WARNING: Details in this story may be distressing for some readers.
Katie Potts never expected her journey home from a camping trip last summer would end with her waking up lying on grass, confused, bleeding and afraid.
She had fallen asleep in the passenger seat as she and her boyfriend drove to Maple Ridge, B.C., on July 11, 2021, after camping near 100 Mile House, about 400 kilometres away.
Unbeknownst to her, her boyfriend had drifted off behind the wheel, sending the car off the road near Larson Hill on the Coquihalla Highway.
Potts was thrown from the vehicle and severely injured: her back was fractured, she lost three fingers, and her leg was severed. Despite an extensive search of the area around the crash, Potts said her leg was never found.
Because of the shock, she doesn’t remember much about the incident, but she does remember the couple who stopped to help.
Her boyfriend had carried her to the road, where he tried to flag someone down for help. A couple of cars whizzed by until someone finally stopped.
Potts believes the couple that pulled over and the aid they rendered saved her life, but until now, she didn’t know who they were or how to thank them.
After an interview on CBC’s Radio West last week about Potts wanting to find the people who helped her, her rescuers came forward.
‘We gotta take care of this girl’
Marilyn Thomas said she and her husband Jarrod, who were travelling from their home in Salmon Arm to Vancouver, pulled over when they saw smoke billowing on the side of the highway.
“It was horrific,” Thomas told CBC News. “You just say, ‘OK, we gotta take care of this girl, you know? There’s somebody who’s in need right now.’ You just do what you need to do.”
They called 911 and used cord from a hoodie as a tourniquet for Potts’ severed leg. She had been trying to put pressure on it, just above the knee, but she was losing blood fast.
Paramedics arrived within about 30 minutes and took over.
The vehicle Potts had been in was reduced to scrap metal in the crash, and Thomas said if Potts hadn’t been ejected, she likely wouldn’t have made it.
“If she wasn’t thrown from the vehicle, there’s no way that she’d be here.”
After paramedics arrived to take over caring for Potts from the couple, the Maple Ridge woman was airlifted to a hospital in the Lower Mainland.
Thomas had no idea who Potts was or if she would be all right and said she wasn’t sure she’d ever know what happened to the young woman on the side of the road.
“We have been thinking about her, and we haven’t forgotten about her,” she said.
‘You’re my guardian angel’
The pair were reunited by phone on CBC’s Radio West on Monday but hope to meet in person this summer.
“I am so, so grateful that I finally get to hear her voice again,” Potts said. “I was able to turn 21 because you pulled over. You’re my guardian angel.”
Thomas, who has three adult children of her own, said more people need to do what they did.
“People need to stop being in such a hurry. And they need to start helping people in need.”
Radio West16:45Katie Potts is reunited with Marilyn Thomas, the woman who helped save her life after a horrific crash on the Coquihalla one year ago
Thomas says she’ll always be connected to Potts.
“I don’t feel like a guardian angel, but I’m glad that we were there for you that day because you’re here. I feel like you’re special to me, and … we have a special bond,” she told Potts during the on-air interview at CBC.
Potts is now waiting on one more surgery on her hand and then a prosthetic for the part of her hand that was severed.
She already has a prosthetic for her leg and has relearned how to walk. She hopes to get back to her job at Save-On-Foods soon.
Her mother, Debbie Herd, said Potts has remained positive through her recovery.
“Her resilience is great,” Herd said.
Potts said she’ll never forget the act of kindness from two strangers that saved her life.
“I’m alive because of them,” she said. “They did such a big thing for me, and I want them to know that I’m never going to forget something like that.”