Blind woman hit by a semitruck in August is recovering ‘one day at a time, one step at a time’
Tina Jinkens and her running partner, Carol Lounsbury, once covered miles together, but when they met up on a recent morning, Jinkens was hoping to walk a mile.
A year ago Jinkens, of Eudora, was training to run the Boston Marathon, the second marathon of her life. Because she’s blind, she competed as part of a team of visually impaired runners. To train for the race, the 49-year-old depended on running partners, including Lounsbury. The two would go on long runs tethered by a 12-inch string. She finished the race on April 15, with a time of 4.5 hours.
That accomplishment would soon be overshadowed by tragedy. In August, Jinkens was hit by a semitruck as she and her guide dog, Clara, were on a walk, crossing the intersection of East 14th and Church streets in Eudora.
Now, four months later, Jinkens carefully buckled a gait belt around her waist, as the two women prepared to walk laps at the Eudora Parks and Recreation Center. Lounsbury slipped a hand through the back of the belt as they began taking slow steps around the gym. This was their second walk together since the accident.
Jinkens was released from rehab in early December and is currently living in a mobile home not far from the rehab center in Baldwin City where she continues to go for outpatient physical therapy. Her parents, Marion and Bill Jinkens, from Punta Gorda, Fla., have stayed by her side since flying to Kansas after receiving news of the accident.
“There are days I wake up feeling like my body will never do what I want it to do again,” Jinkens said. But she doesn’t dwell on that thought for long. Instead, she counters that feeling with positive thoughts about how amazing it is she survived the accident.
“God is why I am alive,” said Jinkens, a deeply religious woman. Then she quickly credits the doctors at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. She also believes she was saved by a multitude of prayers from friends and strangers on social media.
“I was told a lot of people were praying,” Jinkens said.
What she remembers
Aug. 22 was a typical day for Jinkens. She had already been to daily Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Eudora and then prayed the rosary at the local nursing home with some of the residents. She remembers walking with her guide dog, but then her memory is vague.
“I remember being under the truck and thinking I just got hit,” Jinkens said. “I remember kicking something that felt like a tire, and the sensation of being dragged, and screaming.”
Her next memory was two weeks later when she woke from an induced coma.
Her pelvis had been shattered and was reconstructed with metal rods. Six plates were placed on the right side of her rib cage and three on the left side. Plates had to be added to her collarbone and right wrist. There is also a plate above and below her right eye. Those surgeries were followed by plastic surgery on her face.
One more surgery looms; her left eye may have to be removed because the eyelid is now paralyzed.
“They are trying things and hopefully they will work, and it can be avoided,” she said.
Her parents rushed to get on a plane after they received the call that their daughter had an accident. The doctor who made the call told them Tina might not make it. Then he called again just before they boarded their flight to let them know she was still alive and in intensive care.
Because Jinkens is currently involved in litigation, she and her family declined to talk any further about the details of the accident.
A life of helping others
Jinkens was born prematurely and with detached retinas, which caused her blindness. She grew up in Seneca; graduated from Benedictine College, where she studied special education; and received a master’s degree in speech therapy from the University of Kansas. Over the years she has worked at a variety of jobs, including teaching at the Kansas School for the Blind and the Sancta Maria Montessori School in Eudora.
“Then I was called to a different ministry and was doing pro-life work, church ministry and providing personal care for a person who used a wheelchair,” Jinkens said. She even walked the woman’s two dogs with the help of Clara, her black Labrador retriever.
“Now, I am receiving care,” she said.
Clara was not injured in the accident and was one of Jinkens’ many visitors at the hospital. However, she was removed from service because she was trained specifically to run.
“Clara is 4 and too old to retrain, and I can’t work with a dog until I can get faster,” Jinkens said. “She’s happy living with a friend in Linwood.”
Jinkens alternates her days going to physical therapy and meeting Lounsbury for walks around the gym. At home she walks back and forth the length of the trailer with weights on her feet for 20 minutes at a time, trying to gain back her strength.
“It’s not comfortable when I walk; I can feel it in my back and rib cage,” she said.
There is also a tingling neuropathy in her left leg. The doctor told her the nerves may regenerate, but it could take up to two years. She wears a brace on that leg. When she takes it off, her toes dangle.
“They don’t work,” Jinkens said. ” It feels like my foot is always asleep.”
Her goal, for now, is to become strong enough to return to her home in Eudora. She will do that by increasing the laps and continuing with physical therapy.
“I need to work on my gait. My balance is a little off, and that will help me build distance,” Jinkens said.
As she and Lounsbury continued on their next lap at the rec center, they talked about how important it is not to think of how many more laps were ahead of them to make a mile.
“It’s like when you do a long run, don’t think about it, because if you think too much you probably won’t do it,” Jinkens said. “Just do it, one day at a time, one step at a time.”