Mind over Matter - Make your Mess into your Message

There were so many things going right in my life.  I had just finished an amazing high school career filled  with so many great memories. I was doing everything right, participating in every extra-curricular high school event I could.  I had just graduated and I was looking forward to an even better college experience.     

Everything was going awesome until April 18th 2010. On that day, my cheerleading team and I were doing a local exhibition to raise money so our team could participate in competitions. I was one of the bases --- a base is one of the girls who holds the flyer and helps send her into the air.  We were performing a routine stunt when my flyer bailed out of the stunt and her rear-end flew into my chest and caused me to fall back onto my rear, in a jolting motion.

I was in excruciating pain, crying on the mat when my coach approached me, telling me to "Get back UP and STOP making a scene!" So, I got back up and continued to perform, doing my tumbling and lifting my teammates in the air. After about 20 minutes of performing, I collapsed and did not regain consciousness. I was then rushed to the local hospital across the road from my college. My mother had received a call from my college and they simply told her: "Your daughter is in the hospital and you need to pick her up." My mother, along with my sister, got into the car to travel three and half hours away, not knowing fully what was wrong with me. As she crossed the New York border, her phone rang again; this time it was my neurosurgeon. He quickly introduced himself and even more quickly told her: "I'm going in to operate, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to save her life. She also has a collapsed lung and a broken neck." I ended up having several fractured vertebrae in my neck, as well as a totally collapsed lung. The doctor did perform surgery and he also had to perform an emergency craniotomy to remove the bone-flap from the left side of my brain, storing it inside my abdomen so my brain could swell without being further damaged, and body could harvest the bone-flap. I was in a medically-induced coma for two weeks, including my 19th Birthday. After my month-long stay in the ICU in a New York hospital, I was transferred to Spalding Rehab in Boston to begin my in-patient physical, occupational, and speech therapies. When I first arrived there, the head physiatrist called a meeting with my parents and told them: "I have been studying the brain for many, many years and I looked over all your daughter's CAT-scans and reports; she is so severely injured at the very best she will only EVER be able to walk with a walker!" I'm lying in my bed and I have a neck-brace and helmet uncomfortably fashioned onto my head. My mom on one side of the bed and my dad on the other side of the bed, both looking visibly upset. I then asked my parents: "What did the 'Know-it-all Brain Smarty-Pants' say?!" Both my parents looked at each other and hesitated to tell me. My dad kind of shrugged his shoulders, so I then put both of my hands up, one facing my mother and one facing my father, and said: "WOAH, WOAH, WOAH!!! NO, this is NOT how this is going to go down. You three were just meeting about me, about what that man is telling you the well being for the rest of MY life is going to be like. You better believe you will tell me word for word, syllable for syllable, what he just said!" So my mother looked at me and lifted her eyebrows saying, "Okay Ryan, you really want to know what he said?" "Yes that is why I'm getting frustrated!" "He said that you are so severely injured, that at the very best, you will only ever be able to walk with a walker." I then turned as much as I could with a neck brace, bit my lip, shook my head, and just said "I'll prove him wrong... I'll prove him WRONG." I did prove him wrong... Pictures DON'T Lie! :

It was a tough road ahead for me. Not only was it a physical and cognitive stress, but it was also very emotionally stressful. It was very difficult to deal with, because I was not doing anything wrong when I suffered my traumatic brain injury. I was supposed to start mysophomore year of college!

I spent eleven weeks at Spaulding, and the most I was able to do was take a few steps with a walker. Finally on August 6, 2010, I was transferred to this absolutely incredible rehab for the last part of my in-patient therapies.  Three days after that, on August 9th,I wasbrought back down to Boston to have my final brain operation.  On August 10th, one day after my final surgery I began all my therapies.  My first therapy was a physical therapy. After about 40 - 50 minutes into physical therapy I was out of the wheel chair using the walker. I was using the walker for about 40 minutes when I looked over at my physical therapist and said: "Tara, get that disgusting hunk of metal away from me; I never want to see that thing ever again!!!"  She just kind of laughed and said ok Ryan I'll put it in the closet and throw away the key.  I said do one better throw it offthe top of the mountain and let it go plummeting into the lake.  My therapist sort of chuckled, "Whatever you say goes!" 

Although I no longer cheer, I have been able to keep an amazing life despite my messes. I may have had a broken neck, brain injury, and collapsed lung; this was all part of the plan to share my message.

As soon as I realized what had happened to me, my main prerogative was to turn a negative into a positive. I became involved with, and have been able to share my story through the Think A-Head Program developed by the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts.  The Think A-Head Program is prevention for teenagers and young adults.  It provides court mandated programs for children who may have gotten into trouble the first time, and many other wonderful programs to work with teenagers and young adults.

My whole thought process and mentality through this life changing set- back has been, and will forever remain : ~Mind OVER Matter~ ; and also (quoting Robin Roberts):"Make your MESS your MESSAGE!"

Thank you for reading my story

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