COTTONWOOD - It's not every day a person gets to meet his or her personal hero, but on Monday evening, Cathryn Batista of Cottonwood got to do just that.
Batista's real life hero - Hanley Falls Fire Chief Kacy Idso - pulled her out of her overturned S-10 Blazer that had just been T-boned and left crumpled in the middle of Minnesota Highway 23, two miles south of Cottonwood, on May 22.
Batista was overcome with emotion as she embraced Idso Monday, thanking him for saving her life that day.
Photos by Jenny Kirk
At her home on Monday, Cathryn Batista of Cottonwood got the chance to thank Hanley Falls Fire Chief Kacy Idso for his life-saving efforts. While on his way home from work in May, Idso put his own life on the line after making a snap decision to pull Batista from her demolished, overturned and gas-soaked S-10 Blazer.
"I thank God every day that you were there," Batista said. "You're my hero."
Along with Idso's wife Tami, Batista's three children - Jonovyn, 6, Aidyn, 3, and Bastiyn, 15 months - and mother, Victoria McClain, shared in the joyous celebration.
"You look much better than the last time I saw you," Kacy Idso said.
After shaking hands with all three children, who had been looking forward to meeting the special guest, Idso let the youngsters try on his fire helmet, during which time he learned that Jonovyn wants to be a fireman some day and "save people like Mommy."
"We always need more volunteers," Idso said.
Being a firefighter can be a difficult job, Idso said, so he was especially appreciative to Batista for the letter of thanks she sent a few weeks back.
"You don't do it for the money," he said. "Thank you for the card. We don't really get that very often."
Having no recollection of the accident, Batista asked Idso if he could give her an account of that day.
"I was just coming home from work (in Marshall)," Idso said. "I was about four cars back when the accident happened."
Idso said he knew it would take a little time before official help would arrive, so he chose to put his life on the line. Having been a volunteer fireman since 1996, Idso quickly jumped into action, making the life-threatening decision to assist Batista and a male passenger despite the real possibility of a gas explosion.
"I knew I had to do something," he said. "They were screaming their heads off and hanging upside down by their seat belts. It was a very volatile situation, but I couldn't let them just sit there. I couldn't live with myself if I watched it burn."
Since the driver's side of the Blazer was horribly disfigured, Idso said he had to work from the passenger side of the vehicle. The fumes, he said, were nearly unbearable.
"I reached in and clicked the seatbelts," Idso said. "I got the male passenger out first. You were a ways in there, so I had to really reach in there and click your seatbelt. I tried to keep you from falling and get you somewhat out. I didn't want to move you any more than that until we got the backboard here."
Fortunately, other trained professionals were quick to arrive, including Echo First Responder Mike Zabel, retired fireman Rick Daniels and ambulance personnel Terry Deacon and Ellen Golberg.
"I've seen a lot less be a lot worse," Idso said. "You're one of the lucky ones."
Batista was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where she was hospitalized until June 15.
"I had second-degree burns down my right breast and side, my whole back and my butt," Batista said. "I broke five ribs, my sternum, my pelvis in two places and my hand. I also had a lacerated kidney, liver and spleen and had a laceration on my foot and an air pocket in my lung. I was on oxygen until four days before I went home."
At one point, Batista said she had 28 pounds of retained fluid in her body. She also required three pints of blood during her hospital stay. The worst part, though, she said, was being away from her children.
"I was missing my kids, but I didn't want them see me," Batista said. "It's the longest I've ever been away from them. They're my life, my whole world."
Six-year-old Jonovyn was the first to see Batista when she returned home on June 15.
"The first day I saw them, I lost it," Batista said. "I started bawling. Then, Jonovyn started crying. I also started crying when the doctors told me I couldn't work for at least three months. I asked them how a single mother was supposed to do that."
The chemical burns on her back are mostly healed up, Batista said, but other spots are still in the process.
"The worst part now is my butt and my hip," she said. "I'm really, really sore."
Despite the physical challenges, Batista admits that being with her kids has helped quite a bit with the healing process.
"They have me on meds now that don't make me loopy so I can function normally," she said. "As long as I don't miss a dose, it's OK. I'm still in a lot of pain, but thankfully, it's getting better."
Since reconnecting with her family, Batista has had some time to reflect on that fateful day. She said she still has no idea why she was heading back to Marshall that day or why she made a U-turn where she did.
"I have no clue," Batista said. "I remember bringing my laundry home and putting my bins on the floor. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ICU two weeks later."
Having relocated to Minnesota from Florida about a year ago, Batista is very appreciative of the support from her mother and stepfather,Victoria and Mark McClain, who cared for her three children back in Cottonwood.
"I thank God every day for my mom and step-dad for helping out," Batista said. "I don't know where I'd be if they hadn't stepped in."
The day of the collision, Victoria McClain heard a knock on her door shortly before 5 p.m.
"They said my daughter had been in an accident," she said. "The first thing I said is 'where are the kids?'"
McClain said fireman Kirk Lovsness was the one who was able to make proper identifications and begin looking for the children.
"Kirk was there right away, too," she said. "He was there spraying the foam to make sure no fire happened."
Fortunately, the children were found safe and sound at their daycare a short time later.
"I'm so glad my children weren't in the car with me," Batista said. "From the way the pictures of my car looked, my baby definitely would've been dead because he sits right behind me."
McClain moved into her daughter's home during Batista's entire hospital stay.
"They didn't know what to think when their mom wasn't there to pick them up from daycare," McClain said. "But thankfully, they could live in their own environment."
Batista also expressed gratitude for the well-being of the occupants in the Ford truck, which struck her vehicle while she was making a U-turn.
"The driver, I heard, wasn't injured at all," Batista said. "The girl that was with him, because she was 31 weeks pregnant, they kept her overnight for observation. But all three of them are fine, thankfully. After learning she was pregnant, I'm glad that I took the brunt of it. That would've been terrible if she'd have lost the baby."
Though the situation could have been much worse, Batista still has emotional scars to go along with the physical ones.
"I still haven't driven or gone by the accident site," Batista said. "I'm sure I will some day, but I just can't yet. I'm afraid it might trigger something."
The accident, Batista said, has changed her life in many ways.
"It put a whole new light in my life," Batista said. "I realized that I'm not invincible. I can get hurt. And, my kids are my life, so I need to be here to take care of them."