On Aug. 14, a fun-filled day at Loon Lake ended in near tragedy for the Santos family.
As Angelo Santos; his wife, Alyssa; and children Isabella, Zachary, Annalia, and Nikko, traveled south on U.S. Highway 395, a drunken driver blew through the stop sign at Crawford Road.
“I saw him coming,” Angelo Santos said, of the seconds before the crash. “I tried to veer right to avoid him.”
But the collision proved inescapable. Alyssa Santos thinks her husband’s 15 years as a UPS driver mitigated the damages. “I believe if anyone else had been behind the wheel, it would have been so much worse,” she said.
The accident was horrifying, but for the Santos family the real story is the unexpected outpouring of care and support they received from the community in the months that followed.
Within days a friend had set up a blog to post health updates, needs and prayer requests, and a benefit fund was created at Spokane Teacher’s Credit Union.
As the minivan came to a rest that day, an eerie silence fell. “It was very quiet – a silence that seemed to last forever,” Alyssa Santos said. And then she heard the children crying.
Shattered glass from the broken windows filled the van. Trapped against the steering wheel, Angelo Santos struggled to free himself. Alyssa Santos’ leg rested on the dash. “It looked really odd,” she recalled. “My foot was totally flat.”
Zach asked, “Mom, what should we do? How can we help you?”
Isabella had her cellphone in her hand, so Alyssa Santos told her to call 911 and also call her aunt who was still at Loon Lake. Then she asked Zach to pray – and he did.
“We asked for help and God brought it to us,” Alyssa Santos said.
Angelo Santos agreed. “The people who pulled over were amazingly selected by God. The first three people who stopped were all EMTs.”
In addition, a couple stopped and helped get the kids out of the van. “They prayed with them and reassured them, and picked the glass out of their hair,” Angelo said.
Alyssa Santos was the most seriously injured. While the rest of her family was loaded into ambulances, she was air-lifted to the hospital. “I passed out when they pulled me out of the car and woke up in the helicopter,” she said.
The force of the impact had shoved her stomach up into her lung cavity; her diaphragm was torn and her spleen ruptured. She also had multiple breaks in her left leg.
Angelo Santos suffered a broken right ankle and ligament damage. Thankfully, the children’s injuries were confined to bumps and bruises.
Alyssa Santos underwent immediate surgery to repair her diaphragm and spleen. When her condition stabilized, a surgeon pieced her shattered leg back together.
Angelo Santos had surgery on his ankle the same day. Later he was wheeled down the hall for his first glimpse of his wife since the accident.
“She whispered, ‘I almost died, huh?’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘But you’re not dead and I think God has a plan for us.’ ”
While family and friends rallied to clean the house, buy groceries and care for the children, what most touched Alyssa and Angelo Santos was the kindness of strangers.
Folks brought meals, did yard work, finished a backyard fence and rearranged furniture to accommodate two people using walkers.
Before the accident, Alyssa Santos had been readying Zach’s room for a new paint job. Friends and family stepped in to finish it.
When word got out that Alyssa Santos would be coming home after an 11-day stay in the hospital, friend Eric Lyons designed a ramp leading from the garage to the house. Ziggy’s Building Materials donated supplies, and a small group of volunteers completed the ramp in just one day.
As the start of school loomed, people pitched in and took care of the back-to-school shopping.
Annalia and Nikko attend Lincoln Heights Elementary, and the school also reached out to the family. “The principal and counselor came to our house and offered to give the kids rides to activities – the staff brought us meals. They’ve been amazing,” Alyssa Santos said.
Friends held a car wash staffed by volunteers from UPS and employees of Applied Healthcare Associates. The fundraiser netted $1,575.
The support left the Santos family feeling stunned and grateful. Alyssa Santos said, “No one is really prepared for four to five months off work.”
With his doctor’s permission, Angelo Santos hopes to resume his UPS route this month.
Though Alyssa Santos has graduated from a walker to a cane, she faces intensive physical therapy, and possibly another surgery. “Every step hurts,” she admitted.
The family expressed amazement that though the accident happened in August, they are still inundated with support and care. Alyssa said, “A group of people offered to do Christmas for us. They asked for our Christmas list and went out shopping on Black Friday.”
They attend Life Center Church and said the church has been especially helpful. A man Angelo Santos knew from Bible study bakes cookies for the family every week. “It’s his gift to us,” Angelo Santos said.
“It’s a good gift!” Zach said.
Isabella laughed. “They are the best cookies I’ve ever had!”
The experience has profoundly affected the family. “We can’t really remember what life was like before,” Alyssa Santos said. “Our kids are changed. When you look at not having your mom, everything is a gift.”
“They look at the world differently. It’s brought us closer, but it’s also broadened our ideas of helping others,” Angelo Santos said.
One thing is certain: Each member of the Santos family believes in the power of prayer. “We prayed and God met us from the very first minutes of the accident,” Alyssa said. “It was an awful experience, but so much good came out of it.”