CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – After being released from the hospital, Katie Arrington is opening up about the accident that left her seriously injured.
It was June 22nd around 9:30 P.M. Katie Arrington and her friend Jackie Goff were heading to Hilton Head. Katie was set to receive a “Legislator of the Year” award for a bill she’d helped pass.
Already in Hilton Head, Arrington’s husband Rob was waiting for them. He texted Katie to let her know he had food and drinks in their room. She texted him back, “I love you.”
They’d just left Goff’s retirement party. Goff was driving a rental car, Arrington was the passenger. They were traveling on U.S. 17 South when the unthinkable happened.
“We started up that slight incline, I saw all the red lights on one side of the road and I saw the white lights, and I said ‘Jackie swerve,’” Arrington said.
A car driven by 69-year-old Helen White was coming straight toward them. White was driving the wrong way, heading north in the southbound lanes.
Both Arrington and Goff braced for the impact, trying to protect each other. Goff put her arm in front of Arrington and Arrington put hers in front of Goff. They’d end up with similar arm injuries on opposite sides.
“As the impact started to happen, and I saw Ms. White’s head hit, there was a veil of white and it was the whitest white. White doesn’t even describe it, it’s just the word that I know to kind of get you to see it, but illuminated. Bright. Calm. Peaceful. Frozen in time,” Arrington said.
Then she says she heard a voice.
“In the back, a very calm voice said ‘you are not done yet’ and the veil went away and the airbag deployed. I didn’t lose consciousness, I still was right there. And we stopped,” Arrington said.
Arrington says she never lost consciousness. She remembers everything.
One of her first concerns was to check on Jackie, a friend of hers for years. Goff was in bad shape.
“I grabbed Jackie’s hair because it was the closest thing to me, and I was calling her name, panicked because she wouldn’t respond. After about the third or fourth time, she moaned. I still get chill bumps, because she wasn’t dead. And I knew Mrs. White was dead,” Arrington said.
White was pronounced dead at the scene.
Arrington held on to Jackie until a paramedic said they needed her to let go so they could both be treated. She didn’t realize how badly she’d been hurt until she took her seatbelt off.
“He said ‘can you unbuckle your seatbelt?’ As I did it, I had my hand on Jackie and as I unbuckled my seatbelt, it was just red. I knew I was in rough shape,” Arrington says.
Paramedics pulled Arrington from the car. She says they accidentally laid her on a bed of red ants.
“This is where God has a little fun with you. They laid me down on a bed of red ants. I don’t think they realized it, but it was exactly what I needed because I was focused on the ants and I wasn’t focusing on the fact that I was bleeding,” Arrington explained.
She says, even with that small mishap, the first responders and civilians on scene could not have been more amazing.
“I just can’t say enough. Respectful, kind, patient, loving, I mean, that’s the thing. People forget that in a situation like that, the EMS are actually loving, they’re everything at that moment,” Arrington said.
Arrington was loaded into an ambulance. As they worked on her, she was talking to the paramedics and to God. She then asked the paramedic for a favor.
“I asked him to take every word I said down and write it. And I said goodbye because I honestly didn’t think I was going to make that car ride,” Arrington said.
She says she could see herself bleeding out. Everything being pumped into her was just going right out. By the time she arrived at the hospital, doctors say she was in hemorrhagic shock, meaning she’d lost at least one-fifth of her blood supply.
“You do feel yourself slip. You do feel that calm, and God was with me,” Arrington remembered. “I said ‘guys, if you don’t floor it, I’m not going to make it. I really felt it leaving. My lung was filling up with blood, I knew it. I knew my insides were shot. You could see it,” Arrington said.
Contrary to her beliefs, she did make it to the Medical University of South Carolina, where she was rushed to the OR. She’d sustained several injuries in the accident, the first that needed to be addressed was the abdominal trauma sustained in the area around the seatbelt.
Doctor Evert Eriksson was one of the surgeons she met that night.
