Community rallies around North Yarmouth accident victim

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NORTH YARMOUTH — A near-fatal Aug. 13 car crash in New York left Michele Beaulieu in rehabilitation for months, mired in more than $150,000 in hospital bills.

It also led to a wellspring of love and support from her community – a triumph in the wake of a tragedy that has humbled and touched the North Yarmouth woman.

“I just want to thank them, and I want people to know that just these little things, put together, just make a tremendous difference,” Beaulieu said in a recent telephone interview from the upstate New York town where she continues to require rehab.

Beaulieu, 50, was about to start her 11th year as a special education teacher in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth schools this summer, when she was visiting family and friends in Granville, N.Y.

Riding as a passenger into town that afternoon to do some shopping, Beaulieu found herself facing “a car … literally coming at us head-on in our lane,” she said Dec. 8. “… I pulled my (right) arm and my leg up; otherwise my leg would be severed.”

The oncoming vehicle “turned to the left, and they hit me head on,” Beaulieu said.

The driver of the other vehicle escaped injury, but received summonses for failing to keep right, failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of an address change, and driving an uninsured motor vehicle, according to a Granville Sentinel report.

Police blamed rain and poor weather conditions for the accident, the newspaper reported.

Beaulieu and her driver were both hospitalized. Beaulieu was treated for injuries to her ankle, hand and leg.

“I had 12 broken bones, I severed tendons in my hand,” she said. Her tibia and ankle were also shattered; “I had casts on everything,” Beaulieu said, “so I was like a turtle on its back.”

Beaulieu was discharged from the hospital after a week and a gamut of surgeries. She was sent to the Orchard Nursing & Rehabilitation Centre, where she spent the next seven weeks. Her sister is director of nursing there.

“I’m here (in New York) and I’m in a wheelchair still; I’m months away from even going back to my life,” said Beaulieu, an outpatient who now goes to rehab three days a week.

She might be able to start walking and driving next spring, when she hopes to return to Maine, where her job in School Administrative District 51 has been held for her. In the meantime, she’s retraining her writing hand.

Beaulieu’s doctors have told her she will never be exactly the same again, but she’s working hard to get back as much as she can.

Physical challenges aside, “emotionally, it’s been pretty traumatic,” Beaulieu said.

Although she is hundreds of miles from her community, friends back home have managed – through get-well cards, gifts, and a fundraiser held at Rachel’s on the Green, a restaurant at the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center in Cumberland – to bridge that gap, and help give Beaulieu the strength to push forward through the long healing process.

Beaulieu is a part-time bartender at Rachel’s, which is owned by brothers Bubba and Mike Smith. Their sister, Patty Dunn, runs the waitressing end of the business.

“That community in itself is just an amazing community,” Beaulieu said, noting the  the venue has organized many fundraisers. “They come together in ways that you just wouldn’t believe.”

The Smith family has “embraced every single person there,” Beaulieu added.

“We’re all pretty much family there,” Dunn affirmed in a separate interview Dec. 8.

She organized the September fundraiser, which drew between 250 and 300 people, offered about 85 silent auction items, and raised nearly $13,000 for Beaulieu.

Although not able to attend the event, Beaulieu was there in spirit through a video connection.

“She is just amazing,” Beaulieu said of Dunn. “Not just to me, but to many, many people.”

It’s the fifth or sixth fundraiser Dunn has arranged for someone in need.

“I lost a kid to brain cancer years ago, and it kind of defines who you are in life,” Dunn said. “Doing all the right things for other people when they need it.”

She called Beaulieu “a good soul. She works with special needs kids, and she brings them into our restaurant. … I watch how gentle she is.”

Beaulieu said she plans to pay the kindness forward.

“The money part was wonderful, but it was more all the support and cards,” Beaulieu said. “When my hands are working, I plan to write every single person (a thank you note). … If everybody did this, so many things would be easier for people.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Michele Beaulieu of North Yarmouth is undergoing lengthy rehab in New York following a car crash in August.

Michele Beaulieu of North Yarmouth nearly lost her life in a head-on crash in Granville, N.Y.

Michele Beaulieu’s recovery has been bolstered by cards and gifts, such as this piece, from her friends and special education students back home.

Patty Dunn and her brothers, Mike, left, and Bubba Smith, organized a fundraiser at Rachel’s on the Green in Cumberland for Michele Beaulieu.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.