In the early morning of Feb. 10, Melissa Barbier’s mother, Marlane, received an unexpected call from her daughter’s coworker at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie: Melissa, a young phlebotomist and certified medical assistant known for her punctuality, had never showed up for work. Melissa, her coworker said, always called when she would be late.
In a moment of frantic inspiration, Melissa’s sister Tiffany thought to use the find my iPhone app to pinpoint her sibling’s location. When they saw Melissa’s phone moving in the woods near the Headless Horseman establishment on Route 9W, the family contacted police. Ten minutes later, police informed the family that their daughter had been involved in a head-on collision at 4:40 a.m., and both drivers had been taken to Westchester Medical Center via helicopter. Marlane said that she saw images of her daughter’s mangled vehicle on a local news website before she next saw her daughter, who was as unrecognizable in the hospital bed as her car had been in the photo. Route 9W was closed for three hours after the accident, and according to firefighters, it took approximately 40 minutes to wrest both drivers from their cars using hydraulic rescue tools.
Despite extensive injuries including a severed artery, a severed left leg, an ankle “so crushed that it was turned around and backwards” that required 32 pins, compound fractures in her right tibia and left femur, a shattered left knee, a lost six inches of colon, a punctured lung, a lacerated liver and broken ribs and a stroke after about 20 days in the hospital, Melissa survived. Along with her devastating injuries, Melissa and her family also accrued “just under a million” in medical bills, along with expenses incurred from the Barbiers’ remodeling elements of their home to make it handicapped accessible for Melissa’s return home.
From 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 9, at the American Legion Post 72 on John Street, the family will host a dinner, hold a silent auction, and provide games (including “pin the leg on Melissa”) and music for attendees to raise money to help with the expenses. Guests will be asked for a $10 donation.
After practicing the use of a walker with the help of her sister and a physical therapist, the 28-year-old Melissa was able to talk about her situation remarkable air of positivism. With purple hair, dyed in a hospital bathroom at Northern Dutchess by her sister — “Melissa wanted to be Melissa again, and part of Melissa is having pink and purple hair,” said Marlane — and surrounded by family, Melissa spoke of her experience and the challenges that lay ahead.
“They expect me to be able to walk again and be able to live my life in the most normal way that I can, but I’m not expected to gain a hundred percent of my legs. I can’t bend my hips the way that I used to bend. My belly, I’ll always be susceptible to infections in my belly,” she said.
“It’s definitely going to be a long recovery and getting used to what I can and can’t do,” she added. “I’m going to try my best to go above and beyond what they said I could be at.”
Gradually, Melissa has graduated from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches in physical therapy. Meanwhile, an investigation into the crash is still ongoing, police said, and Melissa’s father, Marcel, has installed a wheelchair ramp, installed a special shower station and brought a queen-sized mobility bed into the home.
“It’s the longest I’ve gone without seeing her for her whole life,” said Melissa’s father, Marcel. “It was like having a baby again — [she was] learning to walk and now she’s at the walking stage.”
Medical professionals predict that it will take Melissa at least a year to be able to walk without assistance; her employer has offered to hold her position for her in the meantime.
“I get angry, I do,” said Melissa. “But I try not to let that rule me because if I don’t, I wouldn’t make the progress I’m making. If I stay angry, I’m just angry.”
Donations can be made both at the fundraiser and by mail, addressed to Melissa Barbier, 29 Mower Mill Road, Saugerties, NY 12477.