Traci Wickham walks into the hospital.
She is not pushing a walker. She is not being pushed in a wheelchair.
No, the 43-year-old from Columbus, Neb., walks into the Creighton University Medical Center, which is a measure of how far she has come.
You might have passed her as she strode from the revolving door down the hallway to visit her specialist.
You might have seen her bright-green T-shirt or her blingy belt buckle.
You might have noticed the small brace on her left knee or the wooden cane carved with the names of her four children.
But would you have thought this woman with the sunny disposition was nearly killed months ago in a car accident?
Traci was the big reveal midway through a recent daylong conference at Creighton that focused on orthopedic trauma and the array of experts needed to help patients like Traci heal as quickly and as fully as possible.
But meeting Traci, looking at Traci, listening to Traci, I almost needed proof that she was the same Traci who was nearly killed in a car accident two weeks before Christmas in Columbus, Neb.
It was a Monday. Traci had dropped off her two youngest children at school. She had stopped for coffee. She had begun heading out of town for work — Traci is a pharmaceutical rep who drives 5,000 miles a month.
Then, realizing she forgot something at home, Traci turned around. She headed east on U.S. Highway 30.
Then her memory clouds. The last thing she remembers: “The light turned green, and I went.”
Just then, a semitrailer truck barreled south on U.S. Highway 81, blowing through the red light. It plowed into Traci and T-boned her Toyota Sienna, pushing the vehicle over the median and almost into a pole 94 feet away. The impact shattered windows and crumpled metal.
Moments later, an acquaintance and trained EMT named Bob Hiner happened upon the scene.
Bob ran to the driver's side of the van, ripped down one of the billowing airbags, stretched his arms inside and held Traci's head steady as she came to.
An ambulance took Traci to the Columbus hospital; a medical helicopter took Traci to Creighton.
She had massive internal bleeding, but her most pressing injury was a hole in her diaphragm. Her abdominal organs were pushing toward her heart.
Secondary was a pelvis broken in four places, a left femur that had shot up through the socket, a cracked sacrum, a broken collarbone, several broken ribs, a punctured lung and, in her neck, a cracked vertebra.
Trauma surgeons spent hours repairing her diaphragm, realigning her organs and putting her left leg in traction.
Four days later, an orthopedic surgeon spent eight hours putting Traci's pelvis back together.
Traci spent 11 days at Creighton and 10 days at a rehab center.
She returned home to Columbus on the last day of 2012 and has spent every day of 2013 recuperating: four days a week of physical therapy, lots of doctor visits, lots of prayer.
Life at home changed. Husband Sean, a high school history teacher and coach, took a job closer to home in Schuyler, Neb., and has shouldered most of the housework. People sent meals three times a week.
Slowly, Traci worked her way back to almost normal.
First it was a wheelchair. Then it was a walker. Then crutches. And finally this cane, made by a friend of her father's, carved with the names of her children: Anna, Grace, Will and Sam, who was stillborn on Easter Sunday 2005.
I met Traci on a hot day late last month. She had returned to Creighton's medical center to see the orthopedic surgeon who put her back together after the crash.
She last saw Dr. Justin Siebler in May. That day, Traci had hobbled into his hospital office on crutches.
On this August day, she was here for new X-rays and for a checkup.
“She's doing fantastic,” Dr. Siebler says. “She has made big gains, as far as strength, stamina and endurance.”
That's a bit to be expected. Traci is young. She's relatively healthy.
Still, it's hard to look at the news picture of the smashed-up minivan, with its crumpled driver's side door, its shattered windshield, its front bumper ripped off and standing perpendicular to the vehicle. And then look at Traci, with her big smile, her sheer ease of movement, and think: No way could she have survived that.
But Traci did.
Dr. Siebler says so. And the X-rays don't lie.
Here's the Dec. 10 X-ray, he shows me, telling me how Traci's pelvis was broken “here, here, here and here.”
Here’s the newest one, taken Aug. 28. The same pelvis now has a bolt the size of a ballpoint pen stretched from hip socket to hip socket, four plates and more than a dozen screws.
The injury isn't necessarily uncommon — Siebler has repaired broken pelvises for people who have fallen or, in one case, got run over by a tractor.
But Traci's break was fairly severe.
Traci fingers a chain around her neck. On it hang what look like dog tags stamped with these words: Believe. Trust. Have faith, expect miracles.
That last one, she says, “is the truest one.”
The miracle of Bob Hiner happening by. The miracle of a 45-minute helicopter flight to Omaha, about half the time it would have taken by car. The miracle of trauma surgeons who saved her life and put her back together.
The miracle of walking into the hospital ...
And walking out.