car.

The accident occurred the day Ms. Moser was to graduate from a self-improvement class. She tinted her hair auburn that day, and had bought a black, strapless dress the night before. She and her sister, Kathy, joked about the dress because it wasn't something she usually wore.

"One of the things she said to me in the hospital was, 'Kathy, did you see my dress?' " her sister says.

She also asked if anyone else had been hurt in the accident and was relieved to hear the word "No," says Mrs. Sours.

Ms. Moser says she's glad to be rid of the 30-pound halo she had to wear 24 hours a day to hold her neck in place while it healed. She called it her "erector set," her "crown of thorns." Doctors removed it shortly before St. Patrick's Day.

Two small scars, reminders that the halo was bolted into her head, remain on her forehead. But she's happy to able to walk up stairs and not to have to blink to answer questions -- once for "yes," twice for "no."

She also is glad to be back home at Terrace View Mobile Estates, a trailer park, on Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park. Her parents and sister also live in the park, a few miles from where the accident occurred.

She hopes physical therapy will help her regain fuller motion of her hands and head, which moves ever so slightly from side-to-side now. Her hands still lack strength.

But she is not worried. She is not a woman to shrink from challenges. When she and her partner were searching for financing to start their business, they ran into challenges and questions such as, "Why do you two girls want to do such hard work?" Ms. Moser says.

Finally they took out personal loans and set up shop.

"Luckily it took off within two years and we got out of debt and kept moving along," says Ms. Moser.

That's what she intends to do now. This week, she plans to return to the shop for a few hours to help answer the phones.

"I love what I do," she says. "It challenges me."

Her partner, Sharon Tiahrt, calls her the "backbone" of their business. "It's been tough," she says. "I really miss her down here."

But she says she doesn't want her to rush herself. She says she tells her "things will work out." To take it slow.

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