“That’s not going to happen to me.” Woman shares harsh reality of drinking and driving

Wreckage of Anna Nowak's car (photo provided)
Wreckage of Anna Nowak's car (photo provided)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – A Green Bay woman is sharing a very painful and personal message to keep others from ending up like her, nearly forced to amputate her leg because of one bad decision.

She drank alcohol then drove.

She shared her story to show the life-long and unexpected consequences of driving drunk.

After our recent reports on a series of wrong-way and fatal crashes in Northeast Wisconsin, Anna Nowak could no longer stay silent.

She says it’s time people see the harsh reality of driving drunk by taking one look at what happened to her when she did it.

The images are graphic and difficult to look at. But Nowak wanted people to see the extent of her injuries with the hope it stops someone from driving drunk.

The partying. The drinking. The laughter.

Those are images so many people associate with alcohol.

Then there’s the way Anna Nowak thinks of alcohol now.

“This calf muscle obviously is missing,” she says, pointing to her right leg.

“The doctors described it as like a shark bite. It went all the way down to my bone and just ripped out.”

This is what her legs look like two years after she got drunk and drove.

“I knew I was really really drunk, but I still told myself, I’m okay to drive,” she says.

Before three a.m. on a Friday, she left a bar in Suamico and drove for nearly an hour, ending up near Black Creek in Outagamie County.

She says she was texting and driving and lost control, going 60 miles an hour. She flipped her car, and not wearing a seat belt, was thrown, through trees, and plunged into a snow bank.

“I put my hands down to feel my legs to see why I couldn’t move them, and there was just bones sticking out everywhere,” she recalls.

I just remember laying my head back down and I was like, God, I know I’m going to die.”

But a man driving by caught a glimpse of light from her car and called for help.

Anna woke up in the hospital.

“The first thing I remember them saying was we need to amputate your right leg,” says Anna.

She begged doctors to save her leg, knowing that would also save her career.

Anna was a nurse at the time and often cared for victims of drunk driving crashes.

Yet that never crossed her mind when she started drinking.

“I felt like I was indestructible and could get away with anything,” she says. “It’s just those people that think… it won’t happen to me… that it will.”

She calls it a miracle doctors saved her leg, but what followed was painful.

She underwent 19 surgeries, one lasting 19 hours, and was bedridden for six months. She just learned to walk again months ago.

While graphic, she says people need to see the pictures of her injuries.

“I just pray that people would open their eyes and see what the real consequences are,” she says.

Anna’s not alone.

Target 2 found a staggering 2,871 people were injured last year in OWI crashes in Wisconsin, according to preliminary totals from the D.O.T.

OWI injuries statewide by year

2016 (preliminary): 2,871 *
2015: 2,872
2014: 2,694
2013: 2,660
2012: 2,970
2011: 2,984

OWI injuries in Northeast Wisconsin counties in 2016 (preliminary):

Brown: 131
Calumet: 21
Door: 19
Fond du Lac: 35
Kewaunee: 14
Manitowoc: 47
Marinette: 21
Oconto: 28
Outagamie: 106
Shawano: 35
Sheboygan: 56
Waupaca: 33
Waushara: 18
Winnebago: 101

Source: Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation

So what does it take to stop this?

Anna says she learned nothing from getting caught the first time in 2008, and laws and penalties rarely crossed her mind when she drove.

“Nope. I did it every time I drank,” she says. “I would feel guilty but then I would always just go right back to.. that’s just not going to happen to me.”

Every day since her crash, she’s been trying to find a way to reach those people.

There’s no magic answer, but she thinks starting young would have helped her.

“if I would have seen someone like me go into a school and say this is what happened with drunk driving, I would never do it.”

She wants people to take a hard look at why they drink and drive and realize that decision also affects friends and family.

“I can’t imagine what her thoughts were, like, I could lose my child today,” she says, tearing up as she thinks about what her mom went through.

A picture of her smashed up car helps explain how she gets through days of depression and constant physical pain.

A sign, reading let your faith be bigger than your fear was in her trunk when she crashed. It landed perfectly where she once sat.

Living to tell her story, and share her faith, is Anna’s sign she can help others.

She wants to speak to schools, community groups or anyone who will listen, to show them the harsh consequences of not giving away the keys.

“I can guarantee you, you don’t want to live what I went through.”

Anna created this Facebook page and is blogging, hoping to reach others by opening up and being honest about drunk driving.