Kiefer rebounds from crash
On a rainy morning toward the end of December 2011, as Aimee Kiefer was driving to her job as a tour guide at TOMB in Pigeon Forge, another driver’s vehicle ran Kiefer’s 1995 Land Rover off of Robeson Road in Wears Valley, causing the vehicle to smash head-on into a tree.
Kiefer, a graduating Pigeon Forge High School senior, suffered multiple injuries, including crushed legs, a cracked pelvis, a broken arm and a collapsed lung. It took EMTs, many of whom knew Kiefer personally, two hours to extract her from the car. She was conscious throughout most of the experience.
“For the first hour and a half, I was in shock and didn’t realize it was this serious,” Kiefer said in a conference room down the hall from the school’s front office. Sitting in a mid-backed, rolling office chair, she was wearing a black and white polka dot dress. Her prosthetic leg displays an intricate, rose-themed flower design.
Kiefer’s responses are confident and thorough, yet direct. She seemed willing to talk about anything in detail, and smiled constantly.
“I just kept asking why I couldn’t get out and why they were doing all of that. I felt fine and not hurt. Then, afterwards, the shock wore off and I realized, ‘Wow, this really hurts.’”
Kiefer felt sure she wasn’t going to make it.
“I’ve seen so much on TV about (EMTs) asking questions to keep you awake, like, ‘Oh, tell me about your brother. Tell me about what you want to do after high school.’ Things you could tell were irrelevant — the ‘stay with me’ questions,” Kiefer said. “I knew it wasn’t good. I was cold, I couldn’t feel anything in my lower body, and I was really tired.”
After thinking it was the end, Kiefer’s first shock was actually waking up in the hospital. Her second shock was realizing that her right leg had been amputated.
“I didn’t know it was gone because I still felt it there,” she said. “They had me completely wrapped up and I couldn’t really see anything, so I kept asking my brother to scratch my ankle for me.”
Kiefer said the initial shock at realizing her leg was gone quickly turned into appreciation that she still had her life.
With incredible support from friends, family and the entire community, “I decided early on that screaming and crying about it wasn’t going to bring it back, so I might as well keep going forward,” she said.
Kiefer ended up setting a record for fastest recovery from a dramatic amputation. She was supposed to remain in the hospital for months, but she left after just 17 days.
She had to remain at home, doing a lot of physical therapy, during the second semester of her junior year, but Kiefer was so determined not to let this experience change too much that she attended school in a wheelchair when she felt well enough.
Her parents, George and Elaine, even renovated the outside of their home with a wheelchair ramp.
“I’m blessed, lucky, whatever word is in your vernacular to describe how blessed I am to have the family I do,” said Kiefer, the youngest of six siblings. “They are the absolute best support system.”
In school, Kiefer has been involved in choir and Show Choir, a class that students must audition to be in. She said her injuries haven’t slowed her down.
“I think I actually dance better now. I had two left feet before, and now I can actually move around.”
Kiefer will be attending UT as a pre-med student. She wants to be a plastic surgeon specializing in facial reconstructive surgery.
“I knew I always wanted to be in the medical field,” she said, “but it wasn’t until I had reconstructive plastic surgery done on me that I knew that’s what I really want to do.”
Outside of school, Kiefer spends most of her time working and studying. She also said music is her hobby. She enjoys going to concerts and festivals, and she collects vinyl records — something she started doing after the accident.
As it happened, Kiefer’s friends and family actively reached out to Kiefer’s favorite band, Taking Back Sunday, the band on the only bumper sticker visible from photos of Kiefer’s totaled Land Rover.
The group, in turn, reached out to Kiefer, sending care packages that included T-shirts, a letter and copies of unreleased vinyl records. She even got to meet them in person.
“I talk a million miles a minute, and I think that was the only time I was speechless,” Kiefer said.