Kennewick woman in Egypt crash recovers 'day by day'

PASCO — Sue Flink is able to joke about how she doesn't have a leg to stand on after both legs were badly broken when her tour bus crashed in Egypt last month.

The 61-year-old Kennewick woman says she knows she's lucky to survive the crash that killed her longtime friend Mike Braun and seven other American tourists.

But, Flink also knows she has a long recovery road ahead of her -- physically and emotionally -- as she deals with how her annual Christmas holiday vacation overseas with Braun turned tragic.

"Physically I'm getting stronger every day," Flink said Sunday from her hospital room at Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco. "Emotionally, it's day by day."

The Kennewick couple who have been together for more than 30 years were traveling with a tour group in Egypt on their way to the 3,200-year-old Pharaonic-era Abu Simbel temples when their bus crashed Dec. 26.

They were in the second of a three-bus caravan about 15 miles from Aswan when their bus clipped a sand truck that was stopped on the side of a single-lane road.

Most of the right side of the bus was ripped away in the collision that killed two men and six women and injured 24 others.

Flink choked back tears as memories from the early morning wreck came rushing back. She said she still can see the mangled bus when she closes her eyes. She still can smell it.

"There were 26 of us together for two full weeks (in the tour group)," she said. "Everyone who died, we knew."

It's something she had to relive too many times in the days after, and it's still too raw to talk about.

But, the longtime Mid-Columbia educator was willing to talk about what happened after the crash -- the medical care she received once she was flown to Cairo, the 30-hour medical evacuation flight back to the Tri-Cities and how she has improved since she has been in rehab at Lourdes.

"I feel like things are really looking up now," Flink said.

Flink, who had multiple breaks in both legs and an open wound in her right leg, was flown on a military plane to a hospital in Cairo, which is about 430 miles from Aswan.

For five days she laid in a hospital bed with just splints on her legs and "in those first five days, I didn't care if I lived or died," Flink said.

Medical care in Cairo is not bad, Flink said, it's just different. They don't have nurses who take care of things for patients like getting water or changing the bedpans -- everything is turned over to family, Flink said.

Flink's daughter, Zenoby Chadwick, who lives in Las Vegas, was flown in by the tour company to help care for Flink.

They also don't have heart machines or narcotics, so besides getting something similar to aspirin, Flink said she was just put to sleep if the pain got too difficult.

On Dec. 31, a surgeon installed a metal rod that runs from her knee to her ankle and three screws in her left leg.

Her right leg is fitted with a special type of metal brace that is connected to various parts of her bone and leg. Flink explains that it's like a Christmas tree stand with screws around the base that have to be tightened to hold the trunk.

She quickly pulls out her X-rays -- "there's no HIPPA (medical privacy laws) in Cairo," she said -- and showed what her legs looked like before and after surgery.

Asked if it hurts to look at the brace or the X-rays, Flink said: "I was in so much pain, once the surgery was done I was like, all right."

There's also an open wound the back of her right leg where a bone broke through the skin, but doctors have said it's healing well and they don't think she will need skin grafts, she said.

Once Flink was stabilized after surgery, arrangements were made to fly her home. She left Cairo at 6:30 a.m. Jan 4 (8:30 p.m. Jan. 3 local time) and landed in Pasco at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 5.

Flink and one other patient were on a "little tube jet" that made 3,000-mile hops to refuel, she said. The flight went from Cairo to Greece to Ireland, then to Rochester, Minn., where they had to clear customs. They then flew to Thermal, Calif., and on to Pasco.

Since she has been back, Flink has been evaluated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle -- doctors there said the surgery was done well in Cairo so she didn't need a second one -- and had to find a doctor familiar with the contraption she has on her right leg. Richland orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lewis Zirkle, said he would treat her.

"Some doctors are very young and haven't seen this," Flink said. "I'm very fortunate and so glad I can get everything in the Tri-Cities."

And, her recovery has picked up since she got admitted to the rehabilitation unit at Lourdes on Tuesday.

"This place is a diamond," Flink said. "I'm getting stronger every day. "They work me four hours a day or more. I'm sleeping really well for the first time."

She can't put any weight on her legs yet, but she has learned how to use a board to slide herself out of bed and into a wheelchair, and made a trip home Sunday to measure doorways and figure out what she will need once she's released.

She said she hopes to be out of the hospital by the end of the month.

Flink said she's grateful for the support of her friends and family -- she had friends of friends visiting her in Cairo within hours -- and she wants everybody to know she's home, she's going to be OK and she will be back to work teaching preschool at Finley Elementary.

Once she gets home, she also will plan a memorial service for Braun. His ashes are at a funeral home in Davenport and he will be buried in the family plot in Odessa, Flink said.

"Mike knows everyone in the whole county ... everywhere," she said. "We need to have a memorial here. I don't want him to be forgotten."

Braun, 58, was the coordinator of the Franklin County Noxious Weed Board, governor of the Pasco-Kennewick Moose Lodge and a former longtime employee for the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District.

"I just wish we both would have made it. I'm glad I did. I have a lot to live for ... it'll get better," Flink said through tears. "I'm one of those fortunate people who have a really strong network to help get through this."