OTTUMWA — He was driving her car as they left her house in What Cheer early Monday, Feb. 7, 2005. As usual, she draped her left arm along the top of his seat, behind his head.

Diane Orfanos and Galen Davis were southbound at about 8:39 a.m. Feb. 7 on Iowa Highway 21, headed for Ottumwa. In late January the two had returned from a vacation in Hawaii. The night before she’d hosted a birthday party for Galen at her home in What Cheer.

As the car headed into the curve on 21, Diane and Galen saw the semi coming. Diane doesn’t remember the impact of the truck as it hit her car. The crash killed him and left her critically injured.

Diane’s next memory, a brief one, was Tuesday evening before going into surgery. On Wednesday morning she found out Galen “didn’t make it.”

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Galen,” she said. “He was good for me and my kids, and was a good role model, too.”

The Ottumwa community was shocked to lose Sgt. Galen Davis, a longtime Ottumwa Police officer, and to hear that Diane, owner of The View Restaurant for many years, lay critically injured. Today’s medical privacy laws leave non-relatives in the dark about someone in the hospital.

When Diane started trying to return to work, she’d drive from What Cheer to Ottumwa, go in the restaurant, then turn around and go right back home. But, when she got home, she wanted to go back to work.

“It was tough, but I had to keep trying. My employees needed to see me [at the restaurant],” she said. “So, I did as many things as I could with one hand.”

Eventually, Diane sold her home and acreage in What Cheer. It was too difficult to drive by the scene of the accident every day.

“I’d get upset, but I had to control myself before I got to the restaurant,” she said.

Selling her property was a difficult choice. She had lived in the What Cheer area for 18 years. Her children —  Alexis, 23; Angelo, 21; and Maria, 19 — grew up there.

“So, I bought a house in Ottumwa, which made going to work much easier,” she said.

The accident left Diane with several physical challenges. The semi’s impact shattered her left arm and shoved it into her shoulder.

“My left arm was more than four inches shorter than my right one,” Diane said. “They had to reconstruct my left arm. The impact crushed both bones in my forearm and shattered my elbow.”

Doctors put a steel rod in the top part of her shoulder down to her elbow. They also put two six-inch plates in the forearm and that’s what holds the bones together, she said.

Her last surgery was Nov. 1 and they redid the shoulder and rotator cuff. They removed the rod and did a bone graft from her left hip.

“Now I have a four-inch steel plate in my shoulder that will always stay there,” Diane said.

As for the shattered elbow, there wasn’t much the surgeons could do for that. She was forced to move it on her own.

“The elbow is as good as it will be,” she said. “And, my shoulder does work. But, the bones in my forearm still haven’t healed so, down the road, I may have to have another bone grafting.”

Her injuries threatened her livelihood, but family, friends and employees rallied to keep the business going. Even a few former employees returned to work for Diane during her crisis.

“The restaurant is my source of income. Everyone stepped up to help me,” she said.

Diane said her physical therapists made her do exercises to straighten the fingers of her left hand. Every time she succeeded, Diane said “TA-DA!”

“I didn’t even realize I was doing that,” she said.

The medical staff later confessed they called Diane “the TA-DA Girl.”

“TA-DA” is a sound of accomplishment or success. Keep those “TA-DAs” coming, Diane. You’ve got a lot of cheerleaders in this neighborhood.

Cindy Toopes can be reached at (641) 683-5376 or via e-mail at cindy@ottumwacourier.com.

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