After elevator free fall, innovative treatment, this bride will walk down the aisle again

Between a free-falling elevator accident and then falling in love again, walking down the aisle on her wedding day is a miracle of sorts for Debra Ramoska.

So much pain has led up to what’s become the happiest she's ever been.

Today, the 68-year-old Louisville woman feels secure on her feet and secure in love, but that hasn't always been the case. Earlier this year, she underwent a life-changing regenerative procedure on her knee thateased the aching from an old injury. As we sat in the conference room at Medical Transformation Center, 13111 Eastpoint Park Blvd., in mid-July, a little more than a month before the day she was going to marry her fiancé, Paul Buddeke, she was thrilled and comfortable.

Just five years ago, she was confident she’d never walk down the aisle again.

Just five months ago? Even though she wanted to ― she wasn’t sure she could on that bad knee.

Clearly, a lot has changed.

But to understand all the heartache and inner strength that led to Ramoska's hopefulness, you have to go back to when her knee troubles began in 2007. At the time, the Louisville transplant was living on the39th floor of a building in Chicago with her second husband. Every day she’d take the elevator down past the other 31 floors of residences until it hit the eighth floor where the parking levels began. From there, the elevator would finish a controlled ride to the ground without stopping.

It was the same each day, until one day it didn’t stop.

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Instead, the elevator plummeted four floors down in a complete free fall and sent her and eight other passengers into the air. In those harrowing moments, she reached for a stainless-steel rod and it ripped from the elevator wall. When the car finally stopped, she toppled forward violently and landed on her knee.

As we spoke, she recalled the calendar she kept in the days after the accident. For a solid month, she had a different doctor appointment every day as she worked through the physical and emotional therapy she needed to get back on her feet. She underwent arthroscopic surgery and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which posed a huge problem when she still lived on the 39th floor of the building.

Her second marriage eventually dissolved, and while in general Ramoska says she's a positive person, she never expected to say “I do” again. Her first marriage ended in heartbreak, and as a devout Catholic, she only ever planned to marry once.

Life, of course, doesn’t always go according to plan. Now she believes that God has led her through her hardships and to this happy moment with Buddeke.

“If someone said 20 years ago ‘you’re going to be living in Louisville, and you’re going to get married again,' I would have been like ... 'Who are you talking to? The crystal ball? Whatever,” she said, laughing.

She followed a different relationship to Louisville in August of 2011, and when that also ended poorly, she began dabbling in the dating scene.

She went on 32 first dates before she met Buddeke on Friday, April 13, 2018, at Caffé Classico on Frankfort Avenue. That day might feel looming for some, but the 13th has always been lucky for her. She's even had a couple of job opportunities start on the 13th over the years.

Even with 32 duds behind her, she was hopeful. She and Buddeke exchanged messages ahead of the date, and they weren't just chatting about trivial things like vacations and how they spend their time. Instead, he was interested in learning about her faith and how she grew up. He seemed humble, kind and caring, just like her own father had been.

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He’d never bought a woman flowers on a first date before, but something inspired him to pick up a single long stem rose before their meeting.

It took up the whole length of the table.

She was delighted.

“I looked at the rose and I looked at him and I’m like ‘am I in 'The Bachelorette' for seniors because I do accept the rose,’” she recalled, referencing the popular television show on ABC where contestants who move on to the next round receive roses.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told her.

“Well, you will,” she said.

And by the time he proposed four years later, she’d taught him all about "The Bachelorette," one of her favorite TV shows.

They’d gone through "The Five Languages of Love" by Gary Chapman and spent time most evenings reading "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young. She watched how he filled needs when he saw them, whether that meant quietly bringing a few dozen cans of chicken to an empty food pantry or donating a grill to help his church feed the homeless.

Then he presented her with another long stem rose at Café Classico on Feb. 13 of this year and asked her to marry him.

She said "yes" in between so many happy tears that he responded with "is that a 'yes?'" just to be sure.

But while Ramoska was eager to walk down the aisle again, her knee wasn’t quite up to the task, yet.

That freak elevator accident and age had worn away at the cartilage in her knee. With each step she took, it seemed like one bone was creaking again another. When she got out of bed in the morning, she felt like she had to wait for her knees to wake up, too. She was very guarded with her movements. She always worried if someone bumped into her, she’d lose her balance and fall. The pain had gotten so bad that Ramoska researched having a knee replacement, and at one point she even had one scheduled.

But she didn’t like the idea of being cut open, and she wasn't convinced the replacement would work.

She believes in modern medicine, but she prefers to use holistic remedies when they're available. When Dr. Carl Paige, the chief medical officer at Medical Transformation Center, told her he could use cells from her own body to regrow the cartilage in her knee, it appealed to her.

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The procedure is most effective when patients eat a healthy diet, eliminate foods that cause inflammation, drink lots of water, and exercise. Ramoska was a good candidate for a lot of reasons, Paige said, but largely because she lived a very active lifestyle and already took care of herself. She swims for an hour and a half six days a week, and in general, she's careful about what she puts in her body.

Just two weeks and a day after the proposal, Ramoska took a completely different kind of first step to get ready for her wedding day.

Paige put a corkscrew-like needle into her hip bone and extracted healthy stem cells in her bone marrow, which are then spun through a centrifuge to isolate only the stem cells. Then he injected those into her knee where they signaled other cells in the area to grow and regenerate cartilage in her knee joint.

“They can make what tissue is missing down there and augment what is already (in your knee),” Paige explained.

When she walked into her home after the virtually painless hour and a half treatment, Buddeke couldn't believe she'd just had a procedure.

She was sore in her hip for the week or so after, but steadily that waned and she grew more comfortable on her feet.

Eventually, she didn’t need to reach for the walker first thing in the morning anymore, and while she’s doesn’t plan to wear heels on her wedding day, she won’t be wearing a medical brace either.

Instead, she’s going to walk comfortably and enthusiastically down the aisle on Aug. 13 toward her new life as Mrs. Buddeke. They won't be tossing bouquets or dancing the night away, but they've reserved a small chapel space in the back of their church for an intimate ceremony. They've booked a room for 35 at a local steakhouse.

As she walks down the aisle, she won't be thinking about all the pain that led to this moment.

She'll be thinking about the good life and the loving man waiting for her at the altar.

This is my man and this is my life,” she told me. “And I’m healthy, and we’re both active ... and we can have another 20 years together.”

Features columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, Southern Indiana and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and occasionally, a little weird. If you've got something in your family, your town or even your closet that fits that description — she wants to hear from you. Say hello at or 502-582-4053. Follow along on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Why this Kentucky woman never expected to walk down the aisle again