By Rikki King Herald Writer
EVERETT — Tammy Fietkau doesn’t have time to worry about herself.
Her house on Maple Street in north Everett is a whirl of people who need her.
Late last week, she enjoyed her first day home from the hospital since early September. Her left arm was heavily bandaged from wrist to shoulder. People checked in with her every few minutes. Hungry children, crying neighbors, anxious friends. They gathered around her, seeking solace.
Fietkau, 49, of Everett, nearly lost her left arm in a crash after a felon, trying to outrun police in his girlfriend’s Jetta, slammed into Fietkau’s van along I-5.
The Sept. 1 manhunt shut down I-5 through Everett for hours. Fietkau was at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle recovering until a week ago.
The day of the crash, Fietkau was on her way home from running errands with her fiance, Kevan Flataker, 35, and their two dogs, Sugar and Rookie. They were planning dinner for the family when they were struck on the left rear corner of the van.
“All of a sudden you could hear the screeching of the brakes,” Fietkau said. “The van, I could feel it go up in the air. That’s when we slid all the way across I-5.”
A former school bus driver, Fietkau knew better than to hang her arm outside while she was driving with the window open. But the force of the crash sent her left arm out the window, while her seat belt kept the rest of her inside. The van landed on top of her arm, where it hole-punched out a chunk of forearm.
She remembers trying to pull her face away from the roadway.
“I couldn’t freak. That’s what went through my mind,” she said. “I told Kevan, ‘Calm down. It’s OK. Just calm down.’ ”
As officers arrived, she overheard snippets about a man with a gun running toward the Lowell neighborhood. She worried about her nephew who lives there.
Flataker didn’t suffer any significant injuries in the crash. Last week, he finally got a full doctor’s checkup. He waited until he knew it was safe to leave Fietkau, his girlfriend of seven years. Sugar, their pit bull mix, is OK, but Rookie, a Pomeranian, was still at the veterinarian Monday. One of his back legs had to be amputated after the crash.
Fietkau doesn’t play the role of the victim very well. As she sees it, the man charged with crashing into her, Theodore Ohms, took nothing. She still has everyone, all the people who need her.
She hated being at the hospital, stuck in bed doing hand exercises. There was her uncle in a care facility who counts on her visits. There were dinners she couldn’t make for her mom.
She pleaded with the doctors. The only one in the house with a driver’s license, she hated the thought of everyone being stuck.
Fietkau said she doesn’t know — and doesn’t want to know — how the doctors filled the hole in her arm. She just waited and prayed it would heal. She’s been eating mostly salads, unable to look at meat, too reminiscent of her mangled arm.
About two weeks ago, the dressings were removed and she saw her injured arm for the first time since the night of the crash.
“Oh my god, it’s just beautiful,” she told the doctor, demanding a hug.
Fietkau has an appointment at Harborview later this week to check on the skin graft. She’s waiting for the little meshlike holes in her skin to heal.
She hopes to meet the anonymous man who donated a van to her. The old one was buckled and broken from the impact.
Flataker and Fietkau want to get married soon.
For now, she’s resting in the lone recliner in her Maple Street living room.
That’s where she can keep a close eye on those she loves: keeping a toddler out of the knickknacks; making sure her mom eats dinner; brokering peace between arguing teenagers.
Above all, Fietkau says, she is grateful.
“A lot of things are going to change for me and Kevan, and for the better, for this,” she said. “This was just a wake-up call for us. I know that we’re very, very lucky to be alive right now.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; email@example.com