Months after the nightmarish accident that left her trapped four days in a wrecked pickup truck next to a dead companion, Melissa Elizabeth Maier went home from the hospital yesterday -- ready to celebrate Christmas with her children and learn to walk again.
Ms. Maier, 35, said she remembers little of the June accident in northeast Baltimore County or her ordeal in the truck.
"He was an acquaintance and we had gone out for a drive," she told reporters yesterday. "I really don't know what happened."
But she remembers well much of her six-month hospitalization, and the people who helped her survive.
"I could have died; I know that now," Ms. Maier said at the Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital in Northeast Baltimore. "But I was determined to make it and I had a lot of help doing that. Now, I'll be going home where the tree is decorated and where I can take my time healing and thinking."
While hospital officials had high praise for Ms. Maier's persistence and spirit -- she underwent 12 operations for a broken back and serious face, shoulder and leg injuries, and countless hours of physical therapy -- they said she eventually will have to come to terms with the horror of the crash.
Ms. Maier, drifting in and out of consciousness, lay crushed between the seat and --board of the crumpled pickup truck alongside the dead driver, Charles Eugene Frazier, 30, of Essex. She said she remembers the crash, but not the long wait until she was found.
Police never have determined what caused Mr. Frazier to speed through a stop sign on Raphel Road at Philadelphia Road in Bradshaw. The truck catapulted over a raised embankment and crashed, hidden from the road. A worker mowing grass discovered the truck and notified police.
Besides her life-threatening injuries, Ms. Maier was severely dehydrated in the hot truck cab and fly larvae had begun to gather on the corpse next to her.
She first was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and transferred Aug. 9 to Montebello where about 100 long-term patients are treated for head and spinal cord injuries as well as strokes and orthopedic problems.
"She was aware of being trapped, but for her immediate survival, Melissa looked forward rather than reflect on that," said Joseph Tuzsynski, a social worker at Montebello who worked with Ms. Maier throughout her stay.
"Something like this gets 'parked' emotionally until she'll be ready to deal with it and she will eventually have to deal with it, but when she feels comfortable with it," Mr. Tuzsynski said.
Ms. Maier remains wheelchair dependent but can walk with assistance. She will receive physical therapy in her Rosedale home three times a week. Next year, she said, she will have plastic surgery on damaged portions of her face.
Her daughter Sarah, 14, a student at Mercy High School, said, "Mom is lucky to be here, so this Christmas is much more meaningful. She's done a great job recovering so far and we're going to help her out of this."
Also helping in her recovery will be her son, Josh, 12, and her father, John Diegel, semiretired owner of a construction business.
"When Melissa came to us, she was flat emotionally, a normal reaction to the type of trauma she experienced," said Mr. Tuzsynski. "Her future was uncertain and she was pretty much in constant state of acute pain.
"But she had lots of good family support and a tremendous outpouring of help from her place of employment, Super Fresh on Kenwood Avenue. They had raffles for her to help defray the medical bills which are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They posted frequent updates on her condition."
Ms. Maier is appreciative of the support at Super Fresh, where she worked in the delicatessen.
But she sees a new horizon. "I will get myself going again, but realistically speaking, I don't know how long that will be," she said.
"But I'm thinking of a new career when I'm well, and that would be working in a hospital. After seeing what these people have done for me, bringing me back from death's door, how can't I be inspired?"