A story of trials and perseverance
The El Dorado Rotary Club heard a story of trials and perseverance during their meeting last week.
Jared Estes of Wichita shared his story, titled "Fire Back."
Jared, who wears a sleeve and glove on one arm because of the burns and has a prosthetic ear, was involved in a tragic auto accident in 2005 in Wichita. He shared the story of what had happened to him and how he has been able to move on from those events in his life.
"I start with the acknowledgment all lives have pain, loss and fear," he said. "I want to relay the lessons I learned along the way."
He said it was March in 2005 and he and his wife, Paige, along with two of their friends were heading home on Kellogg from a Wichita Thunder game. He and Paige had just been married six months.
He said his wife was driving and all he remembers is a sound like that of a television turning off then everything went black. Next he heard the beginning of an explosion and then it went black again. It wasn't until later he learned what had happened.
A guy had been at a bar with his new Porsche offering people rides. On this ride he decided to get on the highway and floored it.
"He was up to 150 miles per hour before he met us at West Street," Jared said.
The Porsche hit their car from behind at full speed, causing both cars to explode on impact.
Jared said their car hi the median and one of their friends in the back seat was ejected through the back window into oncoming traffic, although she was not hit by any of the oncoming traffic. Their other friend crawled out where the trunk would have been but before she did, she was reaching through the flames trying to find her friend, not knowing she had been ejected. Because of that, she burned her hands and arms so badly she had to have three fingers amputated.
Jared said a guy from Augusta was on his way home and stopped at the accident. That guy pulled Jared out of the car.
"I woke up standing on my feet," he said. "I was really hazy. I had no idea how I got there or what was going on."
He said he also felt an intense pain because he was still on fire.
"I looked down at my hands and I saw the last piece of my shirt burning on the ground," he said.
He then saw his friend sitting at the median and he remembered the accident. He did not know where his wife or their other friend was.
"I always compare that moment to waking up in hell," he said. "There was so much fear."
He turned and looked up the road where he saw two bodies lying in the road but he couldn't see who it was.
"I started heading up the road and yelling out their names," he said.
People kept asking if he was OK, but he kept trying to get up the road until three firefighters got him and tried to force him on a spine board, but Jared kept asking if everyone got out.
He said finally one of the firefighters told him yes.
"He lied to me," Jared said. "Paige didn't get out, but he probably saved my life."
That was because once Jared thought his wife was OK he let them treat him.
Jared went into a coma and suffered burns over 50 percent of his body, all from the waist up. He remained in a coma for the better part of two weeks.
"It took a while to grasp reality and where I was," he said of when he woke up.
He said his room was full of friends and family and he started asking them to send Paige in. At first no one answered, then his dad got everyone out of the room and told him she didn't make it.
"I knew it was coming at that point, but it hit me really hard," he said.
Shortly after that the nurses came in to do a procedure and he was alone for a few minutes.
He said during that time he would pray to God to let him die, close his eyes and brace for it, then open his eyes, realizing he was still alive, and then repeat that over and over.
"I always considered those few moments the darkest part of my life," he said.
He spent 2 1/2 months in the burn unit. With burns on 50 percent of his body and the other part peeled for skin, he said everything that was done to him hurt.
"I had a lot of great support from friends and family," he said. "When I didn't die that day I set a goal for myself. I was going to Paige's grave."
He said he did whatever the nurses and doctors told him to do so he could get out of there.
It was four months before he got to Paige's grave.
He said he had a plan to kneel at her grave, grab handfuls of dirt and slam them on the ground and look up to the sky and shout. But he was too weak to kneel, his hands were still burned and he couldn't shout.
He said he was sitting there and didn't have a goal after making it there. Jared began really wallowing, thinking his family would be better off if he was dead.
"I thought I was done," he said. "While I was coming to this decision Paige's mom pulled in to the cemetery."
Paige had two young siblings.
"I was afraid I would scare kids," he said.
Paige's mom came over to him and said there were a couple of kiddos who wanted to say hi.
As they got out of the car, he said the first thing that hit him was how much they looked like Paige.
"It got me thinking, what if they had been in the accident," Jared said. "What would I want for them?"
That led him to thinking what if Paige had been the one who had survived and realized he would want her to be happy.
"I realized how selfish I was being," he said. "It hit me really hard."
He then set a new goal, to get better, come back from this and be happy. He said he was doing it for them.
Jared went through a lot of surgeries, rehabilitation and court dates.
The guy who had hit him and his passenger had been the ones lying in the road. It was the guy's third DUI.
"His ex-wife said the first thing their 19-year-old son said was 'he finally did it, he finally killed someone'," Jared said. "It made me think what he put his family through. All at once, I was not angry anymore, I felt compassion for his family.
"I really am thankful to still be here."
He said things knock people down, and it is not just if they get back up, but to get back up and fire back.
Jared began sharing his story full-time three years ago.
"I was just feeling like there was a calling on my heart," he said. "this is what I was supposed to do."
Julie Clements can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.