Hildred Lewis is a familiar face to many. Since the opening of Sycamore Shoals Hospital in 1986 she has greeted visitors at the information desk on Fridays and more recently on Mondays, as well. Prior to that, she served as a “pink lady” at the old Carter County Memorial Hospital.
Being a hospital volunteer, she comes in contact with many hurting families. “Some are there every day during the hospitalization of their family member, and I get very close to them, especially those who have someone seriously ill,” she said. “I try to minister to them and be of some help.”
Hildred shared that she has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, of which first and foremost is the “saving grace of God.” Then, she listed her family, church, many friends and some things most of us take for granted, like being able to walk, drive her automobile, and to work and serve.
Five years ago in February 2005, she was seriously injured when a car hit her, knocking the upper part of her body into the opened trunk of her car. Both legs were broken above the knees. She received numerous other injuries, including fractures, contusions, bruises and scrapes. As a result she spent weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at Johnson City Medical Center and later was moved to Bristol Memorial Hospital, where doctors gave her up to die, telling her son that he might want to go ahead and make funeral arrangements for his mother.
Hildred does not remember much about the accident nor the days and weeks that followed. “I had gone to the grocery store for my cousin, who at that time lived in the Courtyard Apartments. Returning, I had parked my car and had gone around and opened the trunk to get the groceries, when a car pulled into the space behind me to park. Instead of the driver braking, he accidentally hit the gas. I was pinned between my car and his vehicle,” Hildred shared.
For days she lingered between life and death, or at least the doctors and nurses thought. However, Hildred said there was never a time she was without hope or thought she was going to die. After the accident she spent two and one-half months lying flat on her back.
“I had all kinds of tubes going into me. I was receiving oxygen, IVs, had a feeding tube and catheter. For weeks I was on a ventilator. After they moved me to Bristol, I was taken off the ventilator. They told my son I wouldn’t last 45 minutes once I was unhooked from the ventilator,” she exclaimed, as her eyes glistened with tears. The feeding tube was removed as was the oxygen.
“My son made arrangements to have me moved to Pine Ridge Care & Rehabilitation Center, here in Elizabethton. A miracle happened there,” she shared through a big smile.
“I went 11 days without food and water, and it was there they decided that God wasn’t ready to take me and they began helping me to live again,” Hildred added. “My feeding tube was put back in and as quick as I regained some strength they began giving me physical therapy.”
For an hour and half each day, five days a week, Hildred took therapy. Once back in her room, she would do therapy herself. “I had to push every day. It was hard and it pained. I had to regain strength in my legs and muscles. I had to learn to walk again and I was determined to do so,” Hildred said.
Rehabilitation came in small steps. The feeding tube was removed and she began eating soft and pureed food, then finally solid food. She began sitting up, and finally took her first steps. On July 21 she was able to go home. Hildred still walks with the assistance of a cane, and each day that the weather is good, she walks some.
Prior to her accident, she was scheduled to have heart surgery. Of course, it didn’t happen. But in December after having gone home from Pine Ridge, she began to experience some chest pains. On Christmas Eve in 2005 she underwent heart surgery to “unstop” three blockages. “I did fine through the heart surgery and the convalescing,” Hildred shared.
Having always been an independent person, about a year after her heart surgery she got the urge to drive again, and with the blessings of her doctor and a “reluctant” son, she bought a car and began driving again. “Of course, I don’t drive very far — to church, the grocery store and to the hospital, but that helps a lot,” she said.
Along the way, Hildred said she acquired the unexpected gift of patience. “I didn’t ask for it before the accident, but I sure did after the accident,” she exclaimed. “My faith was also increased. It was the biggest test of my life,” she said.
“I believe in miracles, and I tell people, ‘If you don’t believe in miracles, look at me, and you will see one,’” Hildred said from her home this week. “God has been so good to me. He has given me a wonderful family — a son and daughter-in-law, two grandsons and five great-grandchildren, and I have a wonderful church family,” she said as her voice broke, and a tear trickled from her eye.
Hildred is the mother of Steve Lewis, who is now retired from Citizens Bank. She is the daughter of the late Dave and Rose Frazier. Her father for many years operated an open-air market in downtown Elizabethton where the Wall of Honor is now located. “He sold fruits, vegetables, candy, etc. At Christmas time I remember he and Preacher C.Y. Elkins would fill bushel baskets with fruits, candy and nuts and take them to families in need. He gave away more than he kept,” Hildred said, noting that “you never miss what you give away.”
Hildred is a longtime and faithful member of First Free Will Baptist Church.
Remember, if you should visit Sycamore Shoals Hospital on a Friday or Monday, and you pass the information desk, take a second look — there’s a miracle waiting there to serve you!