Posted 5/05/10 (Wed)
By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
Most people don’t realize that a simple decision can save your life. However, that’s exactly what you may be determining every time you choose to put on your seat belt or to leave it off.
For 27-year-old Dixie Steidl, of Watford City, the decision she made on Aug. 13, 2009, was a lifesaving one. In addition to saving her life, it also earned her the Saved By The Belt Award.
“No one plans to be in an accident. That’s why it is so important to always put on your seat belt,” says Tim Coughlin, North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper. “You look at the amount of time it took this young lady to put on her seat belt; it was only a few seconds. But it gave her a lifetime.”
For Steidl, the day started out great. Not only was it a beautiful summer day, it was also her birthday.
“I got up that morning and I was full of energy,” says Steidl. “It was hot and sunny outside and I was heading to Billings, Mont. to see my cousin. It was one of those mornings when you think the day can’t get any better.”
Unfortunately for Steidl, the day didn’t get any better. It got much worse.
“I had lunch and headed for Billings,” says Steidl. “But the last thing I really remember was celebrating my birthday the night before with my family. My memories from Aug. 13 come in bits and pieces like remembering how I felt that morning and leaving for Billings.”
The reason Steidl doesn’t remember having lunch or any of her drive to Billings is because at approximately 2:20 p.m. on Aug. 13, she was involved in an accident that if she hadn’t been wearing her seat belt, would likely have ended her life.
“No one will ever know exactly what happened to cause the accident,” states Coughlin. “The thing that we do know is that before leaving on her trip, Dixie made a choice to put on her seat belt. A choice that ultimately saved her life.”
Steidl was traveling on North Dakota Highway 68 near the North Dakota state line when her Chevy Impala left the roadway and rolled.
“From our investigation, we believe that for some reason, one of her tires left the roadway causing her to over-correct,” says Coughlin. “After that, her car entered the ditch and the uneven ground caused the vehicle to roll. Her car cleared a barbed wire fence and rolled between one and four times.”
When Coughlin arrived on the scene, Steidl had already been airlifted to Billings and from the scene. He was amazed to hear that she was alert and talking when she left.
“As I investigated the scene, I kept thinking if this person survives it will truly be a miracle,” adds Coughlin. “To this day I still think it is a miracle that she lived, and I know that the seat belt is what saved her life.”
As a result of the accident, Steidl spent two weeks in a coma and sustained multiple injuries, including swelling and bleeding of her brain, two broken arms, a broken sternum and broken ribs.
“When I woke from the coma, I had no memory of the accident,” says Steidl. “I woke up and the room was dark. I had no idea where I was, and when I tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, I fell to the floor. The nurses came in and told me that I had been in a terrible car accident and that I had been in a coma for two weeks. It was all very shocking to me.”
Thanks to the use of her seat belt and the quick response of area emergency responders, today Steidl has only a few reminders of the crash.
“I still don’t remember the accident or anything from my high school years and younger, but I am still very thankful to be alive,” comments Steidl. “I have some nerve damage in one of my hands and I am still recovering from the brain injuries. But I am back to work and planning to do a lot of traveling beginning next month.”
Steidl credits the accident for completely changing her life.
“I know I should have died, but I didn’t. I believe that I survived for a reason,” says Steidl. “I don’t know why I survived. But I know that because of the accident, I am going to live everyday of my life to the fullest.”
The next time you’re faced with the decision of wearing a seat belt, remember this statistic from the North Dakota Highway Patrol. In 2009, there were 140 fatalities; 83 of those 140 people were not wearing their seat belts. Fortunately, thanks to her seat belt, Steidl is alive today.