HLG advisor recovering one year after Haiti truck crash

Group of 15 injured on May16, 2010 when the brakes on this truck went out, sending team into the side of a mountain. / HLG

It's a year today since a truck carrying a group of Hannibal LaGrange University students and their advisor ran into the side of a mountain during a mission trip to Haiti.

And even 12 months later, the physical and mental recovery continues.

One of those most injured that day was the group's advisor Chris Brennemann.

Chris Brennemann says she'll never forget what she calls a snapshot in time. The moment right before the crash into the side of a mountain that changed this group's lives forever.

Brennemann said, "I was looking at them; I wouldn't look up because I knew what the possibilities were."

The day began like any other during that missions trip. It was May of 2010 and the earthquake in Haiti had just devastated millions of people in the island nation.

Members of the all female Alpha Tau Beta and their advisor Chris Brennemann were piled into the back of a truck heading back from a church. With them were a few male students from HLG, recruited for the trip specifically to help with some of the heavy earthquake recovery work. In that group were two nursing students and the Haitian missionary was driving. No one knew it at that point, but all those things would play a key in the team's survival.

It was May 16, the day before they were scheduled to go home.

Brennemann said, "We had been there for a week, we had the whole team in the back of this truck. We're talking, we're laughing and having a good time."

When was it that you realized something was wrong?

Brennemann said, "It was just moments before it happened. I realized something wasn't right. We were going too fast, this is not the way it's supposed to be. Coming down the mountain the brakes went out on the truck. And there was no way to stop it, we were close to careening off the side of the cliff. I got everyone together and told them to hold on. I was trying to comfort them and we were trying to put some of the younger Haitian kids with the team."

That's when the driver had to make a tough decision - to slam the truck into the side of the mountain instead of off the cliff or brave yet another tight corner. The truck turned, flipped over and all the team managed to jump out of the way of the truck.

Brennemann said, "I went flying out the back. That's all I remember until four weeks later when I had enough consciousness to wake up in the hospital."

Brennemann said, "Most of us have no memory of being transported from the wreck site to the make-shift clinics almost an hour away."

"There's no 911 to call, and no ambulance to pick you up so you find haitians passing by and you put people in the back of their trucks. The missionaries directed them where to take people."

The earthquake was a mixed blessing for the team ... because there were makeshift clinics throughout the country from the earthquake, there were many more physicians on hand than usual ... but missionaries did have to search through the clinics to locate all members of the team. But most important was the on-site help from the Hannibal LaGrange nursing students who sprung into action ... keeping everyone alive.

Amazingly despite many of the serious head injuries to students and the trauma of being thrown from the truck, everyone survived.

Brennemann and a couple others were air-lifted to a hospital in Miami. Four weeks later ...

Brennemann said, "I remember waking up and thinking I understood it all. I asked my husband when I could start physical therapy and when I could see my kids."

It's been an uphill road to get to this day, but looking at Brennemann now you'd never know some questioned whether she'd ever walk again.

But she says her traumatic experience has changed her for the better and increased her faith that the hand of God is at work.

Brennemann said, "I'm a bit more reflective, taking more time to think back and how it happened. If you place the timing when we went, who was there and who was driving, we had nursing students and guys on the team, it was a divine interaction. If its going to happen, there laid out with all of those particulars."

To this day Brennemann says she has no smell or taste because of the brain injuries she sustained. There wasn't a mission trip planned to Haiti this year because of questionable safety in the country right now.

Brennemann says she wants to go back, but only if she can get permission from her husband and children.