“Now that I’m doing so well, I know it’s got to be a miracle. It’s got to be God and it’s got to be all of those prayers that people have sent me,” Lyn Estes Dukes said.
The 69-year-old retired educator said her life changed in the blink of an eye on Aug. 17 during her routine morning walk.
She doesn’t remember it.
She doesn’t remember when the vehicle struck her, the blow leaving her bleeding in the front yard of an Autumn Street home.
Her T-shirt was torn and covered in blood.
Part of her T-shirt was found in the cracked windshield of a vehicle, which Orangeburg Department of Public Safety officers allege was driven by Roger Oneal Haynes, 57, of 1360 Wingate St.
She doesn’t remember lying with tire marks on her back in the front yard grass of that Autumn Street home.
And she doesn’t remember being conscious long enough to tell emergency responders her name and address.
One month after enduring bleeding on her brain, broken ribs and bruised lungs, Dukes is thankful to be back home in Orangeburg.
“When I knew how bad I was, I know it must be a miracle that God kept me here. There must be some reason that I’m here to do something else. I pray and thank God that I’m here and I ask for help. It’s just amazing to me,” Dukes said.
“How else am I here? It has to be God,” she added.
Dukes said her first memory after the accident was waking up in a Columbia hospital on Aug. 29. She was in disbelief about what happened.
“When they told me what had happened, I looked down at my hands. My fingernails were longer than they’d ever been before. So I said, ‘Well, something must have happened,’” she said.
Within a week after Dukes’ accident, two of her longtime friends -- Carma Inabinet Livingston and Ann Shuler – worked as a team to relay daily updates about her progress on a Facebook page created for a large network of friends, family and members of the faith community.
On Day 10 after the accident, Livingston wrote: “Lyn continues to improve and is using a whiteboard for basic communication. We pray on.”
Day 12 showed more steps toward improvement.
Livingston wrote, “Lyn is being weaned off supplemental breathing. She was sitting in a chair again today. Ann said she smiled a few times, an encouraging sign. Progress. The prayer watch continues.”
Two days later, “Today, when the nurse asked Lyn if she recognized Ann Shuler, she shook her head ‘yes.’ When asked to tell the nurse who Ann was, Lyn was about to get a breathy ‘A’ sound out. The nurse said this was the first time that Lyn attempted to speak for her. Moving forward! We affirm the healing taking place within Lyn,” Livingston wrote.
By Sept. 5, Dukes was trying to walk.
“Moving right along! Lyn took some steps today with a walker! Her speech is much better. Her nephew, Dr. Jim Estes, says that she is about a week ahead of where expected. The treatment team will be meeting with her tomorrow to set goals and take a look at rehab options. You go, girl! We rejoice with each improvement and remain prayerful,” Livingston wrote.
After three weeks, medical providers removed the tracheotomy they’d inserted.
It was around this time that Dukes remembers having her first laugh since being hospitalized.
When she learned that a helicopter transported her from the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg to Palmetto Health Richland, she said, “Helicopter? I rode in a helicopter and I didn’t even know it. That was the first joke I remember thinking about.”
Dukes moved from the critical care unit of Palmetto Health Richland and received physical and occupational rehabilitation treatment at Palmetto Health Baptist.
On Sept. 11, Dukes was well enough to transfer to a rehabilitation facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Just a week later, Livingston wrote, “Lyn is coming home! Possibly tomorrow.”
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And after 34 days of being away from her beloved Orangeburg, Dukes returned home.
She’s able to walk on her own now.
Dukes said she’s undergoing additional therapy to assist in her recovery.
“It’s kind of concerning to me. That’s been kind of an overwhelming idea that you can lose everything and for that long a period of time. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around that. It has been a challenge and I’m not finished yet,” she said.
“To find that I lost a month, that was just overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it,” she added.
She said her main concern while in the hospital and rehabilitation was returning to Orangeburg so she could continue to care for her 103-year-old mother and their 15-year-old cat, Beatrice Bull.
Dukes said she has to have a “supervisor” of her own now, after having long been an independent person.
For the time being, she’s not allowed to drive until she gets medical clearance.
In addition, she’s not allowed to cook without adult supervision.
“Everybody’s been wonderful to me,” she said.
And the retired teacher who’s spent decades preparing lessons for thousands of students in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties has become a student.
“It’s definitely different to have to go to from being the teacher to the student,” she said.
“I hope everybody gets from this that they should live each second as if it were their last because it could’ve been my last and I wouldn’t have known it,” she said.
“It just happened so fast. I don’t remember anything. But if you live each second as if it could be your last and do the best you can be and be the best you can be and be kind to other people, that’s the lesson I learned,” she said.
Dukes taught for 20 years at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School with an average of 300 students each semester.
She then worked for decades in the Calhoun County School District as principal at John Ford Middle School and Guinyard Elementary before retiring as associate superintendent.
Haynes is facing multiple charges: hit-and-run resulting in great bodily injury, second-offense driving under suspension and failure to maintain proof of insurance. Haynes is at the Orangeburg County Detention Center on a $251,000 bond.
Dukes said she plans to follow his court appearances and hearings.
“I’m sorry that it happened to him. I’m sorry he made his decisions. I’m sorry he’s in trouble. I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it,” Dukes said.
Dukes said she’s thankful for the prayers she’s received.
She’s thankful for her nephew, Dr. Jim Estes, who provided medical guidance and research.
She calls him her hero.
She’s thankful for her fiancé David Hayden and for long-time friends like Shuler, Livingston and scores of others.
She’s thankful to be at home with her mother, Katherine “Kay” Hughes.
She’s thankful for every second.
And she remembers to make every second count as though it were her last.