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Busy family man David Rife ‘blessed’ to survive collision with semitrailer

David Rife

“It looks like you got some sun,” says occupational therapist Lesa Beauchamp to David Rife, as she works to mobilize and stretch his right shoulder area.

“It was the first time I’ve used the weed trimmer since the accident,” says David, during an outpatient rehabilitation session in June at Ascension Via Christi Therapy Center on Socora in west Wichita. “Pull-starting it was tough. I had to stand on it with my foot because I can’t use my right hand.”

Given that three months earlier doctors had estimated his chance for survival at 50 percent, he’s pleased to be doing yard work again.

‘It’s a miracle’

David cannot recall his March 7 collision with a semitrailer. He was en route from home outside Colwich, Kansas, driving before sunrise to work in Buhler, located about an hour northwest of Wichita.

Photographs from the scene show the remains of his Toyota Avalon — a tangled mess of crumpled metal, thick wood posts, barbed wire and hay bales near a rural intersection.

“I broke my collar bone, sternum, three ribs and my right humerus,” says David, astonished that he escaped more severe injury. “It’s a miracle I’m here. God looked out for me.”

He was transferred from a nearby community hospital to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, where the trauma team worked to stabilize his internal injuries. Once his overall health improved, they repaired his broken bones.

A culture of care

David and his wife, Christi, are moved to tears recalling the compassion extended to them at Via Christi. How trauma nurses reassured Christi when she needed it most. How they advocated for getting David’s breathing tube removed on his 50th birthday so he could speak again. How they kept him comfortable and clean, preserving his dignity.

“Our doctors were unbelievable and the nurses were wonderful,” says David. “There’s a culture at Via Christi to be commended. Everyone has the perspective that they’re dealing with people who are struggling with something. No one seems to lose sight of that.”

The road to home

When David had improved enough to focus on physical and occupational therapy, he was transferred to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa in northwest Wichita.

“I said, ‘That’s right down the road from my house. That’s perfect for where my family lives so they can come visit me more easily,’” he recalls.

David’s therapists helped him summon the strength and confidence to push his recovery. He was discharged four days later, March 31, and returned to his loving family and dogs, Otto and Ivo.

“I was ready to be home for my son, Zach,” he says. “I could see that he wanted and needed me home.”

Today, David’s active lifestyle includes rehab sessions with Beauchamp, his occupational therapist. They work to improve use of his right shoulder and elbow as they wait for his damaged radial nerve to restore function to his wrist, hand and fingers.

“It can take up to a couple of years for that nerve to heal,” says David’s orthopedic surgeon, Bradley Dart, MD, medical director of Orthopedic Trauma at Via Christi. “Patients like David who have a positive outlook about their rehab and recovery all seem to improve the most.”

David is hopeful and motivated to continue his progress.

“Nothing is easy for me, but I plan on being able to do everything I used to do,” he says. “It’s never going to be the same but it’s going to be dang good.” 

About Melissa Lacey

Kansas born; mother of two; communications professional for Ascension Via Christi.