“Oh please God, no, no!” Stephen Eldredge cried out when he saw his wife, Shelli, mangled on the side of the road. Stephen, a physician trained in critical care, recognized the severity of her injuries. She had broken virtually every long bone in her body, along with her pelvis, jaw, and cheekbones. He was terrified his bride would bleed to death.
This couldn’t be happening in their paradise. Stephen and Shelli had married just six months before near their home in South Jordan, Utah. They were in Hawaii on a family vacation with two of their teenage sons. The family had rented mopeds and headed towards a nature preserve near Waikiki. But Shelli had lagged behind and the family turned back to make sure she was okay.
Shelli lost so much blood that her heart couldn’t function properly and she went into hypovolemic shock at the hospital. Physicians were able to revive her. On the first and second days there, she lived through half a dozen surgeries and though very disoriented, she could communicate. But on day three, the worst of Stephen’s fears came true. Shelli didn’t wake. She had developed two types of fat embolisms, dire complications that cause strokes, heart failure, and lung failure. Physicians put her on maximum life support. “I thought every heartbeat would be her last,” Stephen says.
As days passed with no change, one doctor gently asked if it was time to let Shelli go. An MRI showed her brain didn’t have much chance of supporting life. Stephen couldn’t bear the thought of trapping his wife’s beautiful spirit in a body would never work. If he kept her alive, what kind of life would she have? He called family, religious leaders, and physician friends in Utah for guidance.
And he decided there still was a chance.
The family moved Shelli to a Utah hospital closer to home. In the next few weeks she started to emerge from the coma and open her eyes, but it wasn’t entirely clear how conscious she was. Nearly seven weeks after the accident, Stephen was joking with his sister in the hospital room when he saw Shelli smile, a big toothy grin. “Did you understand that?” he asked. She smiled again. Stephen fell to his knees in thanks.
Shelli’s recovery has been slow but steady. Initially, she couldn’t remember much of the previous months, including her own wedding. Her injuries are consistent with an external force such as a hit-and-run driver, says her physician, Dr. Elie Elovic. Shelli has endured 17 operations so far and may require more surgery. She will definitely need more months of rehabilitation. But she is able to walk. “She’s got her life back. She’s able to love and be loved, and be the person she was, ” Elovic says.
When Shelli hears about each step in her recovery, she calls it “miracle after miracle.” As for his experience, Stephen says, “This is a story of fear that was slowly replaced by faith.”