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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love Story: Car wreck tests couple’s character

Beverley and Joel Novin pose for a photo in their home June 20. Six years ago Beverley was severely injured in a car accident that has taken her years to recover from. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Beverley and Joel Novin pose for a photo in their home June 20. Six years ago Beverley was severely injured in a car accident that has taken her years to recover from. (Tyler Tjomsland)

When Joel and Beverley Novin exchanged wedding vows on July 18, 2001, they included the traditional promise of “in sickness and in health.” Four years later, that vow would be put to the test in ways they could never have foreseen.

Paper brought them together in 1999.

Joel, a financial planner at the time, frequented the Mail Box Etc. branch that Beverley managed, to make copies of documents. After meeting Beverley, he found the need to make a lot more copies.

The fact that she baked killer chocolate chip cookies, and always offered him one when he stopped in, may have had something to do with it as well.

Beverley found him good-looking – and a bit of a challenge. She told a friend, “He’s handsome but he can’t dress to save his life!”

She grinned as she recalled that conversation. “He was a terrible dresser. I wanted to figure out how to change that.”

And it wasn’t just the cookies that made Joel a frequent copier. He found the dark-haired beauty with the proper British accent irresistible. But her practical nature sealed the deal for him.

“The way she ensnared me was she told me I’d save money if I bought a copy card,” he said.

They discovered they shared a love of horseback riding. Beverley was born in England, and riding has always been a part of her life. “It’s hard to find a man who loves horses,” she said.

On their first date they went riding in Riverside State Park. Both fit and active, they also enjoyed cross-country skiing, biking and hiking.

Beverley, a divorced mom of three, said, “He made me laugh. He’s got a very English, dry sense of humor.”

But Joel, a pragmatic New Yorker, had also been divorced, and that experience left him cautious. “I’d learned that love is not enough,” he said. “It was very painful for me to go through a divorce, and I didn’t want to go through that again.”

So when their relationship grew serious, he drafted a list of 30 questions, sat Beverley down and asked her every question on his list. He asked things like, “Have you ever filed bankruptcy? Are you friends with your ex-husband?”

Beverley passed his test with flying colors.

After dating 18 months, Joel proposed. “I don’t understand men who do it with such confidence,” he said. “I was extremely nervous.”

He took her to Riverside State Park after church one Sunday. Though it was raining, he got down on one knee. “I thought he was going to give me a ring,” Beverley said. Instead he gave her a picture frame.

Then the rain stopped and Joel presented her with a ring he’d chosen with her youngest daughter.

At their wedding Joel stepped out of his comfort zone and recited vows he’d written for her. Beverley surprised him with a song, “From This Moment On.”

Weeks later she started a new job at KHQ. She’d never worked in a newsroom before – and then came 9/11. “I went right into the fire,” she said.

However, married life proved an easy transition for the couple. Joel worked from home and always had a hot cup of tea ready for Beverley when she arrived.

But in December 2005, tragedy struck. Beverley’s 42-year-old brother died suddenly. He lived in Vancouver, B.C. Beverley and Joel flew to Seattle, rented a car, and then drove to Vancouver for the funeral.

After the service, they began their drive back to Seattle. They didn’t get far. As Joel related what happened next, he paused, his eyes filled with tears. “I’m a very strong person,” he said. “But six years later, I still get choked up talking about this.”

As they drove south, a Chevy Suburban crossed the divided highway and hit the Novins’ rented Kia head on. Both cars were traveling 60 mph.

When the vehicles came to a rest, the Suburban was on top the Kia. Joel struggled to get out of the car. His wife’s screams rang in his ears. “Joel, help me!”

He shook his head at the memory. “It was the last time I heard her talk.” He paused to collect himself. “The next thing I knew people were hovering over me. An ambulance came. I insisted that we both be taken to the same hospital.”

Joel suffered only a concussion, some bruises and a few deep gashes on his arms. Beverley fared far worse.

In the emergency room Joel could hear his wife’s screams. A doctor tried to brace him. “Your wife is in bad shape,” he said. “I think she may die.”

Joel recited the horrific litany of her trauma. “Massive brain injuries, blind in the left eye, all facial bones broken, collapsed lung, broken spine, wrist broken, ankle broken, massive abdominal injuries.”

His voice shook.

That night Beverley underwent abdominal surgery. It was the first of what would be 13 surgeries over the next four years.

Joel had to call her children and family members. “I did not want to call her father and tell him his daughter was going to die – he’d just buried his son.”

The next day Joel and Beverley were flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Beverley’s prognosis was tenuous. “We didn’t know if she’d regain brain function – or walk again,” he said.

They spent the next six weeks at Harborview, where Beverley had more surgeries. She said, “They had to rebuild my face.”

It’s still difficult for Joel to discuss that time. “I spent weeks hearing her scream in pain, begging me to help her. I had to sit there and absorb all the begging and was unable to help her.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow for a can-do, take-charge problem-solver like Joel.

Beverley’s children surrounded her and lightened Joel’s load. “They talked to me, sang to me, read books to me,” she said.

And one day, she opened her eyes. Soon she began babbling, and finally her vocalizations turned into words. She was able to travel to a nursing home in Spokane to continue her rehabilitation. “At Manor Care, they taught me everything,” Beverley said. “They taught me how to walk, talk and eat.”

But an infection set in and she was hospitalized at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Beverley caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. Her head was shaved and she weighed just 93 pounds. “I cried,” she said. “I saw a monster – not me anymore. I told Joel I don’t want to be here anymore. I wanted to die. I had a discussion with God, but the next morning I woke up and …” she shrugged. “I was still here.”

Joel told her, “I didn’t wait all my life to find you, for you to give up on you now.”

When she finally returned home she said, “We were at a crossroads. We could feel sorry for ourselves and hate the guy that hit us and live off disability checks.” She shook her head. “I wasn’t going to follow that path. My dad would always say ‘Get over it and get on with it.’ ”

So, that’s what they chose to do. Seven months after the accident, Beverley was back in the newsroom at KHQ.

Though she can no longer ride horses or ski, Joel smiled and said, “She still bakes cookies.”

The aftermath of the crash has marked them both, but Beverley’s wounds are more apparent. “I look at my scars every day. I don’t like them, but what can I do?”

She explained, “You take your feet forward. I have my faith, my family, and a job. I’m lucky to be here.”

And she has Joel. She looked at him and her eyes filled. “He’s been my guardian angel – he’s never left my side, and I know a lot of men would have.”

Joel dismissed her praise. “You gotta stick it out,” he said. “If you stick it out, you always get rewarded.” Then he grinned. “When you find the one woman in the world who will marry you – you don’t let her go.”

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