The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 16, 2013

Fall of faith

By Heidi Sampson
Special to The Free Press

---- — I 35W Bridge Survivor Recounts Falling 60 Feet

For Lois Welman, plummeting 60 feet during rush hour traffic when Interstate 35W’s Mississippi River Bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007 -- killing 13 people and injuring 144 individuals -- was essentially a lesson in how to trust the Lord.

“God helped me through that experience,” says Welman. “I am so very grateful to still be here.”

On any other day, Welman’s normal route home from work consisted of taking Interstate 94, but due to traffic congestion, she made the decision to try I-35W not realizing there was a Twins baseball game going on at the nearby stadium.

By the time she realized I-35W was also congested, it was too late to take a different route home as she entered the bridge. About two-thirds of the way across, she remembers feeling the bridge begin to shake,

“I thought it was an earthquake. I really believed this was how I was going to die,” says Welman.

The fall happened so fast that once it was over, Welman remembers seeing a pickup truck resting upside down on top of the vehicle beside hers. Unable to get out of her driver’s side door, Welman climbed across the seat to exit through the passenger door. As she stared at the wreckage around her, she realized they were on a service road just after the river’s edge.

“I remember being surprised at how quickly help arrived,” says Welman. “He said I was free to go if I wasn’t hurt. I told him I was fine other than a having a bad head and backache, so I walked out of there.”

Shortly after leaving scene, Welman ran into a college student who helped her to get to the nearby Lutheran Center where they waited until a friend arrived to pick her up. Tests completed at a hospital later on that evening would reveal Welman had two compressed vertebrae fractures.

The first year following the accident, Welman participated in physical therapy as her body recovered. Emotionally, she found assistance by attending therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as attending group therapy sessions with other survivors of the bridge’s collapse.

“My own experience with PTSD has given me more compassion for others who also deal with it. For the longest time, the sound of jackhammers or a train crossover a bridge while I was underneath,” would bring on unpleasant memories, she said.

Welman’s faith in God was the one thing that was not shaken.

“God gave me peace during and after the accident. I learned I can make the choice to be positive rather than to be bitter or live in fear,” said Welman, adding that her faith has also helped her to overcome her PTSD.

Welman said enjoys sharing her experience with others as she challenges people to trust in the Lord.

On Thursday, Crossview Covenant Church’s Faith Builders will be hosting Lois and Greg Welman, as they share the story of the bridges collapse. Lois and her husband will also focus on how the collapse caused their faith in God to deepen as well as the lessons they learned from such an experience.

Eleanor Kottke, a member of the Faith Builders and coordinator of the event, learned of Lois’s story through a friend.

“We feel Lois’s story is a great example of God’s teaching power.”