Adele Freedman and Tobb Dell'Oro were two Americans staying in the Iranian city of Bam when a devastating earthquake hit on Dec. 26, claiming the lives of more than 30,000 people.
Dell'Oro was one of them.
Freedman, a Long Island native, managed to escape the debris with the help of her tour guide and survive with injuries ranging from minor fractures in her vertebrae to bone breakage so severe that her left leg required pins to be stabilized.
She sat in a wheelchair at New York Hospital Queens in Flushing on Friday, the day she was finally being released from the hospital, to tell the story of the first few weeks of her recovery and the unimaginable future she faces in a life without Dell'Oro.
"I've just lost my partner and the man I love," she said, her voice wavering. "So I don't feel lucky, even though I am."
She was flanked by doctors and family in the foyer of the hospital, where she sat in a wheelchair after being brought to the doors on a stretcher.
"I am only here because of the kindness of the Iranian people," she said.
Freedman credits her tour guide with her and Dell'Oro's escape from the wreckage. The pair was trapped in their room after the ceiling of the one-story guest home they were staying in collapsed, and the tour guide helped dig them out of the rubble and get them to a hospital.
"I never lost consciousness, but I don't really remember," she said, as she struggled to recall the early morning hours of Dec. 26.
"I knew (Dell'Oro) had gotten close to me, but I didn't know he was standing. I said to Tobb, 'we're going to die,' and he said, 'no, we're not,'" she said. "I thought Tobb was doing better than me because he had more energy to yell."
The couple was brought by car from their hotel in Bam to a hospital more than 100 miles away, but Dell'Oro did not make it. He died from blood loss resulting from a shoulder wound he sustained.
Freedman's injuries were treated in the Iranian hospital until last week when she was brought back to New York Hospital Queens, where doctors said the medical care she received overseas was excellent.
"They did exactly what we do here," Dr. Krish Sastry said. "I'm not surprised; if you go around the world you'll see how advanced medical care is."
Freedman said she is grateful to be going home to her parents' house after being hospitalized for two weeks. But she is not sure when she is returning to California, where she and Dell'Oro lived, or if she will ever return to Tehran.
"I'd like to go back because Tobb would go back," she said. "We'd like to do something for the Iranian people."
She said she has spoken with Dell'Oro's family about the possibility of opening a school or a hospital in Tehran in his memory.
But she said the thought of going back to Iran, or even returning to her prior life, seems unimaginable.
"I don't know how I'm sitting here without him," she said. "So much of me wants to give up."
A colon cancer survivor, Freedman said she knows that life is worth living. Actually, it was recovering from her disease that inspired her and Dell'Oro to travel so extensively.
"The only time he ever relaxed was getting out of the country," she said. "The one thing he would have wanted was for this world to be a better and peaceful place."
She met Dell'Oro at a party his company was hosting in 1998. His sister was afraid there would be too many single men so a few single women, such as Freedman, were invited to the event.
A few months after they started dating, she knew he was her life partner.
"I found a dress and I knew it was the dress I wanted to get married in, and I knew I wanted to marry Tobb," she said. "It took him a little longer."
The day after they were engaged, she last remembers him laying on the ground outside the car that would take them to the hospital, where she would survive and he would be pronounced dead.
"I (was) telling him how much I loved him," she remembered, "and that he couldn't leave me."
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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