This is a story about drinking and driving, about how in one instant life changes. And there is no going back.
It begins on a Sunday in early November. Chicken and dumplings simmered on the stove as Jeannie Henson and her daughter McKensie waited for Adam Ropp to get home from work. He’d texted earlier to say he was on his way, and the two looked forward to a quiet family dinner with the man who’d been Jeannie’s partner for 17 years and who had raised McKensie and her twin brothers. When Adam, 35, didn’t arrive, Jeannie tried calling and texting, but he didn’t respond. She figured he was out of cell service. Time passed. Jeannie’s worries grew. Then she learned Highway 101 in the direction Adam was traveling was closed. She called the Tillamook hospital.
“I said, ‘This is probably really crazy, but my husband didn’t come home’ … They said ‘He’s here. You need to start driving to Portland. We are going to life flight him.’ I just fell on my knees.”
Oregon Coast TODAY readers might recognize Jeannie and McKensie from a column I wrote in February 2015 when McKensie won Miss Teen Rodeo Oregon. She was the first ever from Lincoln City to win the crown. Jeannie and I have not only stayed in touch, we’ve become friends. You might recall my bout of stage fright this summer as I anticipated public readings from my novel. It was Jeannie who swooped in like some angel to ferry me — a woman she’d never met — to karaoke.
That’s just the way Jeannie and Adam are. They provide cases of food for the Oceanlake Elementary backpack program, organize fundraisers for the Elks and Firemen’s Christmas toy drives. Adam coached baseball and basketball, and was the baseball referee for the Lincoln City youth league.
Jeannie and Adam are givers.
Drunk drivers are takers. They take away lives, devastate families, destroy hope.
On Nov. 6, as Jeannie and McKensie waited to sit down to Sunday dinner, a woman driving a large U-Haul slammed into Adam’s Toyota Camry. Police say the 24-year-old “showed multiple signs of impairment and had an overwhelming odor of an alcoholic beverage…” and that an open container was found in her vehicle. I don’t know the extent of her injuries, though the police log indicates she was released from the hospital that day. It is still unclear if Adam will survive.
At this writing, he is on life support, and doctors have amputated his right leg at the knee. They may amputate more.
“He had over 12 facial fractures, both eye orbits, the bridge of his nose, his nose and cheekbones are broken,” Jeannie said. “He has a Titanium plate and screws in his face. They cut across his chest, armpit to armpit, so they could take his heart out and massage it because he was dead. They did that three times. He took 50 pints of blood between Tillamook and OHSU. He was bleeding out. His organs are severely damaged.
“He’s in such immense, immense suffering. It’s every minute of every day, all day and night long. He has full awareness of every bit of pain he’s in. All of his ribs are broken. He can’t cough; he can’t sit up. His eyes are swollen shut from the seven hours of facial reconstruction. I just don’t know how much one person can take. The person who did this … I go back and forth between forgiveness and wanting to drag her into the room and make her sit there for 16 hours a day and watch him struggle to breathe.”
Jeannie is living in the OHSU parking lot in a trailer loaned to her by family. She spends every day by Adam’s side, showering each morning for $1 in the student union.
“I am on unpaid leave for medical absence,” Jeannie said. “Of course, Adam’s income stops. You don’t get paid if you don’t work. I have to pay all our bills and I have no income anymore.”
Friends have started a gofundme site for Jeannie and Adam. www.gofundme.com/emergency-fund-for-adam-and-jeannie and there is also an account set up at the TLC/Fibre Federal Credit Union.
“I don’t care if I have to live on water and crackers that I steal from the cafeteria, I am not leaving him. I had a good-paying job. I don’t care about my job, his job, my house. Anything at all. All I care is that I take him home.”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.