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Second Time Around

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Krickitt Carpenter perches on her living room couch viewing the wedding videotape and frowns when she sees the bride and groom exchanging vows.

“It makes me miss her more and more, the girl in the picture,” she says. “I wish I knew what she was thinking--she’s just gotten married.”

For Krickitt, the radiant bride and happy groom in the video are just familiar-looking strangers, shadows of people she once knew.

But the people on the videotape are Krickitt and her husband, Kim.

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Shortly after their wedding in 1993, Krickitt suffered a severe head injury in a car crash. When she emerged from a monthlong coma, she no longer knew Kim, having lost all memory of the previous 18 months--including meeting and marrying her husband.

Kim stuck by her as she struggled to heal, and against all odds, they courted and fell in love again.

On Saturday, Krickitt and Kim will renew their vows in a small log chapel in the mountains of northern New Mexico. “It’ll be like a first wedding, because I don’t have a memory of marrying him,” says Krickitt, 26, as she cuddles with her 30-year-old husband, whom she affectionately calls “Kimmer.”

“I’m going to be a bawling mess when I walk down the aisle. That’s when it’s going to hit me, everything that’s happened in the last 2 1/2 years.”

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They met over the phone in September 1992 when Krisxan “Krickitt” Pappas was a sales rep for an Anaheim sportswear company. Kim, the baseball coach at New Mexico Highlands University, called about team jackets and they struck up a phone friendship.

“By January we were probably talking five hours a week,” Kim says. Visits back and forth followed, and that June Kim flew to California to propose.

They married Sept. 18, 1993, and honeymooned in Maui before settling into their new life together in this small northern New Mexico city. Kim was the university’s associate athletic director and Krickitt found work in a hospital wellness program as an exercise technician.

Everything changed on Nov. 24, 1993, the day before Thanksgiving. They were driving to Phoenix to visit Krickitt’s parents.

She was at the wheel; Kim, ill with a cold, dozed in the back seat; and Milan Rasic, their friend, sat in the passenger seat.

As night fell they approached the Arizona-New Mexico border on Interstate 40.

“I heard Milan say, ‘Watch out!’ ” Kim remembers. “I heard the most blood-curdling scream out of my wife--horrible.”

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Krickitt swerved to avoid a slow-moving flatbed that lacked taillights; in the next instant, a pickup that had been following too closely “T-boned” the Escort on the driver’s side. The car flipped several times and skidded 100 feet.

Kim suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, a concussion, a bruise on his heart muscle and had his nose and an ear almost torn off. Krickitt received a massive closed-head injury. Rasic suffered a shoulder injury.

A doctor at the Gallup, N.M., hospital gave Kim an envelope containing Krickitt’s rings and watch and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Carpenter.” He left the impression she would die.

Krickitt was airlifted 130 miles to the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, where her doctors warned she might remain in a vegetative state.

On Thanksgiving, Kim and his father-in-law, who had flown up, prayed for hours in the hospital chapel as the swelling in Krickitt’s brain slowly decreased and her dangerously low blood pressure stabilized.

Ten days after the accident she went to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix for rehabilitation.

Emerging from her coma around Christmas, Krickitt was as helpless as a newborn. She needed to be fed, diapered and bathed. The 5-foot-2 former college gymnast, who’d once performed back flips on a balance beam, had to learn to walk again.

“It was sad to see her in this condition,” Kim says. But there was worse news.

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When quizzed by a nurse, Krickitt knew she was in Phoenix--although she thought it was 1969 and Nixon was the president. She also knew who her parents were.

“Then the nurse asked, ‘Who’s your husband?’ ” Kim says. “She said, ‘I’m not married.’ I was devastated--I was crushed, I was hurt so bad. I remember I hit my hand on the wall.”

Doctors determined that while Krickitt’s head injury had left most of her long-term memory intact, her memory of the months before the crash had been wiped out.

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Kim, who’d been living with his in-laws, returned to work. He’d drive the team to a road game, then fly to Phoenix. Kim survived the grueling schedule on sheer determination.

“I made a vow before God--'Until death do you part,’ ” he says.

Meanwhile, Krickitt struggled to make sense of the wedding ring on her finger and the man who said he was her husband. Until she found where her skull had been dented in the crash.

“I can remember looking in my bedroom mirror and thinking, ‘Hmmm, this accident really did happen to me,’ ” she says. “I accepted this accident did happen, and I’m married, but I don’t know this person who’s my husband.”

Krickitt visited their Las Vegas home, hoping the familiar surroundings might jog her memory. She wandered through the apartment she’d shared with Kim, gazing at their wedding photos and fingering her china. Nothing clicked.

Weeks later, she returned.

“The second trip I kind of wanted to come back here,” she says. “I figured if I fell in love with this guy before . . . I guess I just need to meet him again.”

When Krickitt went home for good in April 1994, the extent of her memory loss made itself felt.

“I remember asking, ‘How did I do the wife thing? Did I cook for you? Did I bring you lunch?’ ” she says. Krickitt was unable to drive and couldn’t remember directions. Kim worried she’d get lost walking the 100 yards to the grocery store.

Each was frustrated. She disliked his controlling her life while he began to resent her dependence. Her emotions were jumbled--a common problem with head-injury patients. Sometimes she’d laugh when it was appropriate to cry.

“I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m living with someone with two different personalities,’ ” Kim says.

They also faced huge medical bills and a lawsuit against the uninsured driver who’d hit them. (The case was settled several months ago.)

Kim finally had to quit coaching, although he continued his administrative duties. His boss prevailed on him to get counseling, and it was the therapist who suggested that Kim and Krickitt start dating as a way of rebuilding their relationship.

On their “date nights,” they sampled everything their small town had to offer. “We’d go to Pizza Hut,” Kim says. “We’d go to Wal-Mart or go bowling.” Sometimes he’d bring her roses.

Krickitt adds happily, “I got to know my buddy again. We had fun. How can you not care deeply for somebody that’s stood by you?”

Krickitt returned to her job and eventually confronted her frustration. “I wanted the old Krickitt back so bad--I wanted to be the wife Kimmer had.”

With continued therapy and the passage of time, Krickitt has accepted her new life. “It reached the point where I realized, ‘This is who I am, and this is who God wants me to be.’ ”

It was Krickitt who suggested getting married again.

Kim resisted until he saw how much it meant to her. “Then I said OK,” he says. “At first I thought, ‘I’ll do it for Krickitt.’ Now I’m into it.”

On Valentine’s Day he went to her office with a bunch of red roses and proposed on bended knee.

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Kim and Krickitt’s story has drawn intense media attention. A movie deal has just been reached and a book is in the offing.

But Kim insists they seek neither money nor self-aggrandizement. “I made a vow before God,” he says. “I made that commitment. That’s what I want people to really feel.”

Krickitt says she’s learned to mourn the loss of her old self and move on.

“I feel that girl was killed in the car accident,” she says. “I’m a new person because I can’t relate to what the girl looks like and what she’s feeling.”


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