WALLINGFORD — A former Gaylord Hospital patient who was run over and “ripped apart” by a freight truck while biking in 2011 will return to Gaylord next week to speak about a new book chronicling her recovery, which required 30 surgeries over four years.
Colleen Alexander will discuss how she survived and now regularly competes in marathons and triathlons at the April 19 event. The lecture will start at 6:30 p.m. and be followed by a book signing. “Gratitude in Motion” was published in January.
The 42-year-old Madison resident was riding her bike home in October 2011 when a truck failed to stop at a stop sign, hitting Alexander and driving over her with its front and back tires. The truck’s tires came within millimeters of crushing her heart and killing her instantly.
“It happened very much in the blink of an eye,” said Alexander, who remained conscious until she arrived at the hospital. “...I was ripped apart from my sternum to down past my knees.”
At Yale-New Haven Hospital Alexander “flatlined” and was considered dead from blood loss for over 20 minutes until doctors were able to replenish her blood supply and resuscitate her. Alexander said blood donations from 200 people were required to replace her blood platelets and plasma.
She was in a coma for five weeks at Yale-New Haven as doctors performed several surgeries. Alexander was later transferred to Gaylord, where she received inpatient treatment for two months before going home just before Christmas 2011 — about three months after being struck.
Doctors had to perform a total of 30 surgeries over four years. About a year after the accident, Alexander competed in her first race using a walker and continued competing in half marathons and Olympic triathlons while recovering.
“Basically, to maintain my sanity, and just to make sure I could be as strong as possible, I would train and do a race (in between surgeries),” she said. “...During the time I was healing I would do whatever I could to get out there.”
As a way to say ‘thank you’ to people who helped her in her recovery, Alexander began giving medals she received from races to her “heroes,” including medical staff and those who donated blood.
“I began to understand the magnitude of how many people were involved in my healing,” she said.
Alexander got the inspiration for her book title, “Gratitude in Motion, A True Story of Hope, Determination, and the Everyday Heroes Around Us” from her effort to donate medals. She has given about 60 to 70 medals to her “heroes.”
“When you’re giving back to someone, it’s hard to be stuck in your own self pity and frustration,” she said.
Alexander said she hopes to teach readers to be “authentic and vulnerable” and about the “unity of the human family.”
“Through this experience, I have had to be 100 percent vulnerable and completely unable to do anything for myself for long periods of time and I learned a lot through that process,” she said. “One of the things that turned stuff around for me is I would hit my call bell, not because I needed anything, but because I needed a hug.”
Alexander has appeared on TV shows such as Today and Dr. Oz to share her story.
Alexander said her near-death experience has given her new perspective on how to live. Today, she works as a motivational speaker and competes in about three to six triathlon and marathon events per month.
“I’ve come to the acceptance that only two things in this life are certain — we are all already born and every one of us is going to die,” she said. “We have an option in between: Are we going to exist or are we going to genuinely live our lives? ... I feel like when people understand that everyone is going to die...you can really learn how to live and I think that has been tremendous for me.”