BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) – A teenager who was critically injured in a car crash last month got to meet one of the heroes who helped save her life.
Autumn Gifford was in the crash the day after her 18th birthday. She was a passenger in a car that lost control and rolled over on Interstate 25 near Erie. Gifford was pinned under the car. Her parents were told she might not survive.
The driver of the vehicle was allegedly under the influence.
Boulder firefighter Lt. Brian Eckelkamp was on his way to work when he witnessed the crash and stopped to help. He got Gifford out from under the car and performed CPR.
“It was a team effort. I was first on scene. A CSP trooper stopped, another off-duty firefighter stopped. Felt like a team I am used to working with on a daily basis,” he said. “I’ve been a firefighter 30 years total. We almost never get to follow up with patients. Once we put them in the ambulance or drop them at the hospital, that’s usually the end for me. There was something different that morning. I opened up eyes to check her pupils. I just knew when I saw life come back to that one eye, I just really hit me, I knew this was going to be the result, I really felt that.”
Gifford spent a month in the hospital fighting for her life. She has made a miraculous recovery.
Her mother, Brandy Gifford said, “Toward the end, she was making progress so fast, we had doctors from the ICU coming over, specialists saying I need to see it for my own eyes.”
Step-father Nikk Attencio said, “We both knew already she’s a fighter. She had to prove to the rest of the world what a fighter she was.”
Gifford has nerve damage in an arm that is expected to take 6-12 months to heal.
“It’s just getting strong every day and working in therapy. I feel a lot better. I’m thankful to still be here,” she said.
When Gifford was released from the hospital, she got to meet Eckelkamp for the first time.
“It was scary waking up and hearing I was in an accident and everything. I have no memory of anything. It was crazy. When I was waking up and coming back, my mom was showing me the GoFundMe and everyone supporting me and told me about Brian and everything. It was super heartwarming hearing about that,” she said.
Eckelkamp followed Gifford’s progress and told her, “When I got those photos of you walking through the hospital, giving the peace sign lying in bed, that was a good day.” He continued, “The whole thing’s been a real miracle for me. She’s just really beaten the odds. I knew it was going to happen. I am truly amazed.”
Gifford says she wants to share her story of survival with other teenagers to warn them about the dangers of drinking and driving or getting into a car with an impaired driver.
“I think it would be cool to tell kids my age about it because it’s a lot more common. I feel like for my friends, you don’t think it’s going to happen until it does. You think just one drink is fine until you’re on the side of the road, fighting for your life,” she said.