CSUN employee Bea Watts recounts her emotional and physical ordeal following Metrolink accident a year later
The ambulance lights die down, the wreckage is cleaned up and eventually the story moves its way from the front page to the back.
But for the victims of the Metrolink accident, moving on is not defined in such black and white terms.
Beatrice Watts, known to her friends as Bea, sustained severe and extensive injuries as a result of the train crash.
Watts, an administration support coordinator for Admissions and Records at CSUN, had her spleen crushed, pancreas severed and her liver lacerated. She also suffered an aneurysm and fractured her back.
Her doctors told her she was lucky to have survived.
“I called my husband and said my final goodbye to him. I had felt my neck snap and thought that meant I would die. I was waiting to die,” Watts said. “I told him that I loved him and to tell the kids how much I loved them.”
Her husband told her to get off the train and wanted to know her location, which she was uncertain of.
Watts recalls being at peace in that moment of chaos, realizing that there wasn’t much she could do.
Then she saw her colleague, Eric G. Forbes, who was traveling on the train as well, and he helped her get off of the train.
“I saw Eric come downstairs and he helped me walk off the train. I had lost one shoe, so I only had one on as I exited,” Watts said. “When I saw the crash scene, it didn’t seem real. I walked away from the train and sat down.”
Her injuries were all internal, so to the people surrounding her, she appeared to be in shock but not severely injured.
As time passed, her condition worsened and she was unable to sit up any longer. Then she saw a man on a bicycle approaching from one of the houses and realized it was her husband.
Watts was no longer able to walk, and her husband kept insisting she be transported from the scene to a hospital to receive medical attention, although paramedics assured him she had a normal pulse rate.
Her neighbor, who works for the Burbank Fire Department was on his way home to Simi Valley, traveling on the 118 freeway. He contemplated exiting to offer his help, and finally decided to take the third exit and arrived at the scene where Watts was.
He was able to immediately identify her symptoms as more severe than just shock, and at this point, Watts became nauseous and could not stop vomiting.
“It felt like I was punched in the gut. With all those injuries, I didn’t necessarily feel the pain, it was more just nausea,” Watts said.
After being airlifted to the hospital, Watts was immediately taken into surgery, and doctors told her she had been an hour away from dying.
“If it wasn’t for my husband pushing for me to get the medical attention I needed and Eric and my neighbor helping me, who I call my three angels that day, I would not have survived,” Watts said.
Watts was in the hospital for 3 ½ weeks and had two surgeries. She returned to work in six months, although her doctor suggested she take a year off, because her benefits had begun to end.
Doctors were only able to save a quarter of her pancreas, and she has had to deal with the aftermath of her injuries.
She spent many months in physical therapy and recently has begun to see a therapist once a week to deal with the emotional aftermath of the accident.
Watts has also recently joined a Metrolink survivors support group and said it has helped her to be around people who have similar experiences and “validates a lot of what I feel and makes me feel like I am not crazy.”
For Watts, the post-traumatic stress has only recently begun to surface.
“It’s very difficult, I have trouble sleeping some nights and have nightmares. If I hear the train, I definitely have anxiety, which I never had before,” Watts said.
The weekend she spent in a coma and on life support in the hospital was also her birthday weekend. “I am apprehensive going into this weekend, with the Metrolink memorial and friends planning something for my birthday,” Watts said.
Watts has plans on celebrating her birthday with her loved ones and attending two memorials this weekend.
The transition to everyday life has been difficult and she says there are still triggers throughout the day that can lead her to feelings of anxiety and fear.
But for Watts, surviving the accident was a second chance at life. “I feel so grateful to be alive and feel like at the age of 42 I get to reinvent who I am.”
“A lot of who I was as a person has changed. I used to be very outgoing, planning events and a PTA mom, but now I struggle with these things sometimes,” Watts said.
“I dropped off my daughter at school about two weeks ago, and as I was driving away I got very emotional and just kept thinking, ‘I almost lost the chance to experience this and my daughter almost did as well,’ and I felt so grateful to be alive,” Watts said.