David Chen says he is especially grateful this Christmas, even as his wife remains in a hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries from a Big Island auto collision.
"We’re very thankful that we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas together," Chen said yesterday at a news conference at the Queen’s Medical Center to express his gratitude to everyone from the emergency responders to strangers who continue to share their prayers and positive thoughts.
Chen’s wife, Dr. Theresa Wang, a Big Island family care physician, continues to recover from the traumatic injuries she suffered on Nov. 19 when her car was hit head-on near Kona Airport by a 1997 Toyota SUV driven by Shakti Stream, the girlfriend of former University of Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan.
"When we mention the accident, she kind of looks puzzled because I don’t think she remembers that part of it," Chen said yesterday.
Wang relies on a tube to breathe after suffering three spinal fractures, an injury to a blood vessel to her brain that caused paralysis, swelling of the brain and a coma, four or five broken ribs, a collapsed lung and broken bones in both arms and legs — "and a few other things," said Dr. Caesar Ursic, Queen’s medical director of trauma services.
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She has undergone at least a half-dozen operations since the crash, Ursic said.
Wang opened her eyes on Thanksgiving for the first time since the accident and can now nod yes and no in response to questions, Chen said. She cannot speak because of the breathing tube, Chen said.
"She is slowly regaining movement in her right arm and leg and can sense some feeling on the left side," Chen said. "The feeling is just one of gratitude that she’s come so far in the last 3 1/2 weeks."
It could take months to determine how much movement and sensation Wang eventually regains, Ursic said.
"However her body heals is how it heals at this point," he said.
Wang’s HMSA insurance will cover most of her medical bills but not other expenses, such as rehabilitation, medevac flights and Chen’s mounting costs since he moved to Honolulu after Wang’s crash, Chen said.
Chen anticipates the unreimbursed costs will rise to the tens of thousands, if not $100,000 or more.
HMSA, while saying it could not discuss individual cases, differs on the reimbursement issue. HMSA typically covers in-state medevac costs and both in-state and out-of-state rehabilitation expenses, spokeswoman Elisa Yadao said.
Chen and Wang moved from Wisconsin to Hawaii island in 2006 for Chen’s job as director of finance at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.
Since the accident, Chen continues to receive messages of encouragement from around the world and feels especially grateful to the people of Hawaii who "have been touched by these events and adopted us like their own."
Wang suffered an aneurysm in 2008 and still had not returned to work at the West Hawaii Community Health Center when the crash occurred on the morning of Nov. 19.
Hawaii County police continue to investigate why Stream’s SUV crossed Queen Kaahumanu Highway’s center line near Makalawena Beach in North Kona and hit Wang’s 1996 Saab sedan head-on.
Brennan was a passenger in Stream’s car and later became a patient four rooms down from Wang’s, in the same intensive care unit at Queen’s.
Investigators are waiting for the results of separate toxicology reports and mechanical inspection reports in the next few weeks to determine whether speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash, county police Maj. Randy Apele said yesterday.
"We hope to get the results by Christmas, end of December at the latest," he said.