Susan Norris kissed the face of death. 

“I wouldn’t have given you a plug nickel for her chances,” Cumberland County Fire Department Chief Trevor Kerley said Monday. 

No one did. Friends say she defied the odds and medical understanding and today is recovering.

Some are not shy about calling her a miracle.

A smile on her face and thumbs-up gesture for a photo sent to her friends tells the story. 

Whether one says it wasn’t her time to leave her earthly home, or one subscribes to the belief in modern-day God-sent miracles, optimism is growing she will recover and return to being what acquaintances describe as “everyone’s momma.”

The accident

Early Friday afternoon Norris, 59, decided to stop by the county convenience center off Bean Pot Campground Rd. to drop off a bag of trash on her way to an appointment at Dr. Victor Shada’s office. As it turns out, she was suffering from a serious case of pneumonia, said her friend of nearly 40 years, Felicia Gunter.

Slowed by knee surgery from over a year ago, Norris exited her pickup truck to toss the bag of trash into a dumpster. When she did, the vehicle either jumped into gear, or was left in gear, and started moving forward.

“Susan can’t move fast because of her knee, but she tried to grab the door, which had shut. Her vehicle is one of those whose doors lock when it starts to move and she could not get the door open,” Gunter said she was told.

Norris was knocked off balance and ended up pinned between the truck and the office building at the center. The center attendant tried to enter the pickup to back the pickup off Norris, but found the doors were locked.

E-911 was called, and emergency responders rushed to the scene.

Tow truck driver Darwin Scarlett was driving by the center when he was flagged down by a passerby.

Norris, by this time, was turning blue, her pulse was extremely week and her shallow breathing appeared to have ceased.

He sized up the situation, dropped down the bed of his roll-back wrecker and hooked up to Norris’ still-running vehicle. He pulled the vehicle away enough to free Norris, who by this time was not breathing and displayed a deep discoloration in her skin.

Deputy K.C. Iles responded to the scene. He informed dispatchers of the dire emergency and immediately began CPR. He continued until the first of two responding ambulances arrived.

Chief Kerley, who was not far away having lunch, sped to the scene and arrived just as Scarlett was unhooking the chains from the pickup truck and his wrecker.

While life-saving measures were being taken, fire officials established a landing zone for a medical helicopter.

Two ambulances were dispatched. Emergency personnel crews from both units took over the non-stop life saving efforts to save Norris’ life. 

A faint pulse was found, and Norris was flown directly to the trauma center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The dire prognosis

From all accounts, it did not look good for Norris’ recovery. She was taken to the intensive care unit at UTMC where her prognosis was grim. 

Gunter and other friends rushed to the hospital in support of the person they love.

Norris was suffering from a deep bruising of the wall around the heart, ten broken ribs and was suffering from pneumonia. One lung was nearly full of water, Gunter continued. Norris was placed on a ventilator and friends kept vigil.

“The doctor called and asked that her living will be brought to the hospital,” Gunter said. “I went over to her house, found it and faxed it to the hospital.” There was little left to do but wait.”

Gunter said the doctor estimated that Norris was without blood flow and oxygen to the brain for around 20 minutes. 

“The doctor looked over the living will and told us he was going to do everything that she wanted.” Gunter remembered. This included removing the vent and, if the time came, to harvest her organs for donations to others.

But, the doctor said he was going to leave Norris on the vent for 12 more hours before carrying out her last wishes.

The situation was so grim that four friends — including Gunter — were allowed to spend time in ICU with Norris Saturday evening. “By them bending the rules for us, I knew it just wasn’t good,” Gunter said.

That night it happened.

Norris raised up, whispered and cried. It was a normal reaction from someone who had undergone severe trauma and extended unconsciousness.

“We were to meet with the doctor at 11 a.m. our time Sunday and while we were hoping for the best, we were fearing the worst,” Gunter recalled. “Well, 11 came and no meeting … 12, and finally, at 1 p.m. the doctor called us in. You know, we were fearing the worst.”

Instead, the doctor told the friends what had transpired over night. They were allowed to take turns briefly visiting her. Gunter said Norris was still groggy from the trauma, the medication and treatment and being unconscious for an extended period of time.

Monday she was removed from the ventilator and while a UTMC spokesperson would not comment about Norris, it was reported that she is now listed in “stable condition.”

“She is a miracle,” Gunter said. “When we found out we were praising the Lord.” Gunter attends Calvary Baptist Church in the Woody community and church members joined Norris’ friends in praying for her recovery.

“Well, you know, Susan is going to do what Susan is going to do what Susan wants to do,” Gunter said. “She is going to fight this.”

The person

Susan Norris is a native of Cumberland County, an avid animal lover and “everyone’s momma.”

For several years Norris worked at Food City and to this day maintains contact with a group of friends who still socialize together. Melissa Dodson is one of those co-workers and describes Norris as the type person “who always wants to help people.”

Said Dodson, “She was like everyone's momma and made sure you were taken care of. She always puts people before her own needs. She has no clue how special she is to everyone. She has a huge heart for animals and goes out of her way to take care of them. No matter how bad of a day she is having she always wants to know how you were and if she can do anything for you,” Dodson wrote on her Facebook page.

After leaving Food City, Norris joined the staff at Good Samaritan Society in Fairfield Glade as a cook and is employed there today.

Skye Thomason is a former nurse at Good Samaritan Society and echoed Dodson’s comments.

“She is everyone’s momma. She took great care of the residents and the staff. Everyone called her momma” said Thomason.

Norris never expected or sought anything in return. “She is the sweetest woman ever,” Thomason continued. “She is a miraculous woman, and I think the world of her.”

While working at Good Samaritans, Norris would attend daily meetings that would end with employees being reminded, “God has this.” She adopted this as her greeting and would always remind her friends.

This week, her friends reminded her, “God has this.” She responds with a smile and a thumbs-up gesture.

The fundraising

Because of the love displayed for others over the years, Dodson came up with the idea of starting a GoFundMe page for donations to assist in her growing expenses relating to her treatment and care. 

“She wants everyone to know how special they are and how much they deserve. I told her God isn't done with her yet,” Dodson said.

Living on a single income isn't easy and when you are sick and can't work it makes it so much harder. I want to show her how much she means to us all. If you have money to give it will be appreciated but most of all she still needs prayers. She has a long road ahead of her,” Dodson wrote on the GoFundMe page.

Words of encouragement are accompanying donations. Wrote Tammy White, “Susan has always been willing to help people whenever they need it. She would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. I wanted to give back a little part of what's she's given. I also want her to know that I Love her and would help her anyway I could. Love You Susan!”

For those wishing to contribute to the GoFundMe page, directions are found under the name of Susan Norris.

For those uncertain about donating on line, cash donations can be given to Dodson, Christy Narramore or Allison West. More information can be obtained by emailing melissa092279@yahoo.com.

Her friends want the community to give her a thumbs up sign and to remember, “God has this.”

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com