How being rear-ended in two car accidents changed a young woman's life forever
Jennifer Kain Kilgore was only 17 years old when her life was officially derailed.
It was 2004. Jennifer was a high school senior in Massachusetts who was active in sports, music and dance, and she was just starting to plan her future. She, her mother and her aunt decided to visit Georgetown University for the beginning of her college-searching adventure.
While stopped in traffic in New Jersey, their car was rear-ended at 65 mph. Everything in the trunk slid forward and slammed the back of Jennifer's seat at the moment of the car accident.
"I could see my mom's eyes in the rearview mirror," she said. "We both had just enough time to see that the other car was coming and panic. That is why my injuries were so severe; I had enough time to tense up."
The VW Passat crumpled around them, though the cabin stayed largely untouched and the passengers didn't have any visible injuries. But as soon as they got out of the car, Jennifer's legs weren't working properly.
"The fact that I couldn't move should have been the first indicator that something was wrong with my spine! At first I chalked it up to shock and stress, but it kept getting worse."
It was two weeks before she found that her spine was fractured in four places.
The driver of the other car immediately apologized and admitted fault, but the case was still complicated.
"He was from Florida and was driving a work car on company time. We were in New Jersey, but lived in Massachusetts," Jennifer explained. "His company fought us every step of the way and the case turned into a huge mess that took seven years to finish."
At first, doctors didn't realize that Jennifer's spine was broken in multiple places; they even sent her home to Massachusetts on a train. But for weeks afterward, Jennifer kept having muscle spasms and severe back pain. She couldn't sit or stand comfortably, or even lay down in certain positions.
"My spine was fractured in three places and a facet joint in the thoracic level was broken as well," Jennifer said. "We didn't find that last fracture for more than a year."
The case eventually settled in arbitration, and Jennifer and her family were satisfied with the amount, but she said that nothing truly compensates for the loss of the life she had before the accident.
A life changed forever
While healing, Jennifer was out of school for a month and had to sacrifice many extracurricular activities that had meant so much to her.
"I was captain of the tennis team, but had to quit because of my pain and physical therapy," Jennifer said. "I had also danced since I was two years old and played violin, but had to give up those as well. It was just heart-wrenching for me at the time."
An incredible sense of déjà vu
Jennifer was recovering from a serious car accident and moving forward with her life. Just a few years later, a second accident would derail all of her progress.
With years of extensive physical therapy, Jennifer was eventually able to get back to a semblance of a normal life, although she still lived with pain and limited physical abilities. She finished college and law school, got married and was working full-time as an attorney.
Then in 2013, Jennifer suffered almost the exact same type of car accident again. She was stopped at a red light and a woman rear-ended her car. While the impact was approximately half the speed of Jennifer's first accident, it aggravated old injuries and brought about new ones.
"I had been living on a thin balance beam, managing my pain and my life. Then the second accident just destroyed everything," Jennifer said.
The legal process was much simpler for this accident, and Jennifer received a fair settlement from both the other driver's insurance and her own underinsurance policy. But the physical and emotional aftermath were even more difficult.
She ended up needing two cervical spine surgeries and is still recovering from the second, which required taking the bulging and deformed discs out of her neck and replacing them with cadaver bone and hardware.
"This pain was new and terrifying," Jennifer said, referring to the neck and low-back pain that hadn't been there following the first accident.
After her first surgery – a fusion and discectomy of C5-C6 – the pain returned, in part because her bones were weakened. This meant she had to go in for surgery again for the crumbling vertebrae below less than a year later.
Jennifer now deals with post-traumatic headaches daily, neck pain and shoulder pain that radiate from the surgical sites. She also has ongoing sciatic nerve pain in her legs. She may even end up needing more surgery.
Jennifer's second accident required her to have two surgeries and new rounds of physical therapy and pain management.
She tried an alternative approach called prolotherapy, which involves injecting a dextrose solution into weak connective ligaments and irritating them into rebuilding new tissue. This did wonders for her hand, arm and shoulder pain. She can now use her hands freely when two months ago it was difficult to hold a pen for more than a few minutes.
"Anything you can name, I have tried. I am just coming to accept a new level of pain in my life and that I will always have to take a lot of medications."
Now, nine months after her second surgery, Jennifer is slowly returning to life, working a part-time job from home and participating in normal activities with friends and family, although it takes a lot of planning. Like her first accident, the second crash forced Jennifer to give up aspects of her life that she enjoyed, including her job as an attorney. Because of her extreme pain, she couldn't sit at a desk all day or commute to client meetings or the court house.
"It was killing me slowly," Jennifer said. "I found myself doing yoga in my office just to get pressure off my neck. I was covered in pain patches all the time. I couldn't even sit through a client meeting. I just realized that I couldn't keep doing this."
In addition to the physical recovery, Jennifer has had to deal with the emotional fallout of being a victim in two serious accidents. She went through a dark depression after the second accident; even her family didn't know how to talk to her. She started working with a counselor who specializes in pain therapy, which she says has been very helpful. "It really is like grief counseling. You have to get through grieving the person you used to be."
