Survivor stories: Paula Coulter

Paula Coulter has had more than 40 surgeries since being injured in the bridge collapse. Here's her story.

MINNEAPOLIS - On Aug. 1, 2007 the heavily-used Interstate 35W bridge collapsed, sending concrete and rebar, vehicles and the people inside them plunging into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people lost their lives and 145 were injured, some of them critically.

On the 10-year anniversary of this life-changing event, KARE 11 is checking in with some of those whose lives changed forever that day. We asked each of them three questions.

Here are the answers, in their own words.

Paula Coulter

Where were you?

Our family was on the bridge that day to meet my sisters and their families in Roseville at Joe Senser’s for a beer and a burger. I remember getting in the car, some of the drive, but there’s a point where I just must have dozed off. I don’t remember then until the middle of September. I didn’t have a clue how much time had passed, thought it was a couple days. I don’t remember any of it.

We rolled. Our van fell on the riverbank on the north side and so we coasted with the bridge then flipped and landed on the hood of the van. It was at that point Brad and the girls got out of the van. Brandi knew something was wrong, that I wasn’t going to move or get out because there was more wrong with me.

I was hanging in the car, in my seatbelt, upside down. They were able to get me out of the van on a big piece of plywood and took me to the triage area.

How did it affect you?

I suffered a brain injury. I probably have had 40-45 surgeries in the last 10 years. For the most part I feel that I’m a healthy person. I can’t run anymore. We’re a close family to begin with, and I think it has brought us closer. We understand and appreciate how easy it is to lose somebody and how much something like this can cause change.

Until you lose something, you don’t know you even had it. You don’t realize how easy it is to walk. Or get out of your car. Or not to even worry about anything. Now for me, all those things are different, because I can’t do them without thinking about balance issues.

As for post-traumatic stuff, we are lucky. We moved forward, and I empathize for the people deal with that more, because I can’t imagine how overwhelming that’s got to be, that it’s a mental and physical deal to recover from.

Where are you now? (physically and emotionally)

We opened a bridal store, Effie’s Bridal Trunk in Burnsville, Minnesota. We are in our fourth year. It’s an opportunity we were able to do that had the accident not happened, we would not have even considered it.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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