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Car crash survivor speaks to Lebanon Noon Rotary Club

Jacob Smith • Dec 5, 2017 at 4:43 PM

Susan Bowman told the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club that she used to have what she called the perfect “fairytale life.”

Bowman was the mother of three healthy children with a husband of nearly 20 years and a beautiful home.

In July 2005, Bowman picked her children up from school, and her biggest concern was that she didn’t want to take them to McDonald’s for the third day in a row. She had no idea that was the day that would tear her family apart.

“We had been to McDonald’s Monday, we had been to McDonald’s Tuesday, so we were not going to go to McDonald’s on Wednesday,” said Bowman. “So the kids were arguing about where we were going to go. That’s the last thing I remember when a gentleman traveling the opposite way came across and hit us head on.”

Several of the other drivers on the road at the time managed to get the children out of the car, but Bowman was stuck and the car caught fire.

“The fuel pump would not stop pumping fuel, so basically I was burning to death,” said Bowman.

The other drivers gathered up 15 fire extinguishers, but the fire kept coming after they used them all up. According to Bowman, one of the other drivers didn’t want to watch her burn to death, so he walked away. While he was sitting in his truck, though, he saw a fire extinguisher salesman traveling down the road, and they were able to get the fire put out.

“There’s your God-miracle,” said Bowman. “I tell people that part of my story, because if you don’t believe in God, I’m sorry, but I do and that’s what that was.”

Bowman spent the next four months in the Vanderbilt burn unit, where she learned that she was going to lose her legs. Her family fell apart as her marriage couldn’t sustain the stress from such a traumatic incident.

“Through rehabs and stints at the hospital, you know I had to have several surgeries, I got over that,” said Bowman. “My husband and I separated at that point, and I moved into a condo at Academy Place. I lived there until about three years ago, I bought a house over on [Washington Drive]. It’s open floor plan, I can scoot around pretty good, and it’s got room for the kids.”

Bowman’s children have all grown to accept what happened in the accident.

“My daughter lives in Denver, Colorado, she’s 26. My oldest boy is 24 and he lives out on Leeville Pike now – in a camper, God help me – and then my youngest is a senior in high school at Wilson Central,” said Bowman. “So, the kids are doing good, you know, life goes on, and I am bound and determined to make a difference.”

Bowman uses her story in different ways to benefit others. She speaks at events, she’s had a documentary filmed about her, she has a book out detailing her experiences and she tries to help people in her day-to-day life, as well.

“My favorite thing that happens to me is when I’m shopping, like I go to Target all the time. I was looking at the CDs at the end of the aisle and all of the sudden I heard this little voice say, ‘where are your legs?’” said Bowman. “I looked down and this 3-year-old little girl is looking up my skirt. Her dad was looking at the CDs on the next aisle, and he turned to me with this look of shock and said, ‘I am so sorry,’ but I tell him, ‘no.’ I love to talk to kids who come up to me. My spiel is I was in a car wreck and the doctor had to take my legs to save my life, so always wear your seat belt, because that has saved my life.”

These days, Bowman spends her time sharing her story to try to help as many people as possible. She also volunteers time at the Vanderbilt burn unit, where she spent the four months after her accident.

“Nowadays, I can go six miles an hour wherever I go. People get out of my way. I get good seats at the Titans games and any concert I go to,” said Bowman. “You have to look at the good things in life, then it’s not so bad.” 

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