Paramedic pinned by car in NC Walmart parking lot reflects on recovery
Paramedic Heather Haynes went through six surgeries including amputation of part of her right leg
By Ben Coley
LEXINGTON, N.C. — Scary, that's the first word that comes to mind when Heather Haynes reflects on the early morning of Aug. 17.
The 29-year-old, who received her paramedic certification just two months earlier, stepped out of an ambulance in the parking lot of Walmart and was pinned against the vehicle by an accelerating Mustang. She was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Health - Lexington Medical Center via ambulance and then airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem due to her injuries.
"I didn't think I'd ever see my kids again, that's all I kept thinking about," Haynes said. "I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was going to live, if I was going to die."
The driver, Nathan Fowler, 36, of Clemmons, was charged with careless and reckless driving, DWI, hit and run and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on emergency personnel.
A month later, Haynes is now out of the hospital, but without her right leg.
It's practically a new life for Haynes, who has four children.
"Very hard," said Haynes, describing her time since being released on Sept. 12. "I've had to pretty much teach myself how to do everything without a leg. ... Overall, it's been OK. Some things are hard, like giving my kids a bath. Some days are harder than others."
Haynes went through six surgeries while in the hospital, which of course included amputating part of her right leg.
While lying in the hospital bed, Haynes said she thought about her children the most. She missed them, and she wanted to get better so she could get back to them.
So as she was faced with the decision of whether to go through dozens of surgeries and intense rehab to keep her leg or to amputate and get a prosthetic leg, the choice became pretty clear.
"I decided that my kids meant more," Haynes said. "Quality of life meant more. The decision was actually pretty easy that I had to do what I had to do. I thought about it for a good day. But I had to do what I had to do."
Haynes, along with Capt. Michael Everhart, her EMS supervisor, traveled to the Lexington Fire Department headquarters on Wednesday to have lunch with firefighters.
The young paramedic actually drove Everhart's truck to the fire station with her left leg.
"She did surprisingly well," Everhart said. "She did good."
Haynes and Everhart went to the fire station to receive a donation on behalf of the firefighters to help with her recovery.
Sgt. Eric Skeen, a firefighter, said first responders all stand beside each other as much as they can.
"We were going to do whatever we could to assist," Skeen said.
Everhart said there's a sense of family among firefighters, emergency services personnel and law enforcement. For Davidson County specifically, he said Haynes' incident has made that bond stronger.
The shift supervisor said he's essentially gained another daughter.
"I've been doing this going on 23 years now, and had this happened to me, I wouldn't even want to look at an ambulance," Everhart said. "Her drive — it's really uncanny in today's day and age with people. She hasn't been doing it this long. She's just eager to get back to work and get on the truck."
A recovery fund for Haynes has been set up through First National Bank. Donations can be made at any local bank or to Heather Haynes Paramedic Recovery Fund, c/o First National Bank, 4481 S. N.C. Highway 150, Lexington, N.C. 27295.
Everhart and others are also selling raffle tickets for a .300-caliber Blackout AR-15 Platform donated by Bear Creek Arsenal. Each ticket costs $10, and all the proceeds go to Haynes' recovery fund. For more information, contact Everhart at 336-240-2235.
Haynes said that after experiencing the incident and lying in the hospital for days, she's learned not to take life for granted.
When she receives her prosthetic leg in the coming weeks, Haynes will look to get back to work as soon as she can.
"I'll go to rehab after I get it, do some more rehab and get back on the truck," Haynes said. "I have to. I have to show my kids that you don't give up and you don't let anything hold you back."
©2019 The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C.