A visit to her daughter, Gretchen, and son-in-law, Brandon, began when Lois Pelz and her long-time boyfriend, Randy Knach, arrived in Las Vegas at 3:15 p.m. on June 4, 2009. They were due home a week later when Lois and Randy would be back at work in Indiana.
Instead, a week shy of one year later, Randy finally brought Lois home — after an accident in which they were rear-ended and pushed into the side of a city bus. An accident that nearly cost Lois her life and Randy his love. It’s now costing Lois her mobility and both of them a great deal of out-of-pocket expenses insurance refuses to cover.
Therapy is “not medically necessary” as Randy was told by the insurance company. They were encouraged to prepare Lois to operate an electronically-controlled wheelchair for the rest of her life. However, Randy has relentlessly pursued therapy for Lois, having witnessed her taking up to 50 steps when she was at Parkview Rehab. She could even raise her hand and wave to visiting friends.
But now, after her allotted days from the insurance company ran out, Lois’ muscles have begun to atrophy. She sits with her arms propped up by decorative pillows, able only to incrementally adjust a recliner with push-button controls. Her Yorkshire Terrier, Shelby, springs into her lap and reminds visitors she is her guardian. Her greatest sadness may come from the fact that, while Shelby rests just inches from her fingertips, she can’t even reach out to pet her. Tears sprang to both Lois’ and this reporter’s eyes as her grief welled up. Randy hopped up and gently wiped Lois’ eyes (handing me a tissue, too), tenderly chiding her with jokes, as is his style.
So what happened that afternoon of June 4, 2009, just after her daughter picked them up from the airport? They sat in the back of Gretchen’s 2006 Nissan Altima after seeing the kids’ new apartment. They were headed to their hotel when Randy remembers Lois’ complaining about the tightness of the seatbelt. He suggested she place her hand between her chest and the belt. Next, he collided with the back of the seat in front of him and was knocked unconscious.
When he came to, Lois was leaned over in front of him — not breathing.
He checked her pulse. Where was it? Randy performed mouth-to-mouth on her right where they sat, pinned in the back of the car. Gretchen and Brandon were able to get out of the car. Witnesses ran to them, jerking on door handles and trying to break windows. Lois started breathing on her own again.
Firemen arrived and pried open the doors. They put a cervical collar on Lois and transferred her to the ambulance. No blood spotted any surface, not a single bone was broken, but Randy’s and Lois’ lives were forever changed.
Lois suffered a brain shear in which nerves in her neck were severed. A concussion tosses the brain about in the skull, resulting in bruising. A brain shear twists the brain around and, for Lois, permanently damaged the nerves. To get the messages of movement from her brain to the rest of her body, she will have to reroute the signals. New paths are established through regular therapy — which she has been denied by insurance.
Randy was not about to be put off by insurance or disbelieving doctors. He met Dr. Phillip D. Zanetaes at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indianapolis — a physician working in stem cell research where the patient’s own stem cells are extracted and then reintroduced into the body. Zanetaes wants Lois on his research team. Randy and friends are trying to get her there but she needs to be stronger — she needs to continue her therapy.
Without insurance to help cover the costs, friends and family are organizing a benefit golf outing for this Sunday at Eagle Glen. Thirty-three teams and 50 sponsors have already signed up to participate. That’s not all that’s going on, though! They’ll have a silent auction for items like a plasma TV, overnight hotel stays, even a condo for a week in Florida and a raffle for smaller items that includes jewelry, among other things. Friends and local businesses have also given direct donations. The public is welcome to participate even though the golf teams have been established. Lois will man the 9th hole, supervising a corn hole game for prizes.
Without her family and friends — her angels — Lois wouldn’t be doing so well. Several ladies — they know who they are — have been with Lois from the beginning. They sat by her while she lay in Parkview, unconscious and unaware. Then they helped her take her first steps. Now they stay with her if Randy’s not home or the home health care workers are off-duty. They cook for her, help her eat, help her get dolled up, help her with everything. Randy said in the last year-and-a-half, he has seen Lois break down fewer times than he can count on one hand. He says, “she is the most determined person I’ve ever been around.”
Lois’ goal, with the support of her friends and family and with her own indomitable spirit, is to walk again. She wants to work again. She wants to, “live a good life with my Randy.”