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    Family struggles to cope after crash

    After the accident, two teens and their family learn what's really important in life. Little things mean a lot.

    photo
    [Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
    Savannah Pinkham, 17, is comforted by her father, Jeff, and her mother, Terry, in her room in the rehabilitation unit at Tampa General Hospital.

    By ED QUIOCO
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 30, 2001


    Before the wreck that nearly killed both their daughters a month ago, longtime musicians Jeff and Terry Pinkham had the same concerns as most parents: keeping up with the bills, saving and finding time for a vacation.

    Now, it's the little things that mean so much more.

    Things like watching daughter Savannah, 17, bend down and tie her shoelaces or noticing how she and her sister Vanessa, 15, move their arms and eyebrows. Or how their hair looks in the morning.

    "It makes you stop and say you have to make every moment count," said Terry Pinkham, 37. "We really know how important that is now."

    Both daughters are expected to recover from their injuries, which kept them in intensive care for days. But the Pinkhams, who did not have health insurance, now face more than $100,000 in medical bills.

    The couple also have stopped performing for the most part so they could be with their daughters in the hospital.

    "We are just glad that even though this happened, we still have our girls and they will be fine," said Jeff Pinkham, 50.

    Friends and fans of the Pinkhams, who were in a well-known local house band, have had fundraisers to help the family, so far raising about $4,500. They also have organized a benefit concert Monday at the Porterhouse Rock Cafe, 2710 Alt. U.S. 19, in Palm Harbor, featuring Tarpon Springs songwriter Bertie Higgins and about a half-dozen local bands.

    The Pinkhams, who live in Odessa, were in the band called the Terry Thomason Pinkham Band that played in restaurants in North Pinellas in the 1980s and early 1990s, with Terry Pinkham on vocals and her husband playing the guitar and writing the songs. The couple, who still play in local venues in Tampa and North Pinellas, also had a steakhouse in Palm Harbor.

    "They aren't making a living, but the bills keep coming in," said Brad Garey, a family friend and fan who is helping to organize the concert. "You never think it will happen to your kids. Then the worst nightmare came true for Terry and Jeff."

    After a night of watching movies and playing video games with friends in an apartment complex in Citrus Park, Savannah and Vanessa got a call from their parents around midnight that it was time to head home.

    As the sisters crossed Sheldon Road in northwestern Hillsborough County after midnight on Oct. 27, their 1985 Volkswagen was hit by another car. The collision smashed the driver's side of the Volkswagen.

    Vanessa broke some ribs and her spleen was ruptured, requiring her to spend three days in intensive care. Savannah spent eight days in intensive care and has spent several weeks at the rehab unit at Tampa General Hospital. Unconscious for more than two days after the accident, Savannah also broke a vertebra in her neck, nearly crippling her.

    She was "an immeasurable distance" away from being paralyzed for the rest of her life, Jeff Pinkham said. Savannah also broke her tailbone, pelvis and other bones, suffered some short-term memory loss and had to have her spleen removed.

    "She was completely crumpled by the impact of the car," Jeff Pinkham said.

    The parents spent days running between the hospital rooms of their daughters. They probably never got more than a few hours of sleep those first few days.

    "Something else takes over," Jeff Pinkham said. "You don't think about eating or sleeping. You just know you have to be there for your child."

    Savannah also has some short-term memory loss, not remembering the week before the accident, the accident itself and the week after. She has spent her days in a hospital room with a physical therapist, doing stretches and other exercises.

    "I feel really blessed and thankful, and I pray a lot," Savannah said. "Right now, I feel like I'm in a totally different world."

    Savannah's hospital room was filled Wednesday with flowers, stuffed animals and some comforts of home such as boxes of Entenmann's brownies and oatmeal cream pies and board games. There also was Shoogie, the family's exotic pet sugar glider, which is a tiny marsupial.

    On some days, Savannah holds Shoogie to help keep her calm.

    "It just makes her happy," Terry Pinkham said.

    Despite everything that has happened, the Pinkhams say they are the "luckiest parents" because they know things could have been a lot worse. Even though they have mounting medical bills, the couple would rather focus for now on being there for their daughters.

    "We just have to get through these days," Terry Pinkham said.

    -- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or quioco@sptimes.com.

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