AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Four years ago this Sunday, Amtrak Train 188 rounded a turn at 106 miles per hour and derailed in Philadelphia. Eight people died, and more than 200 were injured. It was one of the worst Amtrak accidents in recent history. Reporter Megan Tan spent some time with one survivor who has struggled to move forward.
MEGAN TAN, BYLINE: When Janie Dumbleton looks through her closet, she passes a clump of work clothes she hasn't updated in four years.
JANIE DUMBLETON: We have this work blazer, a few black pants, some winter dresses.
TAN: On one hanger - a sleeveless floral top, one of her favorites.
DUMBLETON: My 3.1 Phillip Lim for Target top. It's so sturdy-feeling and, like, kind of silky and structured.
TAN: I can't believe there are no stains.
DUMBLETON: I can't believe it, either - or rips. It's kind of a miracle.
TAN: Those fibers hugged her body on one of the worst days of Janie's life. Seated next to her boss on Amtrak 188, it was late. Janie was tired but didn't want to fall asleep on her first work trip, so she started texting her friend Jordan.
DUMBLETON: Jordan was telling me about "Grey's Anatomy," how Derek had died in a car accident. And I remember texting back, nothing this dramatic ever happens in real life. And then I looked up, and I saw the accordion of the train kind of fold and bend.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: We've got live team coverage for you tonight of the derailment.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: An Amtrak train crash that has rocked the city.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: They are bandaged, bruised, some with broken bones, and many...
DUMBLETON: Three helicopters were just hovering right above the ground. I remember thinking the world must have ended, and I was ready to die.
TAN: Eight people lost their lives, and the man sitting in front of Janie lost his ability to walk. Janie would keep her life, her legs. And her mother, who raced to Janie's hospital bed, would keep her clothes. When Janie saw them again clean and in her closet, her body immediately reacted.
DUMBLETON: I remember getting kind of a weird shiver. I knew right then and there when I saw them folded that I would keep them.
TAN: After 5 1/2 months of recovery, Janie and her outfit headed back to New York City, back to her job and her normal life. But nothing felt normal.
DUMBLETON: One way PTSD manifests is you stop thinking about a future - didn't really realize it was happening until my PTSD counselor was like, what do you see as your future? Blank - it's like, I don't see anything. I see nothing. I was just trying to survive.
TAN: Janie's PTSD followed her everywhere. It manifested in scenes from "Grey's Anatomy" and sirens on the streets. When her company moved downtown, it stood outside her new office window.
DUMBLETON: All of a sudden I could see and hear helicopters, and they weren't just, like, high in the sky. One was getting lower and lower and lower to the ground. It felt unsettling and felt like it would transport me out of life for a second, just, like, a few seconds.
TAN: When Janie decided to confront her PTSD by standing in front of the helicopter landing pad, she reached into her closet for a secret boost of strength.
DUMBLETON: I knew I would want to put on my train wreck outfit because I knew it would be hard, and I knew I wanted a physical reminder that it was going to be OK.
TAN: Now on demanding work days, Janie's clothing is strategic. When she leads a presentation or musters up the courage to ask for a raise, she puts on that outfit.
DUMBLETON: My former self was in those clothes, and then the self that was in the train wreck was in those clothes. And then the self I was trying to reconstruct was in those clothes, and that woman was OK.
TAN: This weekend, she'll be on her first work trip overseas since the accident, and tucked into her suitcase will be that same floral top and pair of black cropped pants. She'll wear it, wash it and then hang it back in her closet ready to be worn again. For NPR News, I'm Megan Tan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.