In addition to going to pain therapy once a week, Jennifer chats with other survivors on the online social network My Chronic Pain Team. She even started her own blog and advocacy community, which has been a source of comfort to her.
"These are my own people to go to when I am in a terrible mood. They get me in a way that my family couldn't. Although my family is so well intentioned, they can't understand what you are going through to the same degree."
Ultimately, Jennifer knows that the support of her husband, family and online community will help her manage the many challenges that lie ahead.
Jennifer also tries to keep a sense of humor about her situation, which she infuses in her blog posts as well. "You kind of have to laugh about it or you lose your mind." In a post where she talks about having a scar on her throat after the first surgery, she jokes, "…It's like a gang tattoo; all of us who've had the surgery recognize one another."
Today, Jen is nearly totally recovered, though she still faces some lingering challenges.
"My advice to accident victims is: Don't shut down. There are so many people online who are just like you," Jennifer said. "Even if it feels like you are the only one in the world going through this, the only one who felt this pain ever, know that there are so many people going through something similar, and we all need words of encouragement."
Have you been rear-ended by another driver? How did you cope with your injuries and pain management? Please share your story below.
More about pursuing a legal case after your car accident
- All About Independent Medical Exams
- What if I wait too long? (Statute of limitations)
- What if it's partly my fault?
- Options for covering your medical costs after an accident
- Personal injury myths - what you need to know
- Switching attorneys in the middle of a personal injury case
Get the Enjuris post-accident pain journal to document pain and suffering for your claim.
Alice Rey says
Help me find a neurosurgeon who takes individuals that were rear ended.
Alice Rey says
I was rear ended and cannot get the medical care to recover properly. I an in North Florida. please send me names of places where I can go for my spinal injury from this accident. Anywhere in the United States is ok. Please help me with recommendations where to go anywhere for neurosurgery and rehabilitation. I cannot get adequate and proper care and it is just not right to be injured with no one that wants to help.
I was rear ended while stopped at a red light back in February by a man going over 70 .There were no broken bones but lots of back,neck and shoulder pain. I went through physical therapy and massage therapy for months.I finally pulled myself out of it,went back to work and began feeling somewhat normal again.
It is 8 months later, I got rear ended again by a woman who says she changed lanes and wasn’t paying attention. The old pains are back and there are new ones in my lower back.Emotionally, it’s taken a huge toll. The second accident wasn’t as bad as the first but I am in pain ,I don’t sleep well ,I don’t feel as swift as I once was-even forgetful and wonder if I’ll be able to pull myself out of this again and be able to feel like my whole self again. Doctors have asked me about the physical pains but not emotional. These accidents have taken so much from me and just who I am…in such a short time.
Thank you for telling your story.I am sorry you’ve gone through so much.When the second accident happened I thought how is this possible? Does this really happen to people? I’ve never heard of it happening to anyone. It does. Thank you for the words of encouragement.
Nancy Rapp says
We appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experience with us, Marie. We hope you recover fully, soon.
In 2010 was T-boneD I had about 50 mph kind of lost most of my hobbies and business and marriage.. in 2018 rear ended at 70 mile an hour while at a dead stop . Just Kinda don’t know what the tank hope I get through it but I don’t know what to look forward to . Understand the grieving process don’t know who I will be
Lance Buchanan says
Thanks for sharing, Rich. The grieving process can indeed be long and difficult, but hang in there! As impossible as it may seem right now, life will move on and you’ll be able to continue growing as a person—albeit differently than you may have imagined—in new and exciting ways. Don’t lose hope! And feel free to check out our list of post-accident resources to see if any of them might help you: https://www.enjuris.com/personal-injury/emotional-recovery-after-accident.html
Also lost a marriage to this. I never imagined the hardest vow for my husband to keep was sickness and in health. That one should be an easy one to keep if you truly love someone
Edwin Lund says
After I read through some of the stories here I realized that my situation is not unlike so many others, I thought for a time that no one could have had the experience I had or endured the pain and suffering that came with my accident and stayed not ever leaving.
I’m much more comfortable knowing that there is this large group of folks that have endured much the same type of injuries following a T-Bone automobile accident. I realize that not all accidents are just like mine and there are obvious differences but that doesn’t mean that injuries that I received from that accident don’t mirror many of the people I’m speaking about. I can relate to this group where it wasn’t easy for my family and friends to connect the pain and suffering I am feeling with the event. Well who can blame them for not having empathy when they had never experienced it themselves and that’s why I found it to be so mentally helpful to have so many that could immediately be compassionate to my plight, they have lived it also, they knew from their own experience what I was going through and understood my feelings because they went through it themselves.
This whole experience has taken me through a myriad of emotions and not just what the pain caused but the psychological changes in my life that came so abruptly have had. I used to be physically active in my role as a husband, father, and business owner and that has all changed, my legs are stiff, my back has multiple herniations and ruptures on so many vertibres I’ve lost count but I’m reminded daily by most all of them individually and my neck which used to be flexible and kept my head held up high now is pushed forward with the weight of my head and caused my shoulders to slouch to where I look like I’m a few inches shorter now. This isn’t going away for me it will be with me the rest of my life and I’m resolved to that fact. I’m also more able to deal with these changes and the constant pain that is unrelenting. Having these other people to talk with and share this with has made all the difference in my long road to recovery they’ve given me hope where there wasn’t any and strength that I thought had long gone. So if you take anything away from reading this I surely hope you’ll write to them, tell them your story and you wont be alone again. Thank you for all the encouragement and support.
