On June 18, the lives of Crystal Lake sisters Roxana Romero, 35, and Fabiola Ucles, 20, changed forever.
That was the day the two women were involved in a serious crash in Lake in the Hills. Romero almost drowned and spent about a month in an intensive care unit at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital. She was in a medically induced coma for more than a week. Ucles put her college future on hold to care for her sister, and she now has realized a new dream of becoming a nurse.
The day of the crash, the sisters had gone to the gym and were returning to their then-home in Lake in the Hills. Romero was in the process of learning how to drive, and her sister wanted her to take the wheel to practice in their neighborhood, the Villas of Lake in the Hills.
“She was kind of nervous, but I told her, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m right here next to you,’ ” Ucles said in a recent interview. “We switched seats, but she got nervous and hit the gas instead of the brake.”
Romero had been learning to drive on a manual transmission vehicle and mistook the gas pedal for a clutch in the automatic Lexus sedan the two were in when the crash happened, she said.
The sedan crashed into a residential pond, and the two women began to struggle to get out.
“I had my phone,” Ucles said. “But I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do.”
Ucles managed to escape, but she noticed her sister still was trapped. Romero did not know how to swim, and the seal on the door was stuck, so Ucles had to reenter the car to try to save her, she said. At that point, the car was submerged in the pond, which was at least 12 feet deep.
“I know how to swim,” Ucles said. “But I don’t know how to save a life. There is a big difference.”
Ucles managed to get to shore, but Romero did not. A neighbor heard Ucles’ screams and jumped in the pond to save Romero, Ucles said.
When first responders arrived, Romero was unconscious. Emergency medical technicians began to perform CPR, and the women were taken to Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.
“Roxana’s case was pretty devastating,” said Kathy Glass, the clinical nurse manager of the intensive care unit at the hospital. “She was very sick when she came into the ICU after the accident. She worked really hard to get better.”
Romero was in a medically induced coma for about 10 days and needed help breathing because of collapsed lungs. She also had a feeding tube. Her recovery required stabilization, medication and a lot of intensive therapies and other rehabilitation, Glass said.
“Her recovery is just miraculous,” she said. “A lot of family support and prayers got her through it.”
The process was difficult, but Romero is grateful she survived.
“From June 18 to July 11, all I can say is that I saw myself out of my body,” she said. “In that moment, I just felt like I went to the sky. I was seeing our Father, God. ... I was told I would have another opportunity.”
A year later, Romero is about 95% back to normal. She plans to begin volunteering at the hospital so she can advocate and give hope to others in similar circumstances.
“I feel like I have been sent to send people a message,” she said. “If someone ends up in a coma, really fight. To family members, don’t disconnect them right away.”
Ucles, a Crystal Lake South High School graduate, is planning on attending Harper College with the goal of becoming a nurse. A year of taking care of her sister helped her get over a fear of blood and needles – and it lit a new passion, she said.
“It’s been a rough year,” she said. “But I am keeping positive that everything happens for a reason, and I have a purpose to be here.”