A hero honored
As Newton mayor Richard Stinnett opened the Sand Creek Summer Daze festival in Athletic Park talking about Newton residents who do amazing things, he spoke about "heroes who walk among us" every day.
Next to him was Kristy Hermstein, sitting in her wheelchair. One of those amazing heroes Stinnett was talking about. She sat stoic, thinking about the night that changed her life that had led to this moment — honored as the "Hero of the Year" during the opening of the festival.
Hermstein was taken to a Wichita hospital in critical condition after an incident in Newton in which she nearly lost her life while serving as a good Samaritan. Then 40, Hermstein was placed in intensive care and her legs had amputated below the knee after trying to help another motorist.
"This is a great honor, but I am not a hero," Hermstein said. "I was just doing what I would want someone to do for me, you know. It was the right thing to do."
The crash happened at 10 p.m. Feb. 20, 2020, on S. Kansas Avenue south of US-50 highway. A vehicle was getting off on US-50, the driver heading to the hospital for a medical condition, when the driver lost control and struck a power pole, causing power lines across the highway to droop.
"I saw a car go over the dotted line and go directly into a power pole," Hermstein said. "That caused a lot of us to stop because you had live wires across [the road]. .... He hit the power pole straight on. ... I got out to make sure he did not need medical attention."
She and her husband, Jeremy Crites, also went to check on the driver. Her husband made it to the crashed car, but she did not.
She was about "halfway" to the crashed car when "something just did not feel right" and she tried to head back to her car. That's when her life would change forever.
A semi drove past eastbound on US-50, getting caught in the power lines above the highway. The lines snagged on the semi, broke, whiplashed and hit Hermstein outside her car.
"I hit the ground and slid," Hermstein said. "I could see my leg over by the front wheel. I knew I was in trouble."
She still has a scar on her forehead from sliding on the pavement, and struggles to talk about how in that moment — seeing her leg no longer attached to her body — that she knew she was bleeding profusely and losing a lot of blood. She could feel that blood leaving her body with every heartbeat.
She was convinced she would die.
"I knew that I needed help bad," Hermstein said.
But a member of the Newton Police Department, [ANDErSON] arrived on scene and applied tournoquets. First responders went to work to stablize Hermstein and get her to a hospital.
"He is my hero," Hermstein said. "I have never met the man. Brad Anderson, with the Newton Police Department. He was the first one on the scene. He put torunouquets on my legs to keep me from bleeding out. I still have not thanked him."
At 10:20 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2020, Newton Police were dispatched to an accident in the 1600 block of South Kansas. Officer Brad Anderson was leaving a call at Newton Medical Center and arrived within minutes — key to the survival for Hermstein.
When he arrived, Anderson saw power lines down across South Kansas. He met Crites, who directed him to Hermstein. Anderson applied tourniquets to both of her legs to stop the bleeding. Newton Fire/EMS arrived a short time later and transported the her to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.
Hermstein is a mother of two and was employed at Asbury Park at the time of her accident. She is no longer employed.
"I am staying home and working on me, working on my mond and body. This has been a big adjustment, not only for me, but my family," Hermstein said.
She and her family have moved since the accident — when the accident occurred they were living with her parents.
However, her parents' home is not wheelchair friendly.
"Their house is not accommodating," Hermstein said. "I did not have money to help them remodel. In the future I hope to help them remodel their home so I can access their home. That will be in time."
After the accident a gofundme account was started, with donations of more than $19,000 listed. That fund-raiser was created to help with her medical expenses, and has been paused.
She has a set of prothetic legs, and is relearning how to walk. In the near future, a new set of legs will be created — a set with flexible knees and ankles.
Recovery is a long process.
"It is a slow process," Hermstein said. "Not only am I still healing, it is different feelings and sensations that I have to get used too. I walked for 39 years, and it is all gone in one day. I have had to learn how to do a lot of things. Get up and down in bed ... it has been tough."