Survivor of deadly TN church bus crash talks about recovery - WNEM TV 5

Survivor of deadly TN church bus crash talks about crash, recovery

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STATESVILLE, NC (WBTV) -

It has been six weeks since a crash on I-40 in Tennessee, involving a church bus from Statesville, took the lives of six members of that church. Two people in other vehicles were killed in the crash, as well.

Since then, 12 other members of that church group have been recovering in area hospitals, rehab centers, and at their homes.  

Doris Swaim is one of those, and considering what she's been through, she is remarkably upbeat.

"I am, 'Well, why be in a bad mood?' I'm an optimist by nature, so I've come a long way in six weeks," Swaim told WBTV.

Ever since that day in October, coming back from a conference with members of a senior adult group from Statesville's Front Street Baptist Church, there was an accident.

"I was reading, my husband was in front of me, and we felt the bus start to move up and down, so we knew something was wrong with the bus," Doris told WBTV. "We learned later that's when the tire blew, and I felt like we were turning over, maybe down into a ravine, but as I found out later, the lane we were in on 40 was up higher than the oncoming traffic, so we did turn down and I just remember knowing that this was a really bad accident."

The bus actually crossed the median and went into traffic, hitting a truck and an SUV.  Some on the bus were thrown out, including Doris' husband Steve, while others, including Doris, tossed around inside that bus like rag dolls.

"When I woke up there was blood and glass on the ground, the floor, wherever I was, I was lying on my stomach.  One of the other ladies who was behind me was now in front of me, her head was near mine and then another lady was on top of me," Swaim said. "But you know what?  A real peace came over me, I thought to myself, 'I didn't really plan to die this way, but I'm ready'."

She was pulled from the bus by rescue workers and while she was lying on the grass something happened that still amazes her.

"The next thing I saw was a man's foot, shoe, up about pretty high, he was saying 'Okay everybody, we're here to rescue you, you're going to be okay, you're going to be alright,' so they rescued me first, I don't know why. I remember being lifted out on the board, I was very scared because I thought they were going to drop me, but I was strapped in, then they took me out and put me on the grass and they said 'wait here'."

"A man came over and he said 'We're going to take care of you, you're going to the best facility around here, and I'm going to stay here until someone comes. My name's Eric,'  well that's my oldest son's name, and he had to leave and another man came over and his name was David, that's our youngest son's name, and I just took that as a sign from the Lord that we were going to be alright."

But you don't come through something like this unscathed.

"I had a bad cut on my left heel," Swaim said, taking a careful inventory of all of her injuries.   "Thankfully it didn't hit my Achilles tendon, so it has healed, the scab's gone, and my scapula is broken.  I had some injuries on my left hand, I don't know exactly what they were, but it's healing.  I have a broken vertebra, had no pain from that, and was cut on my head, I understand it was a pretty bad cut.  My face was pretty bad but the plastic surgeons have been able to repair it very very well, but my worst injury is my right hand.  I've broken all my fingers.  I was degloved, which means the skin was pulled back, so I've had a skin graft from my upper leg to my hand so that's still healing, the skin graft is still healing."

And that injury is particularly troubling for Doris.

"I'm the church pianist, you see, that's why I want my right hand back where it was," Swaim said.

There are hymns to be played and Amazing Grace is her favorite.  And there are stories to tell, and wisdom gained through experience that Doris says she will share.

"People need to know they need to be prepared for anything, your life could be taken from you in an instant, and you need to have the Lord in your life."

Swaim's husband has been released from his rehab, but he does come to visit Doris at least once a day while she recovers.  

And Doris wanted to point out just how grateful she's been to so many people who have helped through this trying time.  She pointed out that the care she received at the UT Medical Center was outstanding, and even had an added benefit.

"I remember that they were all so young looking and so good looking, all the medical personnel, but they were, and they were just so good to us," Swaim said with a smile.

She is also very grateful to the staff at Autumn Care in Statesville, saying they have been a great help to her through the rehab process.  

And then there are all of those other folks who have given so much support.  

Doris singles out her pastor, Tim Stutts, for his ongoing care and compassion, as well as other church staff members, friends, and family.

"I've had my sister with me, she's been really great," Swaim said.  "So, my neighbors have been really good, friends I haven't seen in a long time, some I haven't seen in 25 years have come to me and just visited and gotten in touch with me."

How soon Doris is able to leave Autumn Care depends on how quickly her hand heals.

"I can feel my fingers move, I can feel my fingers and they say that's a good sign, so after the skin graft heals I'll have to do therapy," Swaim said. "They won't give me any guarantees."

In the days following the accident, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said it had been caused by a malfunction with a tire on the bus.  A full report with additional conclusions has not been made available yet.

Doris Swaim doesn't worry about that part of it.  She's just overwhelmed with gratitude to still be alive after surviving a horrible accident that claimed the lives of six of her friends and two strangers.

"If there's another purpose in this, I don't know what it is, maybe just an inspiration to other people," Swaim added.

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