Woman rebounds after serious car wreck

Sept. 5, 2018
A physical therapist watches as a patient lifts weights with her legs during a physical therapy session.
Marzelle Black, a physical therapist at UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, helped Danielle Kiefer get back on her feet after a bad car wreck. Photo by UCHealth.

By: Deb Idleman, UCHealth

It was an early morning about 5 a.m. in late October, 2017 when Danielle Kiefer decided to get behind the wheel and speed out of Cripple Creek, heading home to Woodland Park on a slick and winding road.

She had been drinking, and her life was spiraling out of control. The tread on her tires had been worn thin and a few miles out of town, she slid off the road into a 5-foot culvert and into the side of a mountain.

Her car flipped, and she was trapped and alone, hanging upside down for what seemed like an eternity. A Cripple Creek Police officer discovered the accident about an hour later and called for help. It took first responders another hour and a half to free her from the mangled vehicle.

Kiefer was barely alive when a helicopter lifted her off the mountain road to an area hospital. She was in and out of consciousness and didn’t know if she would survive. Her thoughts kept going back to her kids. “I’ve got to survive this because my kids need me and I kept thinking if there’s a will there’s always a way.”

Kiefer, now 35, suffered horrific injuries: a severed aorta, punctured lungs, broken ribs, fractures of her sternum, skull, arms, legs and ankle joint. She spent almost five days on life support and had her spleen, appendix and part of her small intestine removed.

Danielle Kiefer's wrecked car
Danielle Kiefer’s wrecked car. Photo courtesy of Danielle Kiefer.

Her legs had so much damage from lack of circulation that doctors recommended amputation. Her dad wouldn’t allow that to happen, and today, after months of physical therapy at UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, Kiefer is walking after spending several months in a wheelchair.

Kiefer’s determination and refusal to give up comes from “wanting more out of life and for her kids,” she said. She said she pushes herself through pain because she is motivated to be with her kids.

“The word can’t doesn’t have a place in my family’s vocabulary.”

After the wreck, Kiefer has found a new path: She plans to attend Pueblo Community College in the fall to become a Physical Therapist’s assistant. And she has not had a drink since that unforgettable October night.

In weekly visits to Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, physical therapist Marzelle Black helped Kiefer get her life back on track. When she first arrived in PT, she had a closed tibial plateau fracture and closed fracture of the right calcaneus (heel bone). When Kiefer started PT, she walked with a cane and struggled while navigating stairs or traversing uphill or downhill.

After six weeks, she was able to get rid of the cane and walk without assistance. Black helped Kiefer regain her core strength, weakened from immobilization in the ICU and her long stay in the hospital.

“Danielle was highly motivated and that is what propels her forward,’’ Black said. “She is one in a million and a great patient and that’s the reason she was able to get back to an almost normal life.”

Black said she sees Kiefer’s determination at every appointment. To help her along, Black gave Kiefer her all her used physical therapy school books so Danielle can begin to follow her dream of being a Physical Therapist’s assistant.

Kiefer said she is anxious to move forward with her college plans and helping others. She has a second chance at life and is striving to make it better with better choices for herself and for her family.

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.