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BACK ON TRACK

Former Panther golf standout recovers from near-fatal wreck

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the recovery of Creston 18-year-old Sophia Groumoutis from a highway head-on collision in Taylor County on Aug. 7.

Sophia Groumoutis was on top of the world last summer.

She finished her high school golf career as a key member of Creston/O-M’s state runner-up team, placing in the top 20 individually for the third time in four trips to state for the Panthers. She was about to continue swinging her clubs as a scholarship member of the Southwestern Community College golf team, along with teammate Ashton Carter.

As a 3.95 student at Creston Community High School, the daughter of Dino Groumoutis and Mae Greene planned to study nursing at Southwestern.

“I wanted a career where I could help people, change people’s lives,” she explained.

Then, a difference in preference about the temperature inside her car on the afternoon of Aug. 7 resulted in a tragic event that not only put her future aspirations on hold, but nearly cost her life.

Her boyfriend at the time, Konner Ray Martin, 19, of New Market, was driving her 2005 Pontiac Grand Am eastbound on Highway 2 when he crossed the center line in front of a 2014 Toyota driven westbound by Jean Ann Minor, 61, of Clarinda.

The car driven by Martin spun around and came to rest upright in the north ditch and Minor’s vehicle also entered the north ditch upright. Martin and Minor were transported by Clarinda Hospital by Clarinda EMS, suffering from minor injuries. Martin had a concussion.

It was a much different story for Groumoutis, who was riding in the front passenger seat, not wearing a seat belt, with her feet up on the dash. She was violently ejected from the vehicle, landing 30 feet north of where her car came to rest.

She suffered horrible cuts to her feet and legs, and on her way out of the vehicle the left side of her face caught something sharp and she was bleeding profusely from gashes inside and outside of her mouth as she lay unconscious on the ground.

If it were not for a helpful driver behind them who stopped and came to her assistance by holding her head up and clearing her tongue from her throat, she would have choked on her own blood. She had suffered severe head trauma, which kept her in a coma for more than two weeks.

“If nobody was there, she might not have made it,” said Alexi Groumoutis, Sophia’s aunt. “She had an angel.”

It’s been a long road back from that point. From her first slurred attempts at speaking three weeks after the accident, to learning to walk again and regain use of her left hand after suffering a seizure as she laid in the field after the wreck, it’s been a slow quest to become Sophia again. She’s enrolled in one class at SWCC — Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology taught by Clint Williams — and working part-time as a certified nursing assistant at Homestead Assisted Living and Memory Care.

Her golf career may be on hold as she continues physical therapy (see Wednesday’s story), but Groumoutis now sees herself back on a path toward playing golf and becoming a full-time nurse someday. In fact, that feeling is stronger than ever.

“I was actually still contemplating if I wanted to be a nurse or not, and then the accident happened and I was sure that I wanted to be a nurse,” Groumoutis said one morning last week in the SWCC library after class. “Watching them help people every day in the hospital and Madonna (Rehabilitation Hospital in Omaha), it was cool to see the nurses work with people to change their lives. They definitely changed my life.”

Swerving vehicle

Groumoutis was tip-toeing the line between life and death in that field near New Market that hot August evening. All because of needing a blanket to stay warm in a disagreement about how to set the car’s air conditioning.

“I remember everything right up to the crash,” Groumoutis said. “We had been at Konner’s dad’s place in Clarinda and we were going to his house just outside of New Market. I kept wanting to turn the cold air off, because I was freezing, but he didn’t want to. He said, ‘I’ll get you a blanket.’ I remember it was a red and white blanket in the back seat.”

As Martin reached back for the blanket, the car swerved to the right. He over-corrected and entered the westbound lane, where the SUV driven by Minor was barreling toward them.

To this day, Groumoutis finds herself unconsciously balling up her left hand in a tight fist. She thinks it might be her last movement in that instant when she realized the onset of the collision.

She said she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. That has become one of the many changes in her outlook today.

“I always wear my seat belt now, and I can’t ride in a car with anyone who is distracted texting or anything,” she said. “I freak out and say let me out, I’ll call my dad and get a ride.”

Martin faces charges of criminal offense of serious injury by vehicle, and possession of a controlled substance.

Dreaded call

Dino Groumoutis, a former founding member of the Creston-based rock group Hooker’s Farm, was playing guitar at home with a friend when he received a call from the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department. It’s the call every parent dreads.

“They said your daughter has been in a head-on collision and they are flying her via helicopter to University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha,” Dino Groumoutis said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. You have a million things racing through your head. I called her mother, and she said she’d also received a call. Then me, my wife Audra and Mae drove to Omaha. It was a tough drive. We weren’t getting much information yet.”

The Emergency Room medical team had been busy closing Sophia’s wounds and trying to stabilize her vital signs. She had an intubation tube inserted and was comatose when her parents arrived.

“She had a lot of deep wounds in her face and on her feet and legs,” Mae Greene said. “We had to wait for her to be sewn up before we could even see her. She started coming a little conscious after about four days, but it was erratic. She’d mumble some things that didn’t make sense. It was more like four weeks before she really starting being herself.”

Benefits of youth

“She had a lot of brain swelling,” Dino Groumoutis said. “They stressed to us how her age was a positive. They said young people are like a rubber band, they’re so elastic. They said I wouldn’t have survived that. She was in good health. She was always meticulous about what she ate and she ran a lot. It all worked in her favor.”

“It was very scary for awhile,” said Alexi Groumoutis. “We didn’t know if she would ever be Sophia again and come out of it. At the beginning the nurses tried to assure us that she would wake up in a coupe of days and be good. But a week and a half later she was still out. She’d open her eyes sometimes, but she wasn’t really there.”

Sophia’s condition quickly progressed as she was transferred after three weeks to the Madonna Rehabilitation center in west Omaha. Because of distance, her parents hoped she could be transferred to On With Life in Ankeny. But, already embroiled in the collection of insurance funds related to the case, such a transfer would have had to come out of the Groumoutis family pockets because it wasn’t authorized, and then it became a moot point when it was deemed she wasn’t in condition to withstand a transfer.

“It was a long way to go, and the number of visitors she had from this area was incredible,” Dino Groumoutis said. “But Madonna is a great place, they have state of the art stuff to help the patients, and they did great things for her there. We consider it a miracle that she’s still here with us.”

WEDNESDAY: Sophia Groumoutis begins the long journey of recovery at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, and begins to assimilate back into her “normal” life routine at home in Creston.

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