By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
In a matter of weeks, Arkadelphia professor Beth Wyatt will undergo her 20th surgery since a July 2022 car accident that left her legless and severely burned among a number of other physical struggles.
Before a crowd of firefighters, paramedics and police officers, a sniffling Wyatt on Thursday voiced her appreciation of the aid she received that day. Her survival was “because of you all,” she said, pausing briefly to collect her emotions. “You saw me at my worst, and I didn’t want that to be the last image you had of me.”
Wyatt’s speech highlighted the 2023 First Responder Appreciation Dinner, hosted by Arkadelphia Lions Club. The event drew a crowd of more than 150 area first responders to the Arkadelphia Recreation Center, where they were treated to a meal catered by Fat Boys Fine Food and a singing of the National Anthem by their very own comrade and renowned recording artist, Sgt. Jody Evans of the Arkadelphia Police Department.
The Clark County Office of Emergency Management doled out 44 awards to first responders for their heroic acts from 2021-2022. Among the award recipients would be the five Arkadelphia Fire Department members who responded to Wyatt’s accident, extinguished the flames, extricated her from the vehicle and transported her to an ambulance, where she would await a med-flight to Little Rock. Their names are Kevin Tate, Brock Davis, Andy Neel, Barry Nolan and Josh Purifoy.
Wyatt admits she has no recollection of her July 5 accident — she wouldn’t come to until the end of August — but now she says a prayer each time she hears a siren, not only for the person with a medical emergency but also for those heading to the scene.
“I want you to know how much you all mean to the county and how good you are,” Wyatt told those in attendance. “You all should be proud. You may work for a small area in Southwest Arkansas, but we are the luckiest small area in the United States to have you all.”
First Responder of the Year
Capt. Mike Pritchard of the Caddo Valley and DeGray fire departments was selected as Clark County’s 2023 First Responder of the Year. He also serves as a swift water rescue and high angle rescue technician for the county’s Office of Emergency Management. Pritchard is pictured between Lucille and Leanne Sandifer, surviving relatives of Dr. C.K. Sandifer who had a dream that prompted an appreciation dinner for first responders in the community.
Wyatt, who retired from Henderson State University since the accident, maintains a positive attitude despite her struggles. The numerous medical procedures she underwent left her without a spleen, her left eye and her left elbow. She survived double pneumonia following the collapse of both her lungs, and two of her vertebrae were broken. She’s now in the process of using stubbies, prosthetics used to help regain balance during ambulatory rehabilitation.
Any day now Wyatt will receive the prosthetic knees and begin the rehab necessary to put her back on her feet again. “It’s like waiting on [the arrival of] a grandchild,” she said. The prosthetics will add two inches to her former 5-foot stature. “I hope there’s enough air up there,” she quipped.
The Bible she kept stored in the driver’s door caught fire after the accident, and it would be the only thing in the vehicle other than her that was burned; not even her left calf, which would have been near the Bible, received burns. “It was God taking the heat,” is the conclusion her husband, Scott, came to realize. She now has a new Bible, which she still keeps on her side of the car, and offered those in attendance to sign their names in it. “Prayers kept me alive,” she said. “My heart never stopped beating.”
In closing, Wyatt gave a heartfelt thanks to first responders for their service to herself and to others in their time of emergency. “Because of you, I’m here,” she said, “and because of you, a lot of other people are here.”