SKYLAND, N.C. - What do you say when "thank you" isn't enough?
Madeline Delp has spent the past 15 years pondering that question, after rescuers saved her life.
"All right," she said, entering Skyland Fire & Rescue in her wheelchair.
She visited the department to remind them how much their work matters.
"How what you did 15 years ago has so drastically impacted one life," she said.
"Oh my gosh, come here!" she said, greeting Capt. Walter Bryson.
"Good to see you," said Bryson, who first met Delp under the worst of circumstances in February 2004.
Madeline and her mother were in the car together when they were hit by a truck off Airport Road. The impact crushed her spine and left her paralyzed at 10 years old.
"And Brian was actually at the accident that night," Bryson said, introducing Madeline to Battalion Chief Brian Grindstaff.
Meeting with two of her rescuers opened up old emotional wounds for all involved.
"Now, if you make me cry, I'm gonna be upset," Bryson said to Delp.
"I might cry, I'm legit probably going to cry," she replied.
The last time she saw Bryson was months after the accident. That scene is still hard to talk about.
"The damage was all on your side and it," Bryson said, becoming emotional. "I actually had to go to the back window to get to you."
Madeline's eternally grateful for the response of 10 emergency workers, and has lived her live with a sense of purpose.
Madeline grew up to be an inspiration. She was Ms. Wheelchair USA 2017 and will compete for Miss North Carolina USA later this year.
"It felt like a priority for me to be able to thank them," she said.
Skyland Fire & Rescue still has a framed a copy of a newspaper article about Madeline, a much-needed reminder of positive outcomes.
"I don't think I had the words to adequately describe how I felt," she said of her 10-year-old self.
Finding the words is never easy.
During the conversation, she cried as predicted.
"How you saved my life and how you changed it," she said, ending with the sentiment that brought her to the station. "So, thank you."
"It's very good for us to see the outcome and see what you've become," Bryson said. "And that you've done such amazing things and that you're the person you are. It kind of gives life meaning."
The conversation was therapeutic for all involved.
"Like, how do you thank someone for saving your life?" Madeline asked. "Honestly, the thing that I want to give you is just the knowledge that I've tried not to waste it. I've tried to do the very best that I could with the life that I have."
He admiration for the rescuers grows with time.
"It's very powerful, very moving floods of emotion," Bryson said.
They ended the visit on a fun note, giving her a fire helmet and giving her a ride along that gave her even more insight into their job.
"This is a fun ride!" she said in the fire engine.
The thrill ride came years after the crash that influenced who she is today.
"Like, I needed to meet the people who were there," she said.
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