After severe injuries, man builds a new life

LAKE STEVENS — At 26, his body was broken.

A Dec. 7 head-on wreck on Highway 9 near Lake Stevens busted Timmothy Lang’s left arm, his ribs, his pelvis, his jaw. His liver and spleen were damaged. He lost hair and a tooth.

An oncoming Subaru crossed the center line and ripped into Lang’s Chevy Avalanche pickup, just north of Highway 204.

Two people in the Subaru died. Lang spent weeks at a Seattle trauma center.

Even he still has trouble listing all of his injuries — there were so many.

Earlier this week, he sat at the kitchen table at his parents’ home between Lake Stevens and Granite Falls. His movements were a little stiff, his steps careful. His smiles are restrained to hide the damage to his mouth. At times, he winced, and then tried to hide the cringe.

His mother, Tracey Lang, watched him speak. Her eyes were warm, her smile tender. She filled in the details he missed, what he couldn’t remember.

Before the crash, Timmothy Lang had his life figured out, he said. He was working as a framer for his father’s company. He’d bought a house he’d helped build in Lake Stevens. He thought about renting it, to make a little money. He’d worked full time since finishing at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood in 2004.

“I graduated high school and went to work the same day,” he said.

The night of the crash, he had dinner at a friend’s house. He can’t remember what they ate — it bothers him. Much of the week before the crash, and the week after, is foggy.

He woke up in a hospital bed, seeing double. He was grateful that he’d been driving a large vehicle.

“I just woke up with a feeling like all that really matters in your life is your friends and family,” he said.

Other people remember parts. A while back, Timmothy Lang went to a Lake Stevens fire station to thank the crews who helped saved him. Seasoned firefighters told him the crash was one of the worst they’d seen. At the scene, a passerby, a military veteran, had jumped into Lang’s truck to hold his head up for fear he’d suffocate on the airbag. His mom met another crash witness while running errands at a local bank.

Tracey Lang also met with the mother of the Subaru’s driver. Tyler Martel, from Mill Creek, was 27. He died at the scene. His passenger and longtime girlfriend, Stephanie Proffitt, 27, of Lake Stevens, was rushed to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She died in January.

The two mothers hugged and cried. Timmothy Lang met Martel’s mother, too. He remembers her as kind, gracious. He remembers her hug.

It’s still not clear what caused the crash. Investigators believe Martel was trying to pass a Ford pickup. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol at the scene, Washington State Patrol trooper Mark Francis said.

The Lang family wants to find the good in what happened, Timmothy Lang said. The crash changed him. He’s still figuring out how much, and in what ways.

The family living room was his bedroom for weeks. His mom still can remember the first time she heard his wheelchair squeaking on the kitchen floor one morning before she came downstairs.

He’d gotten out of bed by himself — a moment of joy, of independence. So was the first time he put on his own socks, the first time he tied his own shoes.

They devised a system for grocery shopping where Tracey Lang would push Timmothy Lang’s wheelchair, and he would push a mini-cart.

“People would see us coming and get out of the way,” she said.

The damage to his mouth has been perhaps the hardest part. A Harborview doctor told Timmothy Lang his jaw injuries were the second-worst the doctor had seen. The worst was someone with a gunshot wound.

More surgeries are needed. For at least two months, he faced a tedious diet of soft foods. He couldn’t chew with his front teeth until March.

“I was just eating mashed up stuff,” Timmothy Lang said.

“He had lots of Cream of Wheat,” Tracey Lang said. “I got really good at chopping stuff up really small.”

Timmothy Lang isn’t sure when he’ll drive again. While he was laid up, he spent a lot of time online looking at trucks for sale. He also played video games with his brother. He learned backgammon from an uncle who sometimes stayed with him when he needed around-the-clock care.

Timmothy Lang thinks sometimes about not buying another truck. There’s a bus stop near his house. His mom reminded him that it’d be hard to carry all of his tools on the bus.

He wants to work again, but he’s also not sure he still can be a framer. The work can be dangerous. The toll of physical labor could aggravate what’s already been broken, what’s still healing. The steel plates in his arm could slip.

He wants to join a gym and get stronger. He’s lost 20 pounds. He can’t run or jump. He’s not sure he’ll ever regain his full strength and physical ability.

The Langs say they’re grateful to so many people who have helped — friends, family, the Lake Stevens community, firefighters, surgeons, nurses.

On Jan. 31, Lang turned 27. He had a birthday party at a favorite hangout, the Cactus Moon Saloon in south Everett. A family friend is a manager there.

He still was in a wheelchair. The celebration was planned for 6 p.m.

“I got there at 6:02, and the place already was packed,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Help out

Timmothy Lang, 27, was badly hurt in a Dec. 7 head-on wreck on Highway 9, just north of Highway 204, near Lake Stevens. His family is asking for community donations for upcoming surgeries and other expenses related to his injuries. Donations can be made to the “Timmothy Lang Fund” at any branch of Whidbey Island Bank.

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