By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
ASBURY — On July 12, Dave McGhee put on a temporary prosthetic leg and began to walk — the first time he’d walked since his lower left leg was amputated following complications from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle accident last fall.
“I have to learn to walk all over again, to put one foot in front of the other,” reflected 79-year-old McGhee, a long-serving deacon of Nativity Parish in Dubuque.
“I was able to walk 10 feet while hanging on to parallel bars, and then I turned around and walked back,” he continued. “It may not sound like much, but — gee whiz — I was sniffling and snuffling the whole time, because this is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Deacon McGhee and his 80-year-old wife, Alice, who was also seriously injured in the same motor vehicle crash, sat down recently with The Witness to discuss their long road to recovery.
“It’s been very difficult, but good things are finally happening,” said Alice.
The McGhees’ accident occurred on the morning of Sept. 12, 2016, when their SUV was struck by a tractor-trailer as the two vehicles met at a busy Dubuque intersection.
“I was making a left turn, and I had a flashing yellow arrow, and hiding behind that was a semi, and I pulled out in front of it,” remembered the deacon.
Alice sustained cuts and bruises from the accident, as well as a broken rib and injuries to her wrist and shoulders. It also intensified her pre-existing arthritis. Deacon Dave, whose injuries were even more severe, was left with six broken ribs, injuries to his shoulder, a fractured pelvis and leg, and a shattered left ankle. Both Alice and Dave were taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City for treatment.
The truck driver — Mike Wood of Yuma, Arizona — was also seriously injured in the accident. His split-second decision to swerve his rig in an attempt to miss the McGhees’ vehicle resulted in him hitting a large traffic light pole.
“If he had not done what he did, we’d both be dead,” said Deacon Dave. “Instead of hitting us directly, he glanced us. He chose to hit the pole instead, and he suffered trauma on both of his ankles. Right now he’s struggling with the decision as to whether his legs should be amputated.”
“We’re so grateful to him,” Alice added. “We ask everyone to please pray for him.”
For the McGhees, life since the accident has included many challenges. After they were released from the hospital, both had long stays at a rehabilitation center before being able to return to their home in Asbury. Once home, Alice was involved in a second motor vehicle crash when the car she was driving was hit by a tractor-trailer; she suffered whiplash from the incident.
During his recovery, Deacon Dave fell and broke a collarbone. And his left foot, which was initially saved when he underwent surgery in Iowa City immediately following the September accident, later developed an infection. On March 1 of this year the foot had to be amputated. As he recovered from the accident, the deacon also came down with shingles.
“We’d think we were out of the woods, but then we wouldn’t be after all,” said Alice. “It sometimes seemed we’d go ahead one step, but then something would happen and we’d be back two.”
But the McGhees never let their struggles keep them down for long, and today, both are able to laugh at their series of recent misfortunes.
“There is humor in everything,” said Deacon Dave with a chuckle.
The McGhees credit the kindness they received from others for getting them through the difficulties of the past 10 months. The couple said they were overwhelmed by the amount of people who stopped to visit them or sent them cards or flowers or get well wishes via Facebook. More than anything, they said it was the prayers of others that sustained them.
“We’re very fortunate, because I think the whole city of Dubuque was praying for us,” Alice reflected. “At first I couldn’t pray myself, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t there. That’s why their prayers meant so much to us. That’s what kept us alive and kept us going.”
“As soon as we started to feel like human beings again, then prayer came back to us,” Deacon Dave added. “But first we needed all the energy we had available to us to recover. But so many people told us they were praying for us. And we felt the strength of their prayers.”
In addition to keeping them in their prayers, members of Nativity Parish also raised money to help the McGhees after their accident. The funds will go toward making the bathroom in their home handicap accessible.
“They have been so generous to us, so kind,” said Alice.
The McGhees also expressed a great deal of gratitude for the care they have received during their recovery. They laud the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and other health professionals who they say have gone above and beyond to give them the best care possible.
Dave and Alice said they are also grateful to their children, who have provided them with additional care and support. Their daughter Brigid, with whom they live, has been there for them day in and day out, while their two other children, Anne and Christopher, both of whom live on the East Coast, made trips back to Iowa to be with their parents.
In the months to come, the McGhees will continue with physical therapy, and Dave will soon receive his permanent prosthetic leg and hopes to continue to progress with walking. Both expressed determination to not let their injuries dominate their future.
The couple said they intend to continue to enjoy their lives, including spending time with their seven granddaughters, and they look forward to celebrating 55 years of marriage this August and the 40th anniversary of Dave’s ordination as a deacon in November.
“We are so blessed,” Alice said. “Despite everything, we are so very blessed.”
Deacon Dave McGhee and his wife, Alice. McGhee had part of his left leg amputated as a result of the accident, but is learning to walk again with a prosthetic. (Photo by Jill Kruse/The Witness)