A new page for model and actress Linda Ripa started writing for her infant after a serious car wreck. Her book has been a form of therapy.

Posted: August 01, 2002

For long, frightening moments after a speeding car ran a red light and smashed into her vehicle, Linda Ripa thought her life was over.

She was eight months pregnant, and her belly went rock-hard, then rag-doll-soft. Her car was virtually unrecognizable; her back, sternum, ankle and pelvis were shattered.

"I was a bowl of Jell-O," said Ripa, 29, a model and actress from the South Jersey family that also produced sister Kelly, of talk-show and soap-opera fame. "I had been the physically active one, the go-getter, the one with all the energy. And then I wasn't."

But today, her mountain of remaining health problems seems less important as she keeps up with Sergio-Giuseppe, a precocious, healthy 2-year-old, and juggles television appearances and interview requests.

The reason is The Ladybug Blues - a children's book that Ripa wrote and illustrated while flat on her back in her hospital bed, sketchbook high in the air as she attempted to keep her baby occupied.

Ripa's recently self-published book and her activism with Mothers Against Drunk Driving - the teenager who slammed into her at 80 m.p.h. had been drinking - help keep her mind from the constant pain.

And to her family, who also got involved in MADD after the accident, the fact that she and Sergio are alive at all is a miracle.

Immediately after the accident, which happened on a sunny August 1999 weekday at Red Lion Road and Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, Ripa's greatest fear was that her baby would not live.

When her pelvic bone broke, it jutted into Sergio's head and put him into a coma for three weeks. Ripa, who is divorced, delivered the baby immediately after he emerged from the coma, and he was born with virtually no health problems that September.

Her concern then shifted to the rest of her life. Her parents, Esther and Joseph, set up a hospital bed in a sunny back room of their Berlin Borough home. Ripa spent two years there, the first few months confined to bed.

In the beginning, she kept Sergio in bed with her, a bundle tucked under her arm while the lower half of her body was a mass of casts and the protruding external fixators to stabilize the bones. But, pointing at an almost 3-year-old who now zooms around at lightning speed, Ripa noted that the placid baby stage didn't last long.

"One day when he was about 6 months old, I looked at him, and he looked bored," she said. "I asked my mom for sketch paper and colored pencils, started writing and drawing stories for him, and he sat there the whole time, watching everything I did."

The Ladybug Blues was her first writing effort, a tale of a ladybug's struggle to fit in and journey to find its family. Without formal art or writing training, Ripa fancied herself an interested mother, a scribbler.

But as she grew stronger, using a walker or crutches for short periods, her family encouraged her to think about turning her story into a book.

Months later, Ripa found herself with a self-published book. Pittsburgh-based publisher Dorrance liked it enough to pitch it, and the whirl began.

These days, her cell phone rarely goes five minutes without ringing - calls from reporters and well-wishers; frantic messages from her publicist about tomorrow's appearance; questions from her fiance, Berlin Police Officer Michael Kernan, about the wedding the couple is planning.

She has been off to Manhattan for a book signing with Kelly and a brief cameo on The Late Show With David Letterman. Shooting a show for Barbara Bush's literacy program. Appearing at signings, some of which benefit MADD. Negotiating the deal for the next book, under consideration by Penguin-Putnam.

Despite her full life as a model before the accident, the limelight still feels a little strange, Ripa said. "This has been really busy, really different, but fun."

Still, there are setbacks.

"On a good day," she said, "I feel like I'm 95."

Her bones are weak from the trauma, and refractures will always be a danger. Despite her stylish appearance, her whole body remains crooked, and one foot is curled under, meaning she can walk only while wearing high heels with thick soles to give her balance.

She has a hernia and permanent nerve damage and can reel off medical jargon like a doctor. She still faces several surgeries.

Meanwhile, the man who hit her was released five months into a six-month jail sentence and has not yet paid his $1,750 fine after a criminal conviction for aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence.

"He's changed my life and the lives of my entire family, and he's physically fine," Ripa said. "The pain I've learned to live with is just indescribable, torture-chamber pain."

So the members of the Ripa family - Kelly is chairwoman of a MADD awareness campaign - vow to keep a cause they never thought would touch them in the spotlight.

"We will not stop fighting," Ripa said. "Things have to change."

Contact Kristen Graham at 856-779-3927 or kgraham@phillynews.com.

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