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The Doctor Who Nearly Became A Car Crash Patient

Tuesday, May 25th , 2021

From  Dr Joanna Ines used to tend to car crash victims. One morning, she almost became one herself.

For Dr Joanna Ines, an obstetrician-gynecologist in training at Manila’s Chinese General Hospital, taking the same route to work for three years made the journey seem almost automatic. Then one Monday in July, that all changed. That day, the journey to work started like any other. She left her hometown of Concepcion, in the Tarlac province, heading for the city. She had a busy schedule of operations to perform. It was 4.20am and the roads were dark and quiet. Her two Shih Tzus who frequently accompanied her on her trips to Manila snoozed softly beside her in the passenger seat of her Subaru XV. The car was a gift from her parents three years before, to celebrate her passing her medical board exams.

Driving towards the Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway toll gate, she battled a wave of fatigue. The stress of long working hours during the pandemic had taken its toll — as it has on many medical workers around the world — but it was a route she knew like the back of her hand. She was trailing a delivery truck as it made a right turn onto the highway.

Then everything went blank.

Life-saving restraints
“I don’t remember the moment my car crashed,” she says, describing the moment she regained consciousness and found that her car had smashed into the truck in front of her. “I woke up to see crumpling metal and the airbags popping out towards me,” she recounts.

One sensation, however, did stand out. “The first thing I felt were the seatbelts pulling me back,” says Joanna. Of course, the seatbelts played an important role in her survival. Arguably one of a car’s most important safety features, seatbelts cut the risk of death during car accidents for passengers in the front seats by up to half, according to the World Health Organization’s global road safety report. In a Subaru, additional safety features include pretensioners, which tighten seatbelts instantly during a collision and hold passengers more securely and firmly in their seats. In this case her seatbelt had held her so securely she hadn’t even touched the front and knee airbags, which had deployed automatically during the crash. Fortunately, the airbags did provide critical cushioning that helped keep her two dogs safe.

Walking away unscathed
It took Joanna a full minute after the crash before she could look down at her legs to check if they were injured. “I was shocked,” she says. Not only were Joanna’s legs fine — she wasn’t hurt at all. Her experience treating car accident patients at the University of Santos Tomas as an intern doctor had prepared her for the worst. A torrent of what-ifs flooded her mind. “I thought ‘what if I lost my leg? My life? What if I had to leave my practice because of my injuries?’” she says. But the safety features in her XV prevented these potential tragedies turning into reality.

Crucially, the car’s horizontally-opposed Boxer engine — a feature unique to Subaru cars — slid under the floor as it was designed to during the crash, keeping Joanna’s legs from being crushed, an outcome which is not uncommon in frontal collisions owing to the transmission pushing into the cabin.

Meanwhile, the auto-retracting safety pedals protected Joanna’s ankles and feet, allowing the 29-year-old to resume work the following day as if nothing had happened, to the surprise of her colleagues. “I might have lost my legs if I had been driving another car,” she muses.

"I might have lost my legs if I had been driving another car."

It didn’t take long for Joanna’s parents to get to the scene of the accident, which was just four kilometers from her home. The sight of her mother arriving in tears and rushing to the crumpled car is something Joanna finds hard to forget. “She thought I hadn’t managed to get out of the car since there was a lot of smoke,” explains Joanna. “She thought I had died.”

Joanna and her parents are grateful that her car protected her in what was a “life-changing experience.” While she had to scrap the XV, Joanna is now eyeing the newer model. “That’s how grateful I am that it kept me alive,” she laughs. The accident has taught her to be more alert on the road, both for herself and for other drivers.

“When you’re driving,” Joanna observes, “it’s not just about your own safety. It’s also about the safety of others.”