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Horror crash, 10 years and 12 operations later

‘Being alive the greatest gift’

BECKIE WILSON

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The moment Susan Keast fell asleep behind the wheel changed her life forever. A decade after the crash that shocked her rescuers, she spoke to Beckie Wilson about her miraculous survival.

Life hasn’t been smooth sailing for crash survivor Susan Keast, but a decade after her ute went off the road, and left her impaled by a steel pipe, she says being alive is the greatest gift.

Times-Age coverage of the incident. PHOTOS/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

“I can’t do all sorts of things I could have done, but being alive is the greatest thing, it’s a miracle really,” she said this week.

“I’m meant to be here I guess.”

On December 11, 2007, Mrs Keast, a Featherston dairy farmer, was travelling back from Masterton along State Highway 2 at Tauherenikau when she fell asleep at the wheel and ploughed through a fence.

The late afternoon crash left her with a broken pelvis, leg and hip, as well as extensive muscle and tissue damage after the pipe entered her left hip and exited her buttock.

She also lost the sight in her left eye after being hit by the rear-view mirror.

She underwent three hours of emergency surgery at Wairarapa Hospital, involving three surgical specialists, to remove the pipe.

Mrs Keast still remembers the day of the crash, but said she doesn’t think back on the crash very often.

“I went to sleep at the wheel.

“There’s a gentle curve coming onto the bridge, I went in between the hotel and the house — there was a guard rail, it was just a hunk of pipe to protect the house from people like me,” she said.

Mrs Keast does not remember the impact of the crash, but said she awoke straight after.

“I couldn’t figure out how I wasn’t getting out, but of course I was stopped by this piece of pipe.”

“They cut [the pipe] off at the front and then behind me . . . they got me out with the pipe in me, and then put me in the ambulance,” she said.

While she was conscious the whole time, she does not remember the pain as the adrenaline and shock had already kicked in.

Mrs Keast admitted she was very lucky to be alive, but life “hasn’t been a picnic”.

Since the crash she has been under the knife about 12 times – “it is very hard to keep track of all the operations”.

After learning to walk again and readjusting back to life on the farm, she was up on her feet and gardening, she said.

But about three years later, she had a hip replacement, which caused a lot of difficulties.

She also has to wear a shoe with a thicker sole for better balance, but still has trouble walking.

Despite everything Mrs Keast had been through since the crash, including the death of her late husband Ivan, she had never wanted to give up, she said.

“It hasn’t been a picnic for the family either, it’s been hard for them . . . it’s just been a struggle.”

She relies mostly on her daughter, Heather, and a carer who comes in regularly.

Mrs Keast has not driven since the day of the crash.

Featherston fire chief Colin McKenna and his crew were the first emergency services to arrive at the scene.

He remembers arriving, thinking it was “just a motor vehicle accident”.

“There was a bit of smoke coming out from the motor, and so we had to extinguish a little fire under the motor.

“I remember getting on the radio, and saying how far away was the ambulance, I desperately need help here,” he said.

Mr McKenna said everyone who attended the crash was amazed that Mrs Keast survived it.

Even after all his years since as a firefighter he will never forget the crash, he said.

“I’ve got to say, it was a pretty horrific type of thing to see, somebody who had been impaled on a pipe.

“It was definitely a first for me and the only one I’ve seen like that.”

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