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Second Time Around

When Krickitt Carpenter lost her memory, her husband vowed to regain her love--and their life--for the . . .

May 23, 1996|MICHAEL HAEDERLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Krickitt Carpenter perches on her living room couch viewing the wedding videotape and frowns when she sees the bride and groom exchanging vows.

"It makes me miss her more and more, the girl in the picture," she says. "I wish I knew what she was thinking--she's just gotten married."

For Krickitt, the radiant bride and happy groom in the video are just familiar-looking strangers, shadows of people she once knew.

But the people on the videotape are Krickitt and her husband, Kim.

Shortly after their wedding in 1993, Krickitt suffered a severe head injury in a car crash. When she emerged from a monthlong coma, she no longer knew Kim, having lost all memory of the previous 18 months--including meeting and marrying her husband.

Kim stuck by her as she struggled to heal, and against all odds, they courted and fell in love again.

On Saturday, Krickitt and Kim will renew their vows in a small log chapel in the mountains of northern New Mexico. "It'll be like a first wedding, because I don't have a memory of marrying him," says Krickitt, 26, as she cuddles with her 30-year-old husband, whom she affectionately calls "Kimmer."

"I'm going to be a bawling mess when I walk down the aisle. That's when it's going to hit me, everything that's happened in the last 2 1/2 years."

*

They met over the phone in September 1992 when Krisxan "Krickitt" Pappas was a sales rep for an Anaheim sportswear company. Kim, the baseball coach at New Mexico Highlands University, called about team jackets and they struck up a phone friendship.

"By January we were probably talking five hours a week," Kim says. Visits back and forth followed, and that June Kim flew to California to propose.

They married Sept. 18, 1993, and honeymooned in Maui before settling into their new life together in this small northern New Mexico city. Kim was the university's associate athletic director and Krickitt found work in a hospital wellness program as an exercise technician.

Everything changed on Nov. 24, 1993, the day before Thanksgiving. They were driving to Phoenix to visit Krickitt's parents.

She was at the wheel; Kim, ill with a cold, dozed in the back seat; and Milan Rasic, their friend, sat in the passenger seat.

As night fell they approached the Arizona-New Mexico border on Interstate 40.

"I heard Milan say, 'Watch out!' " Kim remembers. "I heard the most blood-curdling scream out of my wife--horrible."

Krickitt swerved to avoid a slow-moving flatbed that lacked taillights; in the next instant, a pickup that had been following too closely "T-boned" the Escort on the driver's side. The car flipped several times and skidded 100 feet.

Kim suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, a concussion, a bruise on his heart muscle and had his nose and an ear almost torn off. Krickitt received a massive closed-head injury. Rasic suffered a shoulder injury.

A doctor at the Gallup, N.M., hospital gave Kim an envelope containing Krickitt's rings and watch and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Carpenter." He left the impression she would die.

Krickitt was airlifted 130 miles to the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, where her doctors warned she might remain in a vegetative state.

On Thanksgiving, Kim and his father-in-law, who had flown up, prayed for hours in the hospital chapel as the swelling in Krickitt's brain slowly decreased and her dangerously low blood pressure stabilized.

Ten days after the accident she went to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix for rehabilitation.

Emerging from her coma around Christmas, Krickitt was as helpless as a newborn. She needed to be fed, diapered and bathed. The 5-foot-2 former college gymnast, who'd once performed back flips on a balance beam, had to learn to walk again.

"It was sad to see her in this condition," Kim says. But there was worse news.

When quizzed by a nurse, Krickitt knew she was in Phoenix--although she thought it was 1969 and Nixon was the president. She also knew who her parents were.

"Then the nurse asked, 'Who's your husband?' " Kim says. "She said, 'I'm not married.' I was devastated--I was crushed, I was hurt so bad. I remember I hit my hand on the wall."

Doctors determined that while Krickitt's head injury had left most of her long-term memory intact, her memory of the months before the crash had been wiped out.

*

Kim, who'd been living with his in-laws, returned to work. He'd drive the team to a road game, then fly to Phoenix. Kim survived the grueling schedule on sheer determination.

"I made a vow before God--'Until death do you part,' " he says.

Meanwhile, Krickitt struggled to make sense of the wedding ring on her finger and the man who said he was her husband. Until she found where her skull had been dented in the crash.

"I can remember looking in my bedroom mirror and thinking, 'Hmmm, this accident really did happen to me,' " she says. "I accepted this accident did happen, and I'm married, but I don't know this person who's my husband."

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