A car accident that almost killed Kim Haeg seven years ago may have saved her life. That’s how she and her mother, Lorraine, see it now. Kim was a senior and a Southold High School cheerleader with great grades who had everyone around her fooled, she said. Parents, friends, teachers and school administrators all thought she was on an even keel.
In fact, she was anorexic and she was drinking, using drugs and cutting herself to deal with the pain she felt in her life.
“You hold it in because you don’t want anyone to know you have crap going on in your life,” she told students during a Monday morning assembly at her alma mater.
On the night of April 23, 2004, Ms. Haeg, now 25, was driving east on Route 48 in Southold when she passed out behind the wheel.
Her vehicle veered off the road into the median, striking a concrete drainage structure. She was airlifted to Peconic Bay Medical Center.
Today she is confined to a wheelchair as a result of spinal cord injuries she said were similar to those suffered by actor Christopher Reeve in a fall from a horse.
Only after the accident that crippled her did she begin to deal with her emotional pain, she said.
“I loved to party and I loved to cheerlead,” she said of her high school years. “I was a total suck-up; all the teachers loved me,” she told the students. But what was going on inside — problems with self-image and coping with her parents’ divorce — had her in constant turmoil.
“I never got along with my mother; I hated her,” she confided.
Today, the two are “best friends,” she said, explaining after the assembly that, when she woke up from a coma, she realized all that her mother had been doing for her. Together they read about advances in stem cell research and hold out hope that it may enable Ms. Haeg to walk again someday.
“She’s on an upswing with a purpose in sharing her experience with students,” Lorraine Haeg said of her daughter. The two hope to eventually write a book about what they’ve been through in the years since the accident. But for now, Kim Haeg is spending time in classrooms and at school assemblies, hoping students who are secretly in pain today will seek help from teachers, parents or other adults.
She talked about the stress she felt in maintaining high grades so she could participate in cheerleading.
“You don’t want to be a loser,” she said.
Of her self-inflicted cutting, Ms. Haeg said, “I was in so much pain, I had to release it.” Even today, after many years of therapy, there are still moments when she wants to cut herself, she admitted. But she fights the urge because she knows how how much it would hurt her mother as well as herself.
“She kept everything to herself,” Lorraine Haeg said of her daughter’s teen years. “Cutting was a big thing for me to deal with,” she added, noting that’s what prompted her to get Kim into therapy. She felt great guilt about her daughter’s pain but, like others around Kim, she didn’t see it until the facts were revealed to her by physicians after the accident.
After a life of great independence, Kim Haeg said it’s difficult to rely on others for everything from brushing her teeth, combing her hair and putting on makeup to eating and even scratching an itch.
“Sometimes I don’t want to live anymore,” she admitted. But when she thinks about family and friends, she’s “grateful that I have a second chance.” She said she wants to use that second chance to become a therapist and work with other disabled people.
She also hopes to pursue her interest in interior design, which she’s had since before the accident.