Minn. woman who survived deadly '04 crash learns to walk again before completing Twin Cities Marathon
HASTINGS, Minn. — In what would turn out to be the last day of her life, Amber Pugh made sure to look out for her younger sister.
On March 4, 2004, she and Jacque Viall, 22, were enroute to Burnsville on a Saturday afternoon shopping excursion
"I only remember her picking me up and we stopped at Erickson's gas station," Viall said. "I remember we turned out onto Route 46. I didn't have my seatbelt on and she told me to put my seat belt on. I kind of looked at her like, 'eh.' I put it on. That's all I remember,"
Shortly afterward, their car collided head-on with an eastbound Ford Explorer that crossed the centerline. Pugh, 28, and the driver of the Ford Explorer died at the scene.
Viall was rushed by helicopter to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where surgeons wanted to amputate one of her feet. The accident broke both femurs, an arm, an ankle and her pelvis. It shattered one knee into 16 pieces. She would undergo seven surgeries.
Her mother Denise, said her condition was so critical the hospital diverted personnel from the emergency room to help stabilize her daughter.
"After the accident I had to learn how to walk again," said Viall, now Jacque Viall Meier. "It was hard to do. You never remember how hard it is to learn how to walk unless you have to do it again."
Earlier this month, on Sunday, Oct. 1, she crossed the finish line at the Twin Cities Marathon in 4 hours, 40 minutes, 37 seconds. Her parents, Ray and Denise, and sister-in-law Cheri Viall cheered her on.
"Me and my wife had tears in our eyes," Ray Viall said. "I was trying to talk her out of it. I was afraid that the 30 pieces of metal in her body were going to come apart at some point."
But Viall had always done things her way. When she was convalescing at the hospital, she "fired" her physical therapist because she thought she could do better on her own.
"She just wanted me to do an alphabet with your foot," Viall said. "I said, 'Enough of this.' I didn't think we were going to get anywhere doing that."
After three months in a hospital bed, she was strong enough to use a walker. She taught herself to walk in the basement of her parents' house in Hastings. From a standing position, she would push the walker out of reach, and would put one foot in front of the other until she got close enough to hold it again.
She started to push the walker farther and farther away. Her mother, a nurse and veteran of 27 marathons, cared for her.
"My family is always here for me and we truly just love each other and would do anything for each other," Jacque Viall said.
In 2012, Viall graduated with a nursing degree from Minnesota State College Southeast. She is now married with three children. She decided to take up running after her first son James was born.
"I knew he would run away from me," she said. "I knew I had to learn how to run. At that point I started trying to teach myself how to run again. It's all in the head. I just ended up liking it."
Naturally, she thought of her sister Amber Pugh as she conquered the miles in the Twin Cities Marathon. Her legs sometimes bother her when the weather turns chilly or damp, but the pain of losing her older sister lingers.
"I don't know if it's ever gone," she said. "There's still some sad time. There's not a day that I don't think about my sister."