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'Miracles really do happen': Two families recovering after wrong-way I-40 driver smashes their minivan

A mom and four teenagers beat the odds, now recovering two weeks after the horrific wrong-way crash left them with a long list of injuries.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Koontz and East families are now on the road to recovery, two weeks after a truck driver speeding the wrong way on I-40 in Greensboro crashed head-on into their minivan, leaving them alive but with a long list of injuries, including a ruptured aorta, 11 days on a ventilator, and broken bones.

Now, thousands of people - family, friends, and strangers - from around the country are joining their recovery effort, including raising money through T-shirt sales and Go-Fund-Me pages.

Mom Elaina Koontz from Lexington was driving the family's minivan, heading home in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 30. The passengers were her daughter and two family friends visiting from Mississippi, Hutson East, age 13, and Grayson East, age 15. 

A 59-year-old man was driving his truck the wrong way on I-40, and slammed head-on into the family's car, according to the Greensboro Police Department. The truck driver died on the scene. Police have not released the reason he was driving the wrong way.

Elaina, her daughter, Hutson, and Grayson were all transported for emergency medical treatment.

'Miracles really do happen'

"I got a call about 1 o'clock Sunday morning," said Cogan East, the older brother of Hutson and Grayson. "There was just a lot of noise over the phone. I heard there was a wreck, but didn't know if they were alive."

Hutson suffered from bruises, an intestinal tear, a fractured vertebrae, and worst of all, a ruptured aorta, Cogan said.

"It was hanging on by a thread," said Cogan. "One nurse said 97% of people die from the heart surgery he had."

Grayson sustained broken bones all over his body, including his pelvis and collarbone.

After surgeries and intensive medical care, Cogan said the missionary family is now temporarily living in a home near Greensboro while the boys recover, until they are well enough to return home to McComb, Mississippi.

"Right now, they have a temporary home somebody is allowing them to stay in, but it's not furnished, so basically they are having to start from scratch with everything, and so they need household items right now," said Cogan. "Chest of drawers, nightstand, basically anything you would need to live in a house is what they would need."

The Easts are a missionary family, supported in part by Old Paths Independent Baptist Church, Meridian, Mississippi. The pastor, Greg Mangum, has created T-shirts for sale to support their recovery. They include the messages #EastKoontzStrong and #ButGod. You can buy a T-shirt by messaging them on their Facebook page.

"This could have been accident in which 4 other lives were lost, but God stepped in the middle of it, and he was the first one on the scene. So I got this idea, I wanted to design a T-shirt that said #ButGod," said Mangum.

While the family is in need of donations, Cogan said they are in good spirits despite the long road to recovery ahead. 

"Miracles really do happen. You look at the car wreck pictures, and I do not know how anybody could say there isn't a God," said Cogan.

Mother now off ventilator, regaining mobility

WFMY News 2 spoke with pastor Jason Koontz, a father and husband to the family members in the minivan on that fateful late night. On Sunday, he was with his wife at Moses Cone Hospital supporting her in the recovery.

"Recovery is going well. Slow but sure. She was on the ventilator for 11 days. And so it's taken several days to regain her voice back. Working with physical therapy and occupational therapy, it's taken time to get her mobility back," Jason said.

RELATED: 1 dead, 4 injured in wrong-way crash on I-40 in Greensboro

Elaina Koontz suffered from a liver laceration, punctured stomach, deflated lung, broken collarbone, and broken leg, Jason said.

While most of her injuries are healing well, her leg has some of the most extensive damage and will take months to fully heal. Jason said he hopes she will be able to leave the hospital within a week.

"She's got to wear a leg brace, non-weight bearing for 5 weeks. She's got to carry that thing around, try to learn how to maneuver, but the injuries are recoverable, and we are grateful for that," said Jason.

His daughter is already back at home recovery, using crutches to get around.

Jason said he is leaning on his faith and using the family's tragedy to strengthen his relationship with Christ. He has also begun posting video devotionals on his Facebook page.

"Someone said a while back, I don't know how you're making it. Well God has given us specific grace for this time period. Anyone who follows close to Christ can make it, I am no one special," said Jason.

He said he is incredibly grateful for the care his family has received at Moses Cone Hospital, and he is now extra vigilant when on the road.


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