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Woman Can’t Remember Events That Almost Killed Her

February 2, 1985

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Teri Williams went out for a pack of cigarettes Dec. 23. She woke up 13 days later in a hospital bed, lucky to be alive.

The 40-year-old musician can’t remember what happened to her, and doctors say she probably never will.

Police found Ms. Williams nine hours after she left the apartment she shares with one of her two daughters. She was slumped unconscious against a power pole about a mile away, unsheltered from the numbing cold.

She suffered from severe hypothermia and internal injuries, but ″did not have a single external mark on her body,″ said Dr. Gary Mundy, director of emergency medical services at Mount Hood Medical Center in suburban Gresham.

The internal injuries were consistent with a precise beating with a blunt object, most likely a fist, he said.

″It’s just incredible that she survived,″ Mundy said. ″Certainly there have been people revived with colder body temperatures, but there is nobody in American medical literature that cold with so many injuries who has survived.″

Survive she did. After three operations, Ms. Williams is now recuperating at home, cheerful and confident while trying to figure how pay hospital bills that mounted to more than $50,000.

Police can’t explain what happened to her.

Mundy was the first physician to treat Ms. Williams after paramedics brought her to the hospital, unconscious and without a pulse. Her blood had cooled to a core temperature of 72 degrees and into a ″sludge,″ sparing her from certain death from internal bleeding, he said.

As Ms. Williams’ body temperature gradually increased and her pulse gained strength, doctors discovered she was bleeding internally from a ruptured spleen, lacerated liver and bruised small bowel.

As soon as her temperature reached between 80 and 85 degrees, she was taken into surgery. Her spleen was removed.

A week later, damage from hypothermia forced another operation to remove her pancreas and adrenal glands. That surgery made Ms. Williams a diabetic, and she will have to rely on insulin injections for the rest of her life.

A third operation was necessary when Ms. Williams suffered a high fever and rapid heartbeat. Doctors could not find a specific cause, but treatment with steroids immediately improved her condition.

Thirteen days after she walked out her front door, Teri Williams woke up.

″I didn’t realize I had three operations until it was all over and they told me,″ she said in an interview at her home last week.

She said she remembers bits and pieces of her hospital stay but nothing else after she left the apartment.

″I had a lot of hallucinations during surgery, like these terrible images of battling demons, but I guess it was just from fighting to stay alive,″ Ms. Williams said.

Hypothermia ″is far and away the most likely cause of her amnesia,″ said Mundy.

Investigators have no suspect nor any motive that might have prompted an attack on Ms. Williams, said Gresham police Sgt. Kent Leary. She could ″easily have become a homicide victim,″ he said.

″You can’t kill me off that easy,″ Ms. Williams said. ″I love life and I’ve got a lot of living to do yet.″

Ms. Williams said she doesn’t know of anybody who would try to harm her. She has worked as a singer and part-time drummer most of her life, along with occasional waitress jobs, and had been singing jazz and blues at Portland nightclubs at the time of her injury.

″I’ve got a lot of friends,″ she said.

But now she needs more than friends.

Her itemized hospital bill, not including physicians’ and paramedics’ fees, came to $51,512.96.

She said she has no insurance, and the state Adult and Family Services Division will pay only for medical expenses incurred after her hospital release.

She has been selling her few possessions and surviving with friends’ help. ″It will turn out all right in the end,″ she said.

Ms. Williams faces a long recovery, but Mundy said her long-term physical outlook is ″excellent.″

As for the cigarettes she went out to buy on Dec. 23?

Ms. Williams said she had planned to give up smoking as a New Year’s resolution. Now she has.

″It’s a hard way to quit smoking,″ she said.

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