“He looked at me, and I said ‘please, I don’t want to die today.’ He said, ‘I have no intentions of that, do you trust me?’ I said ‘yes sir.’ He said ‘then close your eyes and do what I tell you to do.’ And I did, And I went to sleep,” Arrington said. That was the first time she lost consciousness.
Portions of her small intestine and colon were removed, and she was moved into recovery, still in critical condition.
The next day, a surgery addressed an L2 fracture in her lower spine. Another surgery complemented the first abdominal surgery.
By the time a full assessment was able to be performed, it was discovered that all-in-all Arrington sustained massive abdominal trauma, a fractured spine, a collapsed iliac artery in her leg, broken ribs, injuries to her arm fractures in her feet and ankles, as well as other minor cuts and bruises. There were no facial injuries, no neurological damage, and no trauma above her chest.
When she woke up, her husband, Rob, and other family members were waiting for her. She woke up on a ventilator, which means she couldn’t talk. She quickly figured out how to communicate by writing. One of the first words she wrote was “campaign.” However, she says that word wasn’t about her wanting to win the November election, it was about something bigger than her.
“The campaign wasn’t about me winning. The campaign was so many people had invested themselves into this, so many people wanted change. I didn’t want to let them down. It wasn’t about anything else other than that. The campaign, these people deserve it. Please don’t let something as crazy as me being in an accident stop this movement,” Arrington said.
A couple of days later, she was able to see Goff for the first time since the accident. Goff had injuries similar to Arrington’s injuries, but more severe.
“I wheeled in, she said a word to me which meant she loved me. And I said ‘you’re never driving again.’ Started laughing. Then I kissed her hand and said thank you for saving my life. And she did. If she hadn’t swerved,” Arrington said. “I just kept telling her thank you and kissing her hand because that’s the only part of her I could touch. And thank you. What do you say to somebody? What do you say?”
Jackie has undergone several successful surgeries, but will remain hospitalized for a considerable time.
Arrington was released from the hospital two weeks after the accident. Her first stop was to visit her mother. Her mother has terminal COPD and has been receiving hospice care, unable to see her daughter. Arrington says there have been several times she’s said goodbye to her mother thinking it would be final.
“The Thursday before the accident I said goodbye to my mom, and I really thought that might be the last time I saw her, then I got hurt and her will to live, that she had to see her baby, was huge. When I saw her, there’s nothing like a mom, and for the first time, I really cried. Because if mom hugs you, you’re going to cry. There’s nothing like a mom hug,” Arrington said.
Arrington has a long road ahead. It could take a year or more for her body to return to as close to normal as it can. In the meantime, she’ll be doing physical therapy and slowly reintroducing foods.
As far as how she feels about the accident, she says there’s no room for anger or blame on the road to recovery.
“I lost my father very suddenly and I never got to say goodbye. So to her sons and her family, my most profound condolences and prayers. Know that I saw the last seconds, and she did not suffer. That’s all we can ask for in this life. Blame does nothing at this point. She’s gone. I’m not angry. She’s with God, and all I know is as a mother, she didn’t get to kiss her boys goodbye. What on this earth could I possibly gain from being angry at her?” Arrington said.
Despite the attention, she says this entire ordeal hasn’t been about her for a second, but about God’s plan. She calls herself a servant of God and of people.
“I say the white light that I saw was God’s embrace holding us, saying ‘it’s going to hurt, it’s going hurt you, honey. You’re going to know you’ve been in an accident, but you have more to do,’ and it’s not about me, I have a mission. This isn’t about getting elected to Congress, I’m on a mission to serve. There are things I need to get done,” Arrington explained.
She’s been receiving countless messages and well wishes since the accident. She says she’s still in awe that people care about what happens to her. She also says that’s why she lives to serve.
She says if there’s one message she wants people to take away from this, it’s “Be kind to each other. Be patient with each other. Remember that we’re all in this together. Pray and remember that God is always in charge.”