1. CVC: How did you see the accident in terms of your faith or spirituality?
KS: Always a person of faith, Kristy prayed for others who were trapped in the aircraft, unable to free themselves from the fire, as she awaited rescue. In the days after the crash, she thanked God over and over for sparing her life, and prayed for the injured and the families of those who died.
Kristy’s book is a testimony to her faith and provides a great deal more information about how faith in God has sustained her throughout her life.
2A. CVC: Where did you receive the most emotional support, initially?
KS: Other survivors: The support of other passengers began immediately after impact. Kristy was trapped in the burning plane and a fellow passenger risked his own life to dig her out of the wreckage and carry her to safety. While she waited for medical attention, other survivors helped keep her warm and assisted rescue workers. Her survivor friends also visited Kristy in the hospital, and talking to them about the incident provided great relief. Visiting the wreckage along with them was powerful and critically important to helping Kristy process what happened. She and her family felt that the visit to the crash site was well thought-out, including the provision of comfortable busses, helpful guides, and Red Cross volunteers.
Husband and parents: After Kristy was taken to the hospital, her husband made his own way to Little Rock and remained by her side until she was released. Initially he slept on chairs by her bedside, determined to protect her from any further harm. As soon as flights could be arranged, American Airlines brought Kristy’s parents to Little Rock and provided hotel accommodations for them.
Care team: Kristy’s care team brought her clothing and offered what help they could.
2B. CVC: How about later?
KS: Over the months following the accident, Kristy found comfort by communicating with other passengers. The bond that began during the crash with some survivors continues to this day. Kristy actually learned of the Foundation from Jeff Arnold who heads up the Foundation’s response activities in Alaska, where he resides.
3. CVC: What actions did you take to regain control over your life?
KS: Journaling: From the beginning, Kristy recorded her feelings and experiences about the crash on her computer. Being able to express her emotions privately, unedited, provided relief and allowed her to track her progress over time. Her journal proved to be invaluable for the book, about to be released to the public.
Seeking a Counselor: Kristy received help from a counselor over a two-year time period. Initially she saw her counselor twice a week for two-hour sessions. Later, the sessions became two-hour appointments, once a week, and eventually she was able to cope with her stress with one session weekly for one hour’s time. While talk-therapy and medications helped her cope, Kristy felt that her healing was accelerated when she began a new form of treatment—Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). While not well known at the time in the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), EMDR, today is a very popular psychotherapy used by professionals in treatment of victims from all types of trauma. It does not involve talk therapy or medications. The treatment involves the patient’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements under the direction of the therapist.
While in the EMDR treatments, Kristy was able to see that survivor’s guilt was a large part of her distress from the accident. Once she was able to process this part of her experience, she felt released from much of what had prevented her healing.
Taking legal action: Kristy also sought the assistance of a Dallas-based plaintiff’s attorney, John Howie who represented many survivors of the same accident. Kristy was unable to continue her career and therefore contribute to the family’s income. Finding the right attorney to represent her in the settlement process was a major step in that direction. Kristy’s case was eventually settled in mediation.
4. CVC: Did you have to forgive anyone?
KS: Kristy never felt the need to forgive the pilot. Although he made a mistake which resulted in the crash, she felt that he had paid for the mistake with his life. Kristy did not feel that she needed to forgive the airline either. After the crash, she appreciated that CARE Team members were assigned to help her and her family. She appreciated that they brought her parents to Little Rock and provided logistical support for them and her husband.
Aside from the emotional and psychological trauma which Kristy endured, the next major source of enormous distress involved dealing with the law suit and in particular, the woman who represented the airline’s interest against the survivors. When Kristy entered the legal process, she had no idea about the loss of privacy she would experience. Details of her personal life were exposed, which to her seemed irrelevant to the crash. She described the airline representative as having ice water running through her veins.
Over time as Kristy began to heal on a spiritual level, she was able to forgive the female airline representative and all suffering associated with the law suit. The memories of the distress involved in the lawsuit remain, despite her ability to forgive individuals. This is a common theme for survivors that we see when the legal process begins for survivors of workplace trauma.
5. CVC: What did you create from the trauma?
KS: In her efforts to gain control of her distress after the accident, Kristy created a new life. After the second fall where she was injured, Kristy began a ministry to help others who are suffering from trauma and loss. This ministry is currently in development.
6. CVC: Trauma Integration: What did you leave behind and what do you carry with you?
KS: Just prior to the airline accident Kristy had learned to scuba dive. She had made her first dive with her father and husband and completed a life-long goal when she became certified. After the crash, Kristy could no longer dive. This was one of the many activities that Kristy was forced to forego in her new life, post-crash.
Kristy learned to let go of the identity that was hers before the airline accident. Over time, she was able to integrate what she had learned from all of her life experience in order to provide service to others today.
7. CVC: How do you commune (prayer, meditation? ritual?) with those whom you love who are no longer on earth?
KS: Kristy has not lost anyone in her personal life that would cause her to look for ways to remain connected once they have passed away. However, because of her deep faith and prayer ritual, she is certain that when that day comes, she will be able to maintain the sense of connection with her loved ones on a spiritual level.