It’s alleged Jennifer Schmit’s airbag did not go off instantly upon impact after her crash following a friend’s birthday party – and her injuries have changed her life
A driver lost her left eye after her car’s airbag failed to deploy instantly upon impact in a violent crash.
After Jennifer Schmit’s vehicle collided with a crash barrier, it is alleged the airbag went off after the fierce impact, and lacerated her left eyeball. Although Jennifer, 32, survived the crash otherwise unscathed, her eye started to “shrink” over the following months and she was left pushing her right eye to the limit, as it had to work for two.
Jennifer contacted a lawyer to start proceedings against the company which had created the airbag but later decided against taking this further, as she claims she was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. The crash, which happened on the way home from her friend’s birthday celebration, has nevertheless changed Jennifer’s life forever.
She said: “I cried every morning when I opened my eyes and the world fell apart around me. I was in total shock and I also felt guilty because the news was going to hurt my family and boyfriend. When I had the car accident, the airbag didn’t go off instantly, but a few seconds after the impact. The impact was violent when it deployed, throwing my face backwards. My seatbelt saved me, I was intact. But the airbag made me lose my eye forever. I was devastated.”
Jennifer, from Belgium, said she didn’t have the strength to pursue legal proceedings against the firm in the end. She is now sharing her journey to help others following car accidents.
“For the first year after my accident, I had traumatic reactions when I started driving again. Flashes where I imagined myself reliving the accident, anxiety attacks when I was driving, palpitations. But with a lot of patience and work on myself and with the help of a therapist, I can now drive with peace of mind,” Jennifer added.
“I had difficulties with crowds and being around a lot of people. I also couldn’t see enough around me and it was anxiety-inducing. At the beginning, I stayed at home a lot, because when I was outdoors, for example, I was afraid to cross the road for fear of not seeing a car coming and getting hit. I had to take the time to find my mark, to take the time to look around me and touch things to estimate their distance when I moved so as not to bump into them.”
Jennifer initially had nine stitches in her left eye and was overjoyed when the surface healed. Then she began noticing the “shrinking” of the eye and limited vision in her good eye.
In October 2020, she made the brave decision to remove her left eye entirely due to the way it altered her appearance. She said: “Nobody could understand what I was going through, except for a one-eyed person. For the first month, I was tired because my right eye was working for two. I was able to look at screens for an hour, but then I had to rest for an hour due to photosensitivity.
“There was a big difference between the two [eyes] and I had inflammation regularly. I thought if I removed my eye to get a prosthesis, then I’d be more at peace with how much my face looked. I wanted to feel [like] myself again. When I saw my face for the first time [after this], I felt immense joy. It was a very emotional moment. I felt like I was seeing my true face again – I had infinite gratitude.”
Now, Jennifer feels more comfortable when in public. She said: “To go down steps, I sometimes feel around with the tip of my foot so as not to be surprised by the height of the step. When I pour a drink into a glass I sometimes touch the glass with my index finger to estimate the distance between the bottle and the glass.
“By losing an eye, I lost 3D vision and depths, so these tips help me gauge distances correctly. I don’t wear glasses anymore, but maybe one day I might need them again as my eyesight is diminishing or if I need protection for my good eye. Since it is the only eye I have left, I take care of it.”
Jennifer hopes to raise awareness and says that connecting with people in similar situations has helped with the trauma. She added: “People write to me to say that it helped them accept themselves, to ask me for some advice or simply to talk about our experience. It makes me very happy to bring positivity and love where sometimes there’s pain, loneliness, and trauma.
“At first I was very sad that I would never again be able to see life with two eyes, but now I’m grateful to be alive and still able to see. After four years, I feel like a new version of me – a better version. I like to say: ‘By losing an eye, I see better.’
“I discovered that I had so much strength and resilience, I learned to embrace my wounds. Healing takes time and I give myself this time. I would like people to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel with love and time. You are not alone.”