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$1.8 billion problem:
Some victims get life sentence of pain, suffering – and bills
Nancy Quintin and her four children didn't die when a drunken driver plowed head-on into their minivan on an early August evening in 2000.
In that respect, they are luckier than the driver who hit them. Adrian O'Connor, a 26-year-old recently arrived from Ireland, was driving his girlfriend's car.
There was a 30-pack of beer in the car and an open can next to O'Connor when police found him dead in the front seat.
While fatalities may represent the ultimate cost of drunken driving, the body count misses the physical, emotional and financial toll on those who survive, and the harm to society.
Federal studies estimate that drunken driving costs the United States $114 billion a year in medical expenses, lost wages and decreased quality of life. Massachusetts' share of that bill is $1.8 billion.
The statistics obscure a compound tragedy experienced by many victims and families: often the auto insurance carried by the drunken driver, or by the victims, is totally inadequate to cover the costs.
Repeat offenders who have lost their license may have no insurance at all, forcing victims to rely only on their own. In any case, victims sometimes face years of litigation to recoup some of their costs.
Outwardly, Quintin seems to be doing well for a woman who survived the force of a crash equivalent to slamming into a brick wall at 100 mph.
Despite the 14 surgeries she has undergone, the brace on her right leg and the crutch she needs to get around, she could easily pass for younger than 37.
She and her husband, Eric, and their children still live in the roomy two-story house they bought in Raynham 10 yars ago.
But now, fatigue sometimes forces Quintin to crawl up the stairs to her bedroom - when she has the energy to get out of bed at all.
Sons Luke, 5, and Shay, 6, and daughters Chandler, 8 and Jordan, 9, all recovered from their injuries and are active and exuberant. Even with their baby sitter in the house, they go to their mother with their questions, hurts and triumphs.
Quintin, who was once an athlete, can no longer run around after them. She still faces the prospect of losing her leg, which has refractured several times since the accident and is susceptible to bone infections. She worries about the potential for addiction to the narcotics she takes to dull her constant leg and back pain.
When Eric Quintin returns from his job at an engineering company, he makes dinner, a task now too arduous for his wife. The girls frequently take charge of the laundry and often bring their mother dinner in bed.
Quintin doesn't believe she will ever come home from work again. She still misses her job as a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Boston, a career she loved for 11 years and lost in an instant.
"I worked so hard to become a nurse, and I feel it was taken away from me," she said .
Not only did Quintin lose a source of tremendous personal satisfaction, but her family lost her salary, most likely forever.
Nurses in Massachusetts earn an average of $60,000 a year, more if they specialize, says the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
A conservative estimate of her lost wages, assuming she would have retired at 65, is $1.86 million.
That doesn't include Eric Quintin's lost wages whenever he exhausts his vacation and sick days, as he has for the past three years, to take her to doctor visits.
Nancy Quintin receives disability payments from Social Security worth about $1,500 a month. But those benefits cost the government, and Quintin's exit from the work force means the government also loses her income tax contribution.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assigns a value of $67,000 to the quality of life lost by a drunken driving injury in Massachusetts.
For the Quintins, the reality of that loss far exceeds her medical bills.
The family has not taken a vacation since the accident. Quintin feels her bonds with her children were strained by her time away from them in the hospital. With her fatigue and pain, she feels she is letting them down.
The children seem to have adjusted to their mother's limitations. Polite but energetic, they stop their play now and then to cuddle with her on the couch.
But for Quintin, it's not enough.
"You feel tremendous guilt because you never feel like you're being a good mother," she said.
Julie Jette may be reached via E-mail by .
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