Volleyball player’s faith after tragedy

  • by Rich Atkinson
Photo courtesy Joel Pfahler.

“My memory from the entire month of August 2011 is gone,” says Andrea Voss Vellinga. “Apparently, I was at a fair in my mom’s town. I have seen pictures, but have no memory of being there.”

Andrea played volleyball for Wright State from 1999-2003, and she was addressing a group of current and former volleyball players in an event sponsored by Athletes in Action on the Fairborn, Ohio campus.

She told them a horrific story of the accident that happened to her that August 3 years ago.

On that night at the Indiana State Fair, a violent wind burst toppled the stage’s temporary roof structure – not up to code – and it fell into the crowd. A falling object knocked Andrea, a wife and mom, to the ground where the front row for the concert had been. She had a crushed skull, collapsed lung, 3 broken vertebrae and broken left scapula.

But she was alive.

A doctor and paramedic couple in the crowd rushed to help. The first person they came to was dead. The second person they came to was Andrea. They chased down an ambulance that already had a patient inside, but they squeezed her in as well.

Andrea was minutes from death when she arrived at the Level 1 trauma center. Her brain was swelling and her inner cranial pressure (ICP) climbed toward the mid-90s. When a drain and plug were inserted, the pressure dropped right away from 90 to 30. “That was one of the miracles, we saw right from the beginning,” her mom, Sandi Voss explains.

The doctor had to insert the plug and drain in the perfect spot and he only had one chance to get it right.

Even with that procedure, Andrea’s brain continued to swell. Andrea’s brother, Tyler posted specific prayer needs on his Facebook page and many of his 3,000 followers prayed. When the pressure started decreasing Tyler asked the nurse, if she gave her anything to cause that to happen. She didn’t and the only explanation was God answering their prayers.

“It proved God was watching over me,” Andrea says.

As she spoke to the volleyball players, Andrea’s pink helmet that she wore for a year-and a-half was on display in the front of the room. They had to remove part of her skull because of the swelling of her brain and wearing her helmet protected her. She has had 7 surgeries and several seizures since the accident.

JoyLynn Tracy, a former coach and player for the Wright State University Raiders, had introduced Andrea to the group by explaining, “When one person in your “family” is hurting you are all hurting,” she said. “So when Andrea was injured we all felt that and really came together as a group to help her get better. And we relied on our faith to do that as well.”

“Andrea has been through a lot. But she has taught us so much through her journey and that’s why it’s so important to us that she can come and speak about it.”

Because spiritual life came to many through Andrea’s near death experience. Andrea kept hearing how many people had placed their faith in Jesus because of this tragic accident. And her family’s faith grew as well.

But when Andrea first heard of people coming to Christ, she was mad at God.

“I thought, I had to get hurt to bring people to God. You’re kidding me. You hurt me to get more people to you? At the time, she thought God was being selfish,” she explains.

But now she sees the outcome differently. “I’ve learned how much more happened and I understand things more,” says Andrea. “In a way, I feel very cool and honored that He chose me to be injured to bring people to Him.”

One example of a changed life is Andrea’s friend, Sam. He started to believe because of how God answered specific prayers for her healing.

“I can say for both of us – our faith has nothing but grown stronger through this,” says Sandi.

“That’s for sure,” says Andrea.

“I think we all have times when we question,” says Sandi. “It’s easy to praise God and have a strong faith when things are all good.”

Andrea continues to struggle with some long-term effects of the accident, but she has seen God’s hand through the healing, and she continues to learn and grow. It’s that same understanding that she wanted to convey to the volleyball players: women who are just like she was in college. She doesn’t know what struggles lie ahead of them, but knows that God can guide them through.

Learn more about Athletes in Action at Wright State.