Metro Detroit nurse has unique care perspective after facing life-threatening injuries from car crash

Lawren Ruiz heals from serious car crash, becomes nurse in Port Huron

In 2021, Lawren Ruiz was driving home with her son in the front seat on M-25 near Lake Port when they were struck head-on by a drunk driver. Ruiz's son walked away with minor injuries, but Lawren Ruiz suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the crash occurred, Ruiz was in nursing school. Now, she's a nurse at McLaren Hospital in Port Huron.

PORT HURON, Mich. – Ask any nurse and they’ll tell you that no two days are the same -- same buildings, same routines, same computers, sure, but with new patients, each day brings something new.

Especially when you become the patient yourself.

That’s what happened to Lawren Ruiz, who was unexpectedly hospitalized from a serious car crash while she was studying to become a nurse.

“I had weeks of no memory,” Ruiz said. “I had a traumatic brain injury because of the accident. And it was actually the frontal lobe of my brain, so all of my inhibitions were gone.”

On February 21, 2021, Ruiz was driving home with her son in the front seat on M-25 near Lakeport when they were struck head-on by a drunk driver. Ruiz says that as they drove through a no passing zone, a driver traveling in the opposite direction passed a truck pulling a trailer, and entered the other lane -- crashing directly into Ruiz’s vehicle.

The driver that attempted to pass was reportedly drunk, and he and his passenger died instantly in the crash. Somehow, Ruiz’s son walked away from the incident without any serious injuries. But the same could not be said for the mother.

Ruiz said she didn’t see the driver coming at all; it had happened so fast. She also didn’t know how serious her injuries were.

You can see photos from the crash in the video player above.

Due to the crash, Ruiz suffered from a traumatic brain injury with a brain bleed, a severed artery in her leg, broken bones sticking out of her leg and much more. Doctors say it was a “life-threatening situation” for the mother.

“I severed my popliteal artery, which is the artery that runs right behind your knee. So, I was losing pulses,” Ruiz said. “I didn’t have any pulses in my feet, because the blood wasn’t flowing there. My artery was severed, so that was a big deal.”

Paramedics rushed Ruiz to McLaren Port Huron, then quickly realized she needed more extensive care and brought her to McLaren Macomb. By then, she was intubated and sedated.

Doctors weren’t sure they could save her leg -- but, fortunately, her brain injuries had stabilized enough and they were able to try. With the help of several doctors, Ruiz was repaired and worked to rebuild her strength.

Now, she’s an ICU nurse at McLaren Port Huron -- the first hospital she was in after the car crash.

“If she had lost her leg, I don’t believe that she would be built to be on her feet, working 12-hour shifts as an ICU nurse,” said Dr. Chris Vitale. “It’s a physically demanding job, taking care of critical patients. So, I think it would have changed not just her life, it would have changed her career path, her family life.”

Even though Ruiz has the scars to prove her past, she’s writing her own future.

“It sucks to be a patient, it’s not great,” Ruiz said. “So, when you have people that are nothing but uplifting and understanding, it’s so helpful. So, I just try to give back as much of that as I can.

“Nursing is the kind of career that I can always help people, I can always try to help them feel better, make their lives a little better.”

Watch the full story in the video player above.

Related: We asked about the nurses who’ve touched your lives. These responses will make you feel things.

About the Authors:

Nick joined the Local 4 team in February of 2015. Prior to that he spent 6 years in Sacramento covering a long list of big stories including wildfires and earthquakes. Raised in Sterling Heights, he is no stranger to the deep history and pride Detroit has to offer.

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.