All about Dede & her fabulous life
In 1997, Dede Kolb was living her best life in Lufkin, Texas. She was 35 years old, excited about her blossoming career as a pharmacist, and married to Steve, a contractor (“a good one!” she adds proudly).
Dede and Steve worked hard at their jobs and spent their free time taking relaxing vacations on Caribbean beaches. She was devoted to her 3 dogs and 2 cats, and she served for 11 years on the board of her local chapter of the Humane Society.
Dede and Steve had chosen not to have children of their own, but she was close with her 9 nieces and nephews, often spending time with them, offering to babysit and generally being the “fun aunt.”
It was a great life.
Dede’s world changed in an instant
On a sunny April day in 1997, Dede was wrapping up some time spent babysitting for her twin brother’s children. Her brother and his wife were on vacation, and Dede had offered to take the kids while they were away.
That afternoon, she was driving the children back home because their parents were supposed to be arriving shortly. They had flown to Dallas and were on the drive back to the house to eagerly greet the kids. Dede and the kids decided to make a stop on the way to grab something to eat, and that’s when everything changed.
Dede’s brother and sister-in-law received the phone call that’s every parent’s nightmare. They had to reroute from driving to their home and instead drive straight to the hospital.
Dede was driving with her 7- and 9-year-old nieces in the back seat, along with their 3-year-old brother, who was in a child safety seat.
And then the world went black.
A drunk driver traveling 70 miles per hour took a poor turn and smashed into Dede’s driver-side door. Dede never knew what hit her. Thankfully, her 3-year-old nephew suffered only some minor cuts and bruises. The older niece had some serious facial injuries because her face smashed into the side of her brother’s seat. Both of the girls suffered bruised spleens from the seat belts, and the oldest had a skull fracture. The children all made full recoveries.
Today, her nieces and nephew are adults who have children of their own.
Dede remains grateful that the children recovered and says she wouldn’t have survived if anything worse had happened to any of them, but her own story didn’t end as happily.
Dede doesn’t remember anything about the accident or the 2 weeks that followed. Her husband has said that she awoke a few times in the ICU and would ask each time where she was and what happened to her.
She later learned that the accident resulted in collapsed lungs, a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, a broken left hip and compound fractures in her right leg. She was told that her lungs had “burst like balloons” from the impact.
Many years later, she and Steve had dinner with the paramedics who had saved her life. They told her then that when they arrived on the scene, she was in the “golden hour,” which is how medical professionals sometimes refer to the 60 minutes following a trauma—If the patient doesn’t receive life-saving care within that hour, they’re unlikely to survive.
The paramedics had inserted a chest tube that kept Dede alive at the scene until she could reach the hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, Dede only had 10 percent lung capacity. She was in surgery all that night to repair her internal and orthopedic injuries.
Her recovery time took many months. She recalls being alert when the doctors removed her chest tubes, but she says the most painful experience of her life was when they removed the hardware in her right leg and left hip months later, following the next round of surgeries.
Dede says that the hospital staff would sit her in a chair to change the bed linens and that simply sitting up would cause her head to spin. That’s when she realized just how helpless she had become.
Every day was long and painful.
Dede’s gradual recovery
Dede eventually returned to work, though in a wheelchair. Working in a retail pharmacy means 10-hour days on your feet, and though her coworkers were helpful and supportive, it was too much.
Ultimately, Dede made the difficult decision to leave the job that she loved and take a job as a pharmacist at an institutional pharmacy providing medications for nursing homes. It allowed her to sit at a desk, and it was easier on her body.
Dede’s hip was replaced 5 years later because she developed necrosis in her hip joint. She still has the hardware from that procedure.
When Dede had to leave her job at the retail pharmacy for a desk job, it also meant earning a lower salary.
Combined with her continued medical costs and the home modifications needed for her wheelchair, Dede and Steve were spending a lot of money. When Steve returned to work after Dede’s accident, they hired an aide to be with her during the day because she wasn’t mobile enough to be on her own.
She had good insurance, but she would need to pay her $5,000 deductible each year and then add the costs for her copays, medications and other expenses, including surgeries. The Kolbs spent hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket on Dede’s accident-related expenses.
What happened to the driver who caused the accident?
The driver who caused the accident already had 3 DWIs. This was his 4th DWI-related offense. Each time, he was released and fled to his home country of Mexico, and each time he returned to Texas.
The driver sustained a broken leg in the accident with Dede. He was treated and again fled the U.S. during his recovery time. Dede was never provided any official information about him, but she heard that he might have been apprehended when he returned to the U.S. years later and might have served some time in prison for the DWIs, but she’s not certain and has not been able to find out.
Dede continues to recover but faces a new problem
In her own words, Dede says:
“There is no end to the hardships I have suffered from that day, physically, financially and emotionally. My main initial concern was for my nieces and nephew who were in the car with me. I felt such guilt that they had to suffer such trauma under my care. They were all injured, but have all since recovered. They suffered physically, financially and emotionally as well. All at the hands of a fourth-time offender drunk driver.”
Dede approached some personal injury lawyers to see whether she could make a claim, but she was told that there was no one to sue. The driver was uninsured and had fled the country. There was no way to pursue justice from him.
Her automotive insurance paid for the loss of her vehicle, and her health insurance covered a portion of her medical bills. She remained responsible for deductibles, copays, lost wages and other expenses.
Then one day, some 20 years later, she realized that her recovery wasn’t even close to over because she had developed a new problem.
Dede was still working as a pharmacist, though not in her original role in a retail pharmacy. She began to realize that she wasn’t as “sharp” as she’d once been. She was making mistakes, her brain felt “foggy” and she was having a hard time learning new procedures. She had started a job at the VA hospital, and she needed to be taught how to do things several times.
