SEATTLE – A 17-year-old girl who survived eight days after her car crashed and tumbled 200 feet down a ravine may have been saved by her own dehydration, which prevented the expansion of a blood clot in her brain, doctors said.
Laura Hatch's family had almost given her up for dead, and sheriff's deputies had all but written her off as a runaway. Then she was found, badly hurt and severely dehydrated, but alive and conscious, in the back seat of her crumpled Toyota Camry (search).
A volunteer searcher who said she had had several vivid dreams of a wooded area found the wrecked car in the trees Sunday.
"It's an extraordinary tale of survival," said King County sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart.
Dr. Richard G. Ellenbogen, chief neurosurgeon at Harborview Medical Center (search), said a blood clot toward the right rear side of Hatch's brain from the crash could have proved fatal had it grown. It probably remained small because of her dehydration, he said.
"It doesn't always work out like that," Ellenbogen said. "This is a good story. We're hoping it has a really happy ending."
Hatch remained in serious condition Monday in the hospital's intensive care unit, a day after she was found in Redmond, a suburb east of the city.
Ellenbogen said Hatch was disoriented, thinking only a day had passed and unable to remember the crash or what she did in the days before she was rescued, but managed to joke with him.
He described her as articulate and clever, adding, "she's in amazing shape for someone lost for eight days."
Doctors were rehydrating Hatch while carefully monitoring her condition, and the blood clot could dissolve on its own, Ellenbogen said. Broken bones around Hatch's left eye could require surgery.
Hatch was last seen at a party on Oct. 2. When she did not show up by the next day, her family filed a missing person's report.
Urquhart said Hatch apparently was speeding along a steep, winding two-lane road and "managed to find an open space between two guardrails."
The initial search was slowed because there had been underage drinking at the party, and the young people who attended would not say where it had been held, Urquhart said.
On Oct. 6, detectives learned the party had been in a neighborhood east of Lake Washington (search) and searched along her likely route home, Urquhart said. But prospects dimmed as the days passed.
"We had already given her up and let her be dead in our hearts," said her mother, Jean Hatch.
During the search, a statewide bulletin was released and advisories were sent to local police agencies. But Urquhart said family and friends indicated "the most likely scenario was that she was a runaway."
Hatch's parents organized a volunteer search Saturday, and that night Sha Nohr, the mother of Hatch's friend, said she had dreams of a wooded area and heard the message, "Keep going, keep going."
On Sunday morning, Nohr and her daughter drove to the area where the crash occurred, praying along the way. "I just thought, 'Let her speak out to us,'" Nohr told The Seattle Times.
Nohr said something drew her to stop and clamber over a concrete barrier and more than 100 feet down a steep, densely vegetated embankment where she barely managed to discern the wrecked car in some trees.
A call Monday to the family home in Redmond was answered by one of Hatch's sisters, who declined comment.