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Stories of service: Saving lives after Carrollton bus crash

A bus filled with a church youth group was on its way back from Kings Island on May 14, 1988. It did not return safely to Hardin County.

carrolton bus crash photo

Did you know that the nation’s second site for a successful infant heart transplant was Norton Children’s Hospital … or that the hospital was founded on the heels of the deadliest tornado in the city’s history? You can learn about the hospital’s 125-year history by visiting “Hope and Healing: Celebrating 125 Years of Norton Children’s Hospital” at Frazier History Museum.

The 4,200-square-foot exhibit explores how the hospital has served the community in good times and in bad, all the while shaping the evolution and innovation of care for children and families. We’ll explore the history on display at the Frazier in a series called “Stories of service.”

Want to learn more?

Interested in more history facts displayed in a hands-on exhibit? Visit “Hope and Healing: Celebrating 125 Years of Norton Children’s Hospital” on display at Frazier History Museum through Feb. 4, 2018.

Worst drunk driving accident in U.S. history

May 14, 1988, is a date many will never forget. A bus filled with children coming home from Kings Island was hit head-on by a drunk driver and burst into flames near Carrollton, Kentucky. Three adults and 24 children were killed. Another 34 suffered burns, many severe.

It was all hands on deck at the Children’s Hospital, where most of the young patients were transported. An emergency disaster plan was set in motion to ensure the hospital had enough staffing and resources. The team of doctors, nurses, chaplains, social workers and therapists came together to support patients and their families during the tragedy.

The most severely injured children spent months in the hospital, including survivor Quinton Higgins.

“Those first initial days were hard. For a week, they were taking a tube in and out of my mouth. I wanted it out, but I still couldn’t breathe. Several days later, the tube came out and I could finally eat,” Higgins said.

carrollton bus crash image

“Norton Children’s Hospital slowly became home for me. It seemed like a lifetime from being at Kings Island that day, to the crash and being at the hospital. As a kid, you’re used to getting up every day, going to school, playing and then you’re suddenly stuck at the hospital with all of these injuries. Judy was my main nurse. We bonded instantly. She would come in and smile and talk to me. I even asked her to marry me one time when I was on morphine.”

carrolton bus crash survivor

His nurse, Judy Eberenz, is still a Norton Children’s Hospital nurse today.

Nearly 30 years later, a bond remains

“Quinton was in the unit for about six to eight weeks, and each time I was always assigned to him,” she said. “We celebrated small victories. At first they were very small, but we took it one step at a time. When you’re allowed that opportunity to take care of one child, you become part of their family. It was my job to keep him safe and healthy but also provide emotional support. Quinton saw his friends die. It was an incredible feeling of sometimes gloom, but I could not let Quinton see that. I had to be on my game so that I could be sure he was on his game.”

Nearly 30 years later, Higgins still feels a bond with Judy. They found each other four years ago on Facebook and reunited for the first time in January 2017 during the Norton Children’s Hospital 125th birthday celebration.

“I always remember growing up at Norton Children’s Hospital and Judy’s kindness, passion and love. Going through life, I am so glad I held onto that photo of me and Judy, knowing that she guided me through such a physical and emotion journey. I’m thankful for this hospital and people like Judy who saved my life,” Higgins said.

About the Frazier History Museum

About the Frazier History Museum: The Frazier History Museum is located at 829 W. Main St. on Louisville’s downtown “Museum Row.” The Frazier is where the world meets Kentucky, bringing history to life for visitors through exhibits, artifacts and live performances every day. The Frazier is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call (502) 753-5663. or visit fraziermuseum.org.

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