OTTAWA COUNTY, Michigan — It was supposed to be a night to remember for 18-year-old Michelle Zahm.
She was driving to her friend’s farm on a September day with her newly-adopted puppy in the backseat, feeling giddy about her senior year Homecoming dance that night.
Now the night only comes back to her in snapshots, like a bad dream.
“I was thinking 'this is it, I’m dead,'" she said.
The Coopersville High School senior was involved in a car crash with a combine.
The force of the crash was so hard it knocked the front wheels off the combine and flattened her pickup truck.
She was stuck inside the overturned truck for three hours.
She remembers the pain of being trapped upside down with 13 broken bones, a lacerated liver and a ruptured spleen.
“I remember I said, 'please let me die.' Because I didn't think I was gonna make it out of there," Zahm said.
Someone from a nearby business heard the crash and held her hand while first responders worked to free her.
“I just remember hearing noise — cutting and then glass shattering, and at some point the truck started caving when they tried to get me out," she said. "I think it was the jaws of life."
Zahm was then airlifted to the hospital. She says the next few days were a blur.
“I woke up crying sometimes, I would wake up in pain," she recalls.
Mickey, her new puppy, fractured a rib and got loose during the chaos.
A group of Zahm’s friends got together after the crash to search for him. They found him in the woods nearby the crash site.
“There's so many things I was sitting there wishing I could have done, wishing I left like 10 to 15 minutes earlier, 10 to 15 minutes later, wishing I didn't bring my puppy with me. Wishing I had said 'bye love you' to my parents, just instead of saying 'I'll see you later,'" she said.
Now, Zahm needs the community’s help to move forward.
“Just a helicopter ride alone was $20,000," she explained.
Her friends created a GoFundMe to help with medical bills.
“It’s lot of stress off of the future that I'm not going into the world in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It means that I can start fresh from the accident," she said.
One thing that helped Zahm recover mentally was being around horses.
“I felt amazing. It felt like a weight lifted off my chest like I was actually going to be okay," she said.
Now, she wanted to spread the same comfort to others going through difficult times. Zahm wants to get a veterinary degree to provide her own equine therapy to those in need.
In the meantine, she's done her senior year from home in between all her doctor’s appointments.
“I'm missing all the little memories," she said.
She can’t wait to walk across that stage in her cap and gown in May, though.
“Everyone just like, 'Oh, I just want to make it to graduation and walk across stage,' but I think now it's a new meaning," she smiled.
The crash has given her a new appreciation for life.
“Even the little things like people dread doing. I don't want to say I get excited to do it, but I'm so thankful that I can stand up and do it.”
She can’t wait for the next chapter — with her sidekick, Mickey, by her side through it all.
“I think it gave me new appreciation for everything.”
You can find a link to Zahm's GoFundMe here. As of Saturday afternoon, it's raised $1,000 of its $25,000 goal.
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