Erica Predum still remembers all the little things from her accident in May 2007.
She had just picked up her 3-year-old son and was driving home to Auburn from her mother's house. She remembers how the seatbelt in her car was broken so she couldn't put it on. As she was merging onto Interstate 69, she drifted across the rumble strip. The 22-year-old jerked the steering wheel left but overcorrected, causing the car to flip into the median.
Though her son was unhurt, Predum was ejected from the car and landed on her back in the median, severing her spinal cord – the worst of 27 injuries and fractures she sustained. She instantly became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.
She remembers everything that happened, but for years, that didn't help her understand why it happened. She'd sometimes lie in bed at night and wonder – could there somehow be a bigger reason?
It wasn't until a few weeks ago that Predum found her answer.
After three years, Randy Predum finally had his Predum Tree Service company going well. He had recently bought a chipper and a new truck. In addition, after starting with one part-time worker, he'd built up to three full-time and two part-time workers.
But he still led from the top as he did in the mid-morning of July 9, when he was cutting back a huge tree at Sylvan Lake. It was tricky, and he was being careful, but one mistake knocked the 33-year-old off his safety line.
Falling from 40 feet really doesn't take that long, he said, even though it felt almost like it was in slow motion.
When he hit the ground feet-first, his legs basically exploded into his pelvis, crushing everything along the way. There were also broken ribs, several broken vertebra, a bruised lung, a lacerated spleen, a bruised kidney and a concussion. He was wearing his safety helmet, although it cracked in half.
As he recovers in Parkview Regional Medical Center, Predum remembers everything about the fall: the petrified look on a co-worker's face; talking to his little sister Kaylee on the phone while waiting for help; wondering about his two daughters; and another co-worker tossing water on his face to help him stay awake.
Lying on the ground, enduring the pain, Predum decided he was going to fight through everything and he was going to make it, because at least he had someone on his team who would be able to help him no matter what happened.
“If I can never walk again, I still don't have to do life alone, because my sister can never walk again, and she is doing fine,” he said. “If I just end up being a paraplegic, every single question I have, my sister will have an answer for me.
“I do remember that helped me hold on a little bit longer, because I knew everything was going to be all right. I knew my sister would have my back, and that helped. That was a really important thought I had at a point where I felt I could have just closed my eyes and gone away and seen my mom.”
Watching her brother go through this situation is worse than reliving it herself, Erica Predum says. The 35-year-old says she would rather go through it all again than see what Randy is facing.
Four months after Erica came home from the hospital in 2007, the siblings' mother, Sharon Ryan, a two-time breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away eight months later. It was then the roles changed from big sister Erica looking out for her brother to, instead, Randy looking after little sister Kaylee and doing whatever Erica needed.
Randy would pick Erica up, load her into her wheelchair, help her to change clothes and basically do anything she needed anywhere.
“My brother has been my person ... who I know that I can always rely on for my tough times and who knows how to give the perfect amount of love, patience, understanding and comfort,” she said. “I leaned on him a lot, and even now we're more like best friends.
“Now he knows what I went through, and now we're feeling really, really bad for each other,” Erica said. “I don't want him to feel bad for me, and he doesn't want me to feel bad for him. We decided we're not going to do that, and that's just how we're going to handle it. We just have a really deep understanding of the situation.”
There's a difference between Erica and Randy's situations that could mean one won't walk and the other could. While Erica's spinal cord was severed, Randy's was compressed, and he can already wiggle his toes. He recently underwent two surgeries to fuse parts of his spine, and while doctors aren't overly optimistic, no one has mentioned paralysis, either.
“We've been through a lot, but we just keep going,” said Kaylee Predum, 29. “We don't have a choice, and we all know that. We just show up, love hard and are there for one another. I'm just really impressed with how we handle this stuff, with a lot of humor, strength and motivation. It's never really a pity party when you are around us.”
Kaylee works as a patient care tech in Parkview Hospital's ortho neuro trauma unit, where Randy is healing.
Erica is studying psychology at Purdue University Fort Wayne with the goal of becoming a counselor. In addition, she just started driving again a month ago, using a modified Chrysler Town and Country.
“I've adapted and made things my new normal,” Erica said. “It's really interesting now that I have an accessible vehicle that I can drive, and I might be taking my brother to his doctor's appointments and physical therapy. There's always a good way to look at things, even in the worst situations.”
And maybe because of what he sees his sister go through, Randy is already mentally looking ahead, ready with faith for the battles to come.
“Where some people would look at this situation and would say, two people who could be paralyzed and one person who died,” he said, “I would look at it as two people who completely shattered their backs who are going to live complete, fun and healthy lives and they are going to be here for their whole lives.
“We are not unfortunate, we are blessed, because for everything that has happened to us, the fact that we have only lost one family member is amazing. Someone is looking out for us.”