Bay parents true believers in miracles after son’s accident

Blank’s recall outpouring of community kindness after darkest night of their life

Blank’s recall outpouring of community kindness after darkest night of their life

Staff Reporter

– The clock had just struck 2:00 a.m. on November 17, 2011, when the phone rang.

It awoke Mary and Clifford Blank, who were fast asleep in their home on Dunn Street in Barry’s Bay. Thinking it was a telemarketer or prank phone caller, they ignored the call.
But when it rang again shortly after, Mary knew something was wrong. She jumped from her bed and answered the phone.

She heard the trembling voice of her daughter-in-law, Aleata, on the other end of the line, calling from her home in Kiscoty, Alberta.

Mary asked what was wrong. Aleata said something had happened to their son and her husband, Aaron Blank.

“I thought I was going to pass out,” Mary said. “I could feel myself start to shake.”
Aaron was born and raised in Barry’s Bay, and grew up with two other brothers. He attended St. John Bosco School, and Madawaska Valley District High School.

It was a call Aleata said she never wanted to make.

“I couldn’t keep it together on the phone,” she explained. “They were very strong and supportive on the phone, but I know they did not sleep that night.”

Aleata managed to explain that Aaron had been travelling home from a three-day training seminar in Red Deer, Alberta, when the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a tractor trailer on a busy highway.

“At this point I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” Mary said. “I was tuning into everything. My hair was standing on the back of my neck.”

All Aleata knew was that Aaron was alive and he was stabilized in a hospital in Vegreville, Alberta and then shipped to the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton. Mary said she was relieved to hear that Aaron had survived the accident.

Wanting to know more, Clifford immediately called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta to get more information on what happened.

“[The officer] said to me when he first came upon the scene he said there has to be fatalities. He walked over to the car and to the driver’s side, and he saw a person moving in there, and Aaron started talking,” Clifford said. “He said he is a very lucky man to be alive.”

Now recovering in his home in Kiscoty, Aaron still does not remember what exactly happened that evening. He pieces information together through what he can remember before the accident and what the RCMP concluded.

“It was terrible weather – blowing snow, icy roads – when I left Red Deer to just after Edmonton, in which case I exhausted myself focusing so much on trying to keep the rental car on the road,” Aaron said. “So as I was nearing home, I felt I needed to take a break; I was about 30 minutes from home. I remember pulling over and taking a nap, 20 minutes later I continued on my journey home, unknowingly this would be all I remember, until the RCMP informed me of what happened. While travelling home, I fell asleep at the wheel and ran into the back of a tractor-trailer, thus spinning me sideways into the passing lane of the four-lane highway where I was T-boned by another tractor-trailer and sent my car flying into the ditch.”

Soon after, emergency crews arrived on scene, including the volunteer fire department from a nearby town. Clifford said it took crews over an hour to extricate his son out of the vehicle.

“I do remember hearing the ʽJaws-of-Lifeʼ working on my vehicle and the first responders asking my name,” Aaron said. “I opened my eyes slightly enough to see the caved-in roof and steam rising from under the hood, so immediately I knew I was in trouble. I closed my eyes again and was in and out of consciousness until I reached the nearest hospital.”

His rental vehicle was squashed like a pop can. Miraculously, the driver’s side was sheltered by a small cavity large enough to keep Aaron protected.

Aaron sustained several injuries, including 12 broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured skull, a badly bruised knee and numerous surface scrapes and scratches.

While this was happening, Aleata was waiting for her husband to come home. She expected him to arrive around 6:00 p.m. But when 11:00 p.m. came along with no sign of Aaron, she said she was becoming “hysterical.”

“It was not like him to not call and let me know what was up, but I thought of every scenario possible, hoping that he had just stopped to visit a friend or something,” Aleata said. “I hadn’t been in bed for five minutes when the doorbell rang. By the time I got to the door the RCMP officer was already back to his car which I could see parked on the street from the door. My heart sank and a million things went through my mind in that moment.”

Immediately, the officer said Aaron was going to live.

Mary said she and Clifford stayed up all night, crying, talking, and praying.

“That night was the darkest night of my life,” Mary said.

She and Clifford decided to make the trip to Edmonton to be with their son in his time of need. They boarded a flight from Ottawa, and stayed in Alberta for around eight days with Aleata.

This story continues in the January 19th issue of The Valley Gazette.