The young couple fell asleep on the beach looking at the stars over Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.
Tia Bostic woke up a short time later in a daze with broken ribs and a lacerated spleen, wondering why part of a car was lying on the sand nearby. Her boyfriend, Nathan Fry, was unconscious and would spend the next two months in intensive care at MUSC Health with broken bones and a brain injury. They’re sharing their story as the Medical University of South Carolina gets ready to mark Trauma Survivors Day on May 9. The on-campus event, organized by the MUSC Health Trauma Survivors Network, is open to the public.
Bostic remembers what happened more clearly than Fry, whose memory was affected by the injuries he suffered that night. “On October 27th of last year, Nathan and I went on a date to the Boone Hall Fright Night. When we finished there, we had planned to go back to my house and watch ‘Stranger Things,’ which is a show on Netflix,” Bostic says. But it was a beautiful night in the Lowcountry. The beach beckoned, Bostic says. “We had the idea to go look at the stars since it was really nice outside. We really like the spot on Sullivan’s Island where the lighthouse is.”
They got there around ten o’clock, put a blanket on the sand and relaxed. It was quiet, beautiful, and, they believed, safe. Sullivan’s Island has million-dollar homes, little crime and a beach where motorized vehicles are banned. First Fry drifted off to sleep, then Bostic. She’d set her phone alarm for midnight.
But that wasn’t what woke her up. She was shocked into alertness by searing pain and the realization that something terrible had happened. She was no longer on the blanket but instead lying on the sand on her side. “There was a piece of a car next to my foot, and I began to get scared because I was by myself,” Bostic remembers. “I felt like I had been beaten up by somebody. So my first thought was a group of guys had maybe come by and beat up Nathan and me and took his money and run off.” She wouldn’t learn until later that they’d actually been hit or run over by a car driving across the sand in the dark.
The Florida man accused of being behind the wheel said he thought he’d hit some driftwood, according to police. They arrested him that night. Bostic spotted Fry a few yards away from her, lying on his stomach in the sand. “I tried to call out to him and wake him up, but he wasn’t moving at all. I was in a ton of pain, so I had to pull myself over to him. I tried shaking him awake. He still wasn’t waking up. And then I moved over to where I could see his face, and his face was all battered and his shirt had cuts in it and he was gasping for air.”
Horrified, Bostic found her phone and called 911. “They were there within a few minutes. They took Nathan to MUSC and then came back and got me.” While Bostic was badly hurt with broken bones, a spleen injury, cuts and bruises, Fry’s injuries were far worse, she says. “He had broken all of the ribs on his left side and some on his right. He had a brain injury, which I didn’t find out about till later. He also sand in his lungs. They had him on a ventilator. He was in very serious condition.”
MUSC Health, where both Bostic and Fry were taken, has the only Level 1 trauma center in the Charleston area. That means it’s staffed 24/7 with a team that’s ready to respond to life- and limb-threatening emergencies.
Surgeon Stephen Fann says that’s crucial in cases where every minute matters. “No patient ever anticipates becoming a trauma victim, so we as a health care system must remain ready to respond and care for our patients.”
Bostic, an elementary school teacher, was released from the hospital after 4 days. Her school gave her two months off to recover. She spent much of that time in the hospital visiting Fry, whose parents were also by his side for weeks in intensive care. That’s when the reality of what a brain injury can do set in.
According to the Brain Injury Association of America, there’s a range of possibilities depending on how badly the brain tissue was hurt. It can lead to a loss of consciousness, breathing problems and issues with motor functions, among other things. Fry doesn’t remember most of the two months he spent at MUSC Health, but Bostic does.
“The doctors and nurses were fantastic. They were all very informative and helpful. They’d sit with us, probably more than they needed to, just answering questions for us.” Fry was moved to a rehabilitation center in Atlanta, then outpatient therapy in Greenville, where his parents live. As his body, healed his mind did as well, he says. His short-term memory loss eased. “When the injury first happened, I couldn’t remember from one hour to the next. It’s a lot better now.”
The normally healthy young man also dealt with the strangeness of being a trauma patient. “That was weird to me for a while. I was like, here I am going through recovery from a really terrible accident and everyone around me is living their life like normal. It’s a big thing happening, a life-altering event, but nobody around me notices at all. They don’t know. How would they?”
These days, Fry is back at work in Charleston, where he’s an electronics engineer for the Navy. He and Bostic are engaged to be married and want to use their experience to help others through the MUSC Health Trauma Survivors Network.
“Any way we can interact with either the patients or the patients’ families, people in the ICU,” Fry says. “We know that they really need it. We’re going to share our testimony and what happened to us. Maybe we can share that with people who are currently in a really tough situation. Just encourage them any way we can.” The couple may also try to deliver food to families on Sundays and supply them with comfort items such as blankets and pillows. As for the man accused of running into or over them, Bostic and Fry will be involved with his court case but are not bitter. “We’re trying to be as forgiving as possible,” Fry says.
“During the recovery process I decided not to think of him and focus on recovery and getting better. We’d like to be as forgiving as possible toward him. I don’t know how we’ll react when we see him in court.”