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She survived a horrific crash. This is why she now keeps a blanket in her trunk

Laura Carstensen survived a horrific crash 50 years ago.
Lisa DeNeffe Photography
Laura Carstensen survived a horrific crash 50 years ago.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

When she was 21 years old, Laura Carstensen went to a concert with some co-workers. After the show, they all piled into different cars for the ride home.

Carstensen ended up in a van driven by a young man she didn't know very well, and it soon became clear that he was intoxicated. As they drove down the country road back to town, he weaved back and forth across the lanes.

"I was asking him to slow down, and I remember putting my arm out on the dashboard to kind of brace," Carstensen recalled of the night 50 years ago. "And then the next thing I remembered, I was laying on the side of the road outside of the van."

The driver had veered off the road. As the van rolled down an embankment, Carstensen had tumbled out of a window. The good news was that she was near the road. The bad news was that she was badly injured.

"I must have been a fright. There would be so much blood because of all the breaks and the severing of my femur," Carstensen said.

After a little while, a semi truck pulled up near Carstensen. Two men got out and came over to ask her if they could help. She told them she was cold. They went back to the truck and got a blanket for her.

"I'm sure I was in shock," Carstensen said. "I was just shaking and they came over and laid a blanket down on me, and I remember thinking at the time, 'Oh, you're going to ruin your blanket, because you'll get blood on it.'"

The men reassured her that it didn't matter if blood got on the blanket.

After the crash, Carstensen spent months in the hospital, recovering from injuries that included more than 20 broken bones. Today, she's grateful to have survived, and that she was able to walk again. And she's still moved by the kindness the truckers showed her when they stopped to help her that night.

"I guess what I was touched by was, my being cold was the least of my troubles, but they cared enough to try to help that short-term challenge that I was facing at the moment," Carstensen remembered. "It was a gentle gesture. And I've always kept a blanket in my trunk ever since then, just in case."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Autumn Barnes