Nicholas Madsen's Story
It was 1 am. The kids were asleep and there was complete silence in the car. In an instant, the quiet black of night flashed with white light as a truck, driving the wrong way on the interstate, hit them head on.
“All I remember were the sound of us both screaming. It happened so fast,” said Nicholas.
Just days before, Nicholas Madsen and his fiancé, Jenny, along with their children, Brycen (12) and Sophia (5), left their home in Green Bay, Wisconsin for Orlando, Florida on a family trip. As they piled in the truck, chatter began about visiting theme parks, but before they pulled out of the driveway, Jenny began thinking about her father who had passed away just months before.
“After Jenny’s dad passed, we were given his truck as our family car,” recalls Nicholas. “I remember Jenny looked at me before we left the driveway and said, ‘Dad will take care of us.’ Now looking back on it, I believe that truck is what saved our lives.”
After two days of driving, on Saturday, April, 22, the family decided to make a stop in Florida’s Capital City. I am a huge Florida State football fan,” said Nicholas. “Growing up I had family who moved to Florida and after learning about FSU, I became an instant fan. Because we lived so far away, I had never seen the stadium in person. Before we left town for Orlando, we decided we would stay the night in Tallahassee so I could finally see Doak Campbell Stadium.”
Three hours from Tallahassee, Nicholas plugged their destination into the GPS and opted for the quickest route on Interstate 27. As the kids slept, Jenny took over behind the wheel. As they approached a large hill, the 2006 Chevy Silverado followed the dark edge of interstate when another truck, driving the wrong way on the interstate, appeared with no warning and hit them head on.
“I just remember seeing headlights,” recalled Nicholas. “Before I could even think, they were right in front of us. Jenny and I both screamed and there was a blinding flash. I am thankful Jenny didn’t turn the wheel and that the truck took the impact head on. If she had swerved, and we were hit on the side, we wouldn’t have made it.”
Smoke began to rise from the hood of the car and everything fell quiet again.
“As I came to, I heard a door open and shut – my son jumped out. I started yelling for my family, Jenny wasn’t responding but finally woke up. Sophia was crying in the back seat. Once I knew everyone was alive, I knew we had to get out.”
Out of instinct, Nicholas went to get out of the truck and couldn’t feel his leg. It was crushed. He flung the door open and took the pain as he fell from the truck and crawled across the interstate for help.
“I looked up and saw headlights approaching. My son was standing on the side of the road and flagged the car down. They pulled over, ran up to the crash site, got my daughter out of the car and gave us blankets. More people started to show up and before I knew it, Jenny and Sophia were out of the car and we were all rushed to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.”
Once at the Tallahassee Memorial Bixler Trauma & Emergency Center, Nicholas was separated from his fiancé and kids for treatment.
After examination, the doctors confirmed Nicholas had a broken femur, fractured hip and three broken ribs. Brycen had two fractured ribs and Sophia had a fractured pelvis. Jenny had a fractured ankle, multiple broken toes and the doctors discovered something that would change their lives forever – Jenny was pregnant.
“We were completely surprised,” said Nicholas. If there was one positive out of all of this, it’s that we found out we’re going to have a baby.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, Nicholas started a long journey of recovery in Tallahassee before he could return home to Wisconsin.
“Once the news of our accident spread, family was coming in from all over. We had an incredible amount of support.” Although his family was there to help, Nicholas was surprised by the amount of support he received from the TMH staff and Leon County EMS.
“After I was moved to a hospital room, two ER nurses came by to drop off a bag of toys for the kids, snacks, a gift card and a huge FSU wall hanging. I never expected anything like this. It was so kind and something I will never forget,” said Nicholas.
On Monday, April 24, Nicholas received surgery from Hank Hutchinson, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial. The surgery took six hours to complete and Nicholas recovered in the hospital for 11 days.
“Dr. Hutchinson is the absolute best at what he does. Everyone I talked to said he was wonderful and after meeting him, I knew they were right. I am so fortunate Dr. Hutchinson was my surgeon.”
On his road to recovery, Nicholas got the chance to meet Terry Evans, an EMT with Leon County EMS. Terry heard about the accident and that Nicholas was a huge FSU fan. Being a good friend of Seminoles Football Coach, Jimbo Fisher, Terry showed up with a signed football for Nicholas.
“Terry was so thoughtful. He gave me his business card and told me to call or text him if I needed anything, or just wanted to talk. I sent him a message thanking him and our conversation continued for days. Each day we would chat on the phone or Terry would come by to visit, often times bringing food or to take my dirty clothes home and wash them. Before I knew it, we became fast friends. He is a true blessing.”
The time had come where Nicholas was faced with making the transition from the hospital to Tallahassee Memorial’s Rehabilitation Center (TMRC).
“Change was scary for me. I had already been through so much and I was comfortable where I was. The day before I had to move to rehab, Dr. Hutchinson knew I didn’t want to go. He looked at me and said ‘You need to progress and the only way to do that is by going to rehab. You’re not sick, you don’t need to be in a hospital.’ To me, that was a great line and exactly what I needed to hear. He was right; it was time for me to get back on my feet. He put me in the right mindset.”
Upon arrival at TMRC, Nicholas was impressed.
“My first impression was how spacious my room was and how inviting everyone was. On my first day, my nurse, Steven, came in my room to just sit and talk with me. He encouraged me to make myself at home and get comfortable. I appreciated how he helped me adjust.”
Nicholas, who hadn’t had much sleep, was overwhelmed with the entire recovery process. He would find himself each day wondering why this happened to him and his family. “I am thankful to be alive but I just couldn’t understand why this happened. It was a really hard transition.”
Nicholas was seen by Donald Loucks, MD at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center. “Dr. Loucks made it a point to come talk with me daily. I appreciated his bedside manner, I could just tell he was a good person.”
Physical therapy was a critical part of Nicholas’ rehabilitation. “My first day of physical therapy was eye opening. My therapist, April, was a lifesaver. She went above and beyond for me. One day she saw me wheeling myself to the soda machine to get a Mountain Dew and the next morning she had a kind note and pack of soda in my room. I was blown away by her kindness. She is now one of my life long friends.”
Thanks to April, Steven, Dr. Loucks, Nicholas’ other therapist Stephen and the others at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center, Nicholas started to feel like he had a home away from home.
“My attitude completely changed during the 15 days I spent in rehab. I enjoyed waking up every day and having my routine, working with my therapists, visiting with the nurses – they became family. Random people who I had never met or expected to care about me would come by my room just to visit. The team at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center weren’t only there to help me heal physically, they were there to listen. It was top notch.”
As an end to his experience in Tallahassee before Nicholas flew home, his newfound friends, Terry, April and others at Tallahassee Memorial, coordinated a personal visit to meet Coach Fisher and tour the FSU Seminoles football facilities.
“It was a dream come true. Seeing the stadium was on my bucket list and I got to see everything and meet Coach Fisher. I was on cloud nine.”
Continuing to heal, Nicholas is looking forward to his future. Nicholas and Jenny are planning a wedding after the birth of their baby at Christmas, and of course, coming back to Tallahassee for a Florida State football game. Knowing what all he has to look forward to, Nicholas can’t help but feel blessed.
“In a split second life can be taken from you and that split second changed our life forever. I am so thankful that this accident took place near Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare – they took care of me like I was family and I am so grateful for all they did.”
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