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County teen is on the mend

August 03, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Although her unworn cap and gown still hang in the doorway of her living room, Karen Worthington has her eyes fixed firmly on the future rather than on how she missed getting her diploma in a near-fatal car accident two days before Clear Spring High School's graduation.

"I'm going to start at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall," said Worthington, who is recuperating at her Independence Road home. Knowing she might have to lighten her class load, Worthington is determined not to get off track.

Worthington, 18, the daughter of John and Linda Worthington, was driving her Ford Escort toward Williamsport on the evening of June 10 when the driver of a pickup pulled out from a tavern on U.S. 40 into her path.

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"I was taking a graduation ticket to my Latin teacher, Tootie Ridenour, who teaches at Smithsburg High but lives in Williamsport," she said.

The driver of the pickup was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, negligent and reckless driving and other traffic offenses, Maryland State Police said. He has an Aug. 26 trial date in Washington County District Court.

While Worthington remembers the crash and the aftermath, she said she began to lose consciousness as she arrived at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

"I had lost so much blood I went into shock," she said. "The only pain I remember, though, was when they pulled me out of my car."

Worthington learned later that the driver's side of the car was the only part of the Escort not crushed in the accident. Her seat belt was on and her air bag deployed, both of which contributed to her surviving the accident, police and her doctors later told her.

All three bones in her right leg were broken. Her badly damaged spleen had to be removed. Her liver was severely lacerated, but doctors were able to save enough of the vital organ to ensure her survival.

"I had a punctured lung and tears in my stomach, too," Worthington said.

During her month at Shock Trauma, she underwent 14 procedures, including five major surgeries. Despite all the injuries - some of which were caused by the seat belt - she had no spinal injuries or head trauma.

John Worthington said his daughter's injuries all could be fixed, which is not always the outcome with spinal and head injuries.

"We lived in that waiting room at Shock Trauma for the first 10 days, five of which when it was touch-and-go," he said. "When the doctors came in, you wondered if it was for you or someone else."

Linda Worthington said she and her husband sat and watched other families as they got bad news from the doctors and staff.

"So many of their stories didn't have happy endings like ours," she said.

At the time of the accident, the Worthingtons were watching their 14-year-old son, Brian, play baseball in Clear Spring.

"The Maryland State Police medevac flew overhead while we were at the game," Linda Worthington said. "I turned to a friend and said somebody's not having a good day."

An hour later, Linda Worthington's parents called her at home and said there had been an accident involving her daughter.

From June 10 to July 9, Karen Worthington was in the care of Dr. David Gens for surgeries and recovery. Her parents said Gens was very patient with them, taking the time to explain every aspect of her care.

A member of the National Honor Society who ranked seventh in her class, Karen Worthington hopes for some kind of ceremony to mark her graduation soon. Her mother has been in contact with principal Martin Green who is working out the details.

Until then, the cap and gown are hanging in the doorway.

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