Patricia Felch, 28, of Herndon was the last survivor lifted from the ice-clotted Potomac, her body broken in nine places and nearly frozen, her skull gashed and flowing with blood. The secretary at General Telephone and Electronics lay under intensive care for 10 days with a collapsed lung, as doctors fought for her life.
Her most persistent injury, however, was a tiny puncture wound in her right instep--a wound so small doctors missed it until the infection it harbored, out of sight within her cast, had eaten into the bones of her foot.
The infection, one of only six such cases ever seen in this country, resisted nearly every antibiotic. "At one time you could literally see right through my foot," she says. "I almost lost it."
For Felch, an effervescent skier, backpacker, cyclist and 2-mile-a-day jogger, the thought of such a handicap was "my biggest fear." Married in May to a man who shares her love of the vigorous outdoor life, she has had to spend every other month since in Washington Hospital Center. There doctors finally removed a bone from her foot and there, at last, the infection began to clear up.
Three times a day she packs saline-soaked gauze into the cavity just forward of her ankle where the bone is slowly growing back. Doctors say it may take two years; her right leg will always be one inch shorter.
To Felch, however, "It could have been much worse. At least I have my legs. At least I'm here."
Last May 15 she took her first unassisted steps since the accident when she walked down the aisle at her wedding. "Nobody thought I could do it . . . . A friend of mine made a white lace booty for my cast. She even made one for my cane."
But in the end, she put the cane aside and stumped painfully down the aisle without it, smiling all the while at a groom so moved by her courage that he wept as he made her his wife