Ian Pisarcik says
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Edwin. I’m glad you’ve found the stories of others helpful.
In my 20’s, I got off of a motorcycle that stalled in the middle of a 6 lane highway. After making it to the last lane, I was told that I looked and saw a car speed up to beat a light. I jumped over the car and landed behind it. Yes, I suffered many injuries, internal , 100 stitches in my forehead, pins in my arms, several surgeries after. .My best friend was killed in a freak car accident and I believe that she was a guardian angel watching over me and I am here because God has a purpose for me and even though they told me I would never raise my arm over my head, I do. I was in a coma for a month and the main damage is a frontal lobe head injury that affects my short term memory loss and emotions. I suffered from survivor’s guilt for a long time due to the loss of a best friend i a freak accident, but went to counseling and have come to deal with it in that manner
My main issues are that my mother, sisters, two of my sisters children make fun of me even though I get along in life fine if not better than them. They treat me as if I am an embarrassment and retarded, even though I am not.. My father is the only one that treats me normal. How do I get over the fact that I feel that I am an embarrassment to them. They exclude me from events they go on as a family and I feel this is why. I have tried explaining to them that the head injury changed my life but I am still the same person. I have gone to counseling to no avail but as I grow older I feel like they exclude me more and more. I have a loving husband that tries his best to support me but things pop out of his mouth that are hurtful every once in a while. I have come to the conclusion that I am who I am and I just want to love me for the person I am today. I do all daily functions, cook, clean, dress, shop, do all normal things that other people do. Am I missing something about myself? Are they the ones with the problem not being able to accept me for who I am. Do I exclude them from my life to escape the hurtful things? I would love to hear advice on how other people have dealt with these problems. By looking at me, you would never know that there is anything wrong with me. Is this my problem and do I just need to get over it? I am a college graduate, but cannot keep a job due to short term memory loss. I feel like I am lost in my life at this point. I do not want to be an embarrassment or end up being an invalid in there eyes that they have to take care of. I feel that God has a job for me to do and that is why I am here. I just wish I knew what it was.
Melissa Gold says
Hello, Angel. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. Recovery from an accident is about much more than physical wounds or injuries. I hope that moving forward, you can find activities that are meaningful for you and people who are supportive and caring. Best wishes.
Thank you for sharing your story. I worked as a highway tech and I was driving a dump truck spreading salt on the road during the winter. As my load of salt was almost gone I had my truck bed up for the remaining salt to reach the auger to spread on the road. I was going 25mph in fast lane. It was leap year day at 5:48 am. Out of nowhere I felt a violent shove to my dump truck followed by loud scraping crunching noises. When I finally got my truck stopped (it pushed me into median in the grass off the road) I got out to see what happened. I thought I got side swooped by a semi. Much to my surprise it was a 4 door sedan that front end of car was pushed on to cab of my ttuck and car lodged under my truck bed and frame of truck. The man in car initially was unresponsive blood dripping down his head. I radioed for help called 911 went back and man started breathing and moaning.
Initially I did not go to hospital. I went back to the garage I worked at and after being there for an hour I started feeling this burning pain between my shoulder blades. I asked my boss if I could go home rest of day and went home and rested. My husband was worried. Next morning woke up and it hurt to move. It was awful. I went to work Monday and left early and went to hospital. Initially called sprain of neck thoracic low back. Went thru several doctors and finally a trip back to ER for low back pain and gave me mri and had severely herniated disc. Found a doc and had surgery. Returned to work after surgery doing great and I felt a pop in my back and the rest of the disc ruptured. I now needed fusion. Had an anterior lumbar fusion. Recovering well and back feeling better. Now doc approached my neck pain. Had another cervical mri and showed 2 herniated cervical discs pressing spinal cord. Had surgery to fuse that. About a year after cervical fusion back pain started again and pressed on more and more severe. finally 8 years later lumbar mri shows nonunion of fusion harwareblose and cage material migrated. Workers Comp dragging and dragging and waiting for final hearing to confirm approval. My first marriage ended because of how the accident “changed me.” My daughter and I moved closer to my family and I never remarried for 11 years. Remarried 2 years ago and it’s happening again. I am exhausting my family with my constant pain and I feel overwhelming guilt for sucking the fun from their lives. I do desperately need to rise out of this stagnant life with workers Comp has me tied inside. Once I finally get this revision surgery I have to have revision cervical fusion on 3 levels due to flow thru injury to another disc. I am at a point where I need help to climb out of this state of mind and make my family happy again. I can’t talk about surgery or anything because I have work my family down with constant talk of it. I don’t know how to rise up. I want to but don’t know how. I am going to lose another man I love to this if I don’t