This was difficult for her to understand because Dede had never been that way before, and she takes her role as a pharmacist very seriously. She became very worried she would make a mistake that could cause someone to get sick. She knows that providing medicine is a huge responsibility, and there is no room for error. Her job can result in life-or-death consequences.
So, why was she having trouble thinking straight?
Dede began to Google her symptoms. She thought perhaps she was experiencing early-onset Alzheimers or some other neurological issue. She was scared.
One day, she stumbled across information online that suddenly made everything clearer. Her symptoms exactly matched symptoms of metallosis—which is when a patient becomes poisoned because the metals from a hip or other implant leach into their bloodstream.
This can cause damage to the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls executive function. Dede was shocked and horrified to see that each symptom associated with metallosis was one that she was experiencing.
She returned to her orthopedic surgeon to get more information. After some tests, it became clear that, yes, she had a high level of cobalt in her blood, which is consistent with symptoms of metallosis. She had a Biomet hip implant, which included metal-on-metal joints.
Most people don’t require hip implants until they’re in their 60s, 70s or 80s. But because of the accident, Dede had hers at age 40. As a result, she’d been living with this metal implant longer than most because older people don’t tend to outlive their implants. The orthopedist told her later that he’d selected the metal-on-metal implant with porous coating because it would provide better bone-to-implant contact and lead to a longer life of the implant.
But her story doesn’t end there. In fact, it opened a new Pandora’s Box of questions, including What was her recourse for having received a defective medical device?
Her hip implant device had been recalled, and she would have been eligible to join a class-action lawsuit with others who suffered metallosis from these devices, but it was too late. The class actions had already been litigated and were closed, so she was not able to join.
How Dede turned lemons into lemonade
Following the accident, Dede and Steve both changed their perspectives on life. Sure, she had some “why me?” moments, but she also felt a different sense of priority and was inspired to live her life with new meaning.
Steve embarked on a mission trip to El Salvador. When he was there, he met a little boy in an El Salvadoran orphanage who captured his heart. Steve came home and told Dede about this sweet boy and how badly he wanted to help him. Steve and Dede began to change their perspective on remaining child-free by choice.
They decided to adopt the little boy.
But years went by, and bureaucratic red tape made it impossible for them to adopt him from El Salvador and bring him back to the U.S. The couple was heartbroken.
And then everything changed.
They had been working through the process with an adoption social worker. She knew how badly they wanted the little boy and was disappointed for them when it didn’t work out. But then, she had an idea.
The social worker had also been working with a little girl in Dallas who needed a home. The little girl had been born in Kazakhstan to an alcoholic mother. She had been removed from her home at 2 years old and had lived in an impoverished orphanage for 2 years. When she was 4, she was adopted by an American family living in Dallas. She went to live with the family, who also had an older child, but never really bonded with them. For a variety of reasons, they were ready to give her up after 4 years and release her into the Texas foster care system.
And that’s when Dede and Steve completed their family. They adopted Diana when she was 8 years old—Dede was 48.
Diana has been the joy of their lives. As Dede says, she saved Diana, and Diana saved her. Decades after her accident, when her life was turned upside down and every moment was a struggle, she decided that she wanted to become a parent. And Diana’s rough beginning in life just meant that all she wanted was to love and be loved.
Dede knows that if the accident hadn’t happened, she would likely not have met her daughter, and she is endlessly grateful for Diana and all she’s brought to their lives.
Today, Diana is 20 years old and an accomplished swimmer for the University of North Texas. She is majoring in sports psychology and is eager to graduate and move forward in her career. Dede says Diana’s best stroke is the backstroke, but she is great at “all of them.” Such a proud mom!
Dede faces an uncertain future
Dede is trying to focus on her beautiful daughter’s bright future. But Dede’s own future remains uncertain.
She continues to suffer from cobalt poisoning. Her symptoms include depression, impaired executive function, trouble completing tasks, brain fog, difficulty finding words, chronic fatigue, chronic frontal headaches, metallic taste and memory deficits.
Though her original orthopedic surgeon has not been receptive to her concerns over the new symptoms, he did say that he could insert a plastic piece to avoid metal-on-metal contact. However, he would prefer to wait for signs of implant failure before performing that surgery. He says that any alteration to her existing injured hip could result in additional problems.
Dede feels that because of her cognitive difficulties, it’s unsafe for her to continue to work as a pharmacist. She loves her job and career, but she is too afraid to put someone else’s health and well-being at risk. She has applied for disability retirement, but that will also cost her money since she can’t earn what she did when working.
Dede is at a crossroads. Disability retirement would “buy time,” as she says, because she wouldn’t have the stress and pressure of work. But then there’s substantially less income for her family. She is afraid to have revision surgery for the implant because she doesn’t want more trauma to her already damaged hip. She doesn’t want to spend her golden years in a wheelchair.
“Some days, I take great pride at all we have overcome as a family. Other days, I feel a little bit of panic not knowing which road to take that will be best for me and my family. Honestly, financial compensation would be such a relief, but in the end, who is really responsible for my hardships? Why should I expect anyone else to suffer because of the actions of a criminal and a broken criminal system? Each day brings more challenges, but so far, we have met each challenge. I pray that will continue.”
A tragic accident changed Dede’s life. Because of it, she has her beloved daughter, Diana. But she also has lived for 25 years with physical pain, emotional trauma and uncertainty. And she will likely endure those for the rest of her life.
Dede wanted to share her story now, even though her story continues. She feels that she wasn’t treated fairly by the legal system, but she hopes that by shedding light on her experiences, others can have better outcomes.