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Woman near death recovers, attends first concert

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In Kathy Runion's favorite Hank Williams Jr. song, the country star sings, "I got to get ready, make everything right," -- fitting lyrics for the 54-year-old who considers her life "a miracle."

On Aug. 26, 2011, Runion struck a tree head-on while driving on Joes Creek Road in Boone County. Runion demolished her Dodge Durango SUV and was airlifted to CAMC General Hospital in Charleston with serious injuries.

She suffered from a collapsed lung, numerous broken ribs, crushed arteries in her neck and her left hip had "turned to dust," she said. A broken bone in her neck landed her in a neck brace while the rest of her body was covered in bandages. A traction bar was also placed in her left leg.

Although Runion said she doesn't know what caused her to crash into the tree, doctors said she suffered multiple strokes, which may be one factor in the accident.

For more than a month, Runion remained in a coma at CAMC. Doctors had labeled her a vegetable, said her daughter Barbie Cremeans.

Cremeans -- who visits her mother daily -- said she would talk to her mother while she was in the coma and "begged her to wake up."

"We met with the trauma team and they told us to say goodbye to her," Cremeans, 32, said. "It's a miracle. Sometimes I don't think she's realized how far she's come."

Runion left CAMC Hospital in October and has been living at the Marmet Center Nursing Home. She can't walk or move the left side of her body very much but she is no longer eating through feeding tubes or breathing through a tracheotomy tube.

Much of her day is spent either in a wheelchair, in her bed or sitting in the brown recliner next to the windows in her room. The flat screen television and electric fireplace make the otherwise nursing-home atmosphere seem more like home.

Runion said she misses spending countless days at the Racine pool next to her house and putting on makeup and high heels every day. Everything has changed about her life, she said, but she is grateful to be alive today.

"I love to swim and I went out and did whatever I wanted to do. I was always on the move," Runion said. "It's really hard now, knowing that swimming season is coming up and I know I can't do it, but I thank God I'm still here."

Runion will find out in June if she can get a hip replacement, the next step in learning how to walk again.

In the meantime, she attends therapy every day. On Saturday, she refused to have her feet touch the ground until she put on her brown cowboy boots. She then tossed on her cowboy hat to get ready for the "best thing that's happened to her since the accident," Cremeans said: front row seats at the Hank Williams Jr. concert at the Charleston Civic Center.

A country lover of all sorts -- she appreciates country movies like "Walk the Line" -- Runion said she couldn't wait to attend her first concert, especially Williams Jr.'s. She even took a surprise with her to the concert and Cremeans included her mother's name and telephone number inside.

"I got my bloomers in my pocket and I'm going to throw them at him," Runion said with a laugh.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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