Thanksgiving looked different for Fay Harris last year.

Harris, 62, wasn't able to prepare the side dishes to go with her husband's fried turkey because she was confined to a wheelchair. Instead, their 29-year-old twin daughters made the green bean casserole and sweet potato crunch. They didn't have extended family over, instead opting for a more intimate gathering in their Butte La Rose home. Things were different, but Harris was certainly thankful.

A month earlier, a crane had fallen onto her vehicle as she drove through a construction zone on Interstate 10 in Henderson.

"In my peripheral vision, I saw this black object coming down," Harris said. "And other than that, the only thing I really remember about the accident that day — I'm very claustrophobic, and everything was pinned against me — I remember thinking, 'I've got to get out of here.' "

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A construction crane fell on a vehicle at the end of the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge in St. Martin Parish Tuesday morning (image via Louisiana State Police). 

First responders cut Harris from the crushed SUV on that September morning, and she was airlifted to Lafayette General Medical Center. She would stay in the hospital for 17 days and undergo five surgeries to treat internal bleeding and broken bones in her legs. She would eventually learn to walk again with the help of physical therapy, which she continues more than a year after the bizarre wreck.

Harris had the opportunity last week to thank almost every person who has helped her recover.

With the help of a cane, Harris walked across the stage at the Healthcare Heroes of Acadiana Awards Gala to thank dozens of people individually.

Among them were the six St. Martin Parish firefighters who removed her from the vehicle, four paramedics with Acadian Air Med who got her to the hospital and 65 medical professionals who treated her at Lafayette General. 

Each of the 76 people received a hero medal.

"It was a dream come true," Harris said. "To me, it was God's way of using me to tell them to keep doing what they do. Because I know going to that hospital every day or going down to a wreck to cut those people out — that doesn't always have a positive outcome. I was a success story. I just encourage them to keep doing what they do because it matters. They were all instrumental in my journey to recovery."

They remember Harris as much as she remembers them.

"She was going down I-10, and a crane fell on her vehicle," said Dana Roger, a nurse at LGMC's Level II Trauma Center, in a video interview ahead of the awards ceremony. "We got the call, and you know us nurses, we're like 'No way! We can't even make this stuff up.'

"She came in, totally awake and alert and oriented; however, she was so calm, it was almost calming to us. She was incredible."

Dr. Blaine Walton, an orthopaedic traumatologist at LGMC, led the team at the hospital.

Harris required emergency surgery to repair internal bleeding in her abdomen. Next, she needed surgeries to repair her broken legs. She'd broken both tibia bones, the larger of the two in lower leg, and had a compound fracture in her left upper leg just above her knee. She now has rods in her lower legs and a plate in her upper left leg.

"Fay is one of those patients that makes me feel very good about what I do," Walton said in the video interview.

Although overwhelmed with gratitude for last week's opportunity at the gala, Harris still thinks of the others who helped her recover. She is just as thankful for them.

There were nursing assistants who bathed her and kitchen workers who accommodated her requests during her hospital stay. There were home health aides and physical therapists who helped after she was discharged. There were the neighbors and family and friends who brought food and helped with errands.

"A lot of the people weren't up there," Harris said. "It's amazing when you see what it takes to take care of one person."

Then there's her husband, Locke, who left his job as an operations manager for an oil field company in Scott to care for her around the clock. 

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Fay Harris is pictured with her husband Locke Tuesday, November 26, 2019, at their home in Butte La Rose, La.

"It was just her and I," Locke said. "I had to take care of her, do everything that she had done as far as grocery shopping and laundry and getting her around in the house. I had to transfer her from the wheelchair to the bed and from the chair to the bathroom and everything."

Last week, he was also able to thank those who helped his wife. 

"It was emotional," Locke said. "You just — You think about these people, and to me, they helped save her life, but they're doing it because that's their mindset. That's their purpose in life — to save lives and to work with people who've been injured and to help them recover."

Harris also had to quit her job as an activities coordinator for an assisted living facility in Lafayette, which is where she was heading when the accident occurred the morning of Sept. 25, 2018.

Recovering has been a full-time job itself.

In January, Harris stood for the first time in four months. She still gets emotional when she thinks back to that moment. 

"I have a picture of it," she said through tears. "I cried. I'm still crying. I'm crying right now telling you about it. It was a miracle in my opinion." 

Standing was the first step toward becoming active again, something immensely important to Harris. She would run, bike and do high-impact aerobics classes regularly before the accident.

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Fay Harris works with physical therapist Alix Sorrel at Integrated Physical Therapy Monday, November 25, 2019, in Lafayette, La.

She's slowly getting back to her active lifestyle through water aerobics, yoga classes and recumbent biking.

Harris routinely drives on I-10 to get from her home in Butte La Rose to her gym and physical therapy appointments in Lafayette. She passes the place where a crane fell on her car, and she drives through construction zones as work progresses on the interstate.

"I still go down I-10 and see those cranes on the highway," Harris said. "A lot of people ask if I'm afraid of being there again, but I'm not the type to live in fear. What are the odds of a crane falling on my car? Again?" 

She laughed. This Thanksgiving will be very different from the last.

Harris will be able to make the side dishes to go with the brisket and ribs her husband plans to make. They'll have the extended family over to eat. And afterward, they'll go pick out a Christmas tree like they do every year.

But this year, Harris will walk instead of wheel through the tree lot.

"I'm just so grateful that I can continue walking," Harris said. "I try to focus on the things I still can do and not on the things I can't do. I think your attitude has a lot to do with the healing process, so I try to remain positive and take it one day at a time."

Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.