My Daughter Eileen

My Daughter Eileen

By Sue Harrison

Eileen came home from college, where she was completing her 3rd year, to study for final exams, renew her driver's license, and get a dress for her brother's college graduation.

None of these events took place for Eileen; 2 days before her 21st birthday she was turning left into the DMV to renew her driver's license when her car was hit broadside by a car going straight ahead. The impact threw her car a great length before it stopped, crashing into a pole. Fortunately, there was a policeman in the DMV and a fire station across the street and thanks to them, they were able to extract her from her car and perform a tracheotomy. The closest hospital was around the corner where she was taken and put on life support. All this happened while my husband and I were at work; I was not far from the hospital but did not know anything until 3 in the afternoon; the accident occurred at 9:30am. When the police finally found a neighbor of ours who was home, they told them where I worked and they called me and said to get right to the hospital, that there had been an accident and my daughter was involved. They would not give me any other information, so I called my husband and told him to meet me at the hospital. When we got there they told us that Eileen was in a car accident and suffered a severe TBI; she was on life support and was not expected to live. Being the fighter that she is, she survived being in a coma, being paralyzed on her (dominant) right side, and being in critical condition for a month in ICU.

While Eileen was in ICU, I remembered seeing a movie 2 weeks earlier about a young woman on Long Island (where we lived) who had a TBI and was in a coma. At the end of the movie was a link to the L.I. chapter of the Brain Injury Association. When I told my sons, who were with us at the hospital, they tracked it down and found the phone number of the president of this chapter. That night, that gentleman came to the ICU and offered us more support, hope, and information than anyone had as yet provided. This was in 1991; we had no cell phones and no computers. We will always be grateful to this kind person whose son had also suffered a TBI.

Once Eileen was stabilized, which is more than the doctors had expected, we had Eileen transferred to the closest TBI rehabilitation center, which was in Edison N.J. There Eileen blossomed; she worked so hard and had incredible doctors, therapists, and nurses. She was there for 4 months and achieved more than anyone had hoped for, including saying her first word and, ultimately, as anyone who knows her, went on to say much more! She was then transferred to their acute care unit for 2 months; she started coming home for weekends after about a month and was then discharged a month later and came home to continue rehab at an outpatient facility on L.I. She was there all day for 1½ years and then moved on to another center as that one closed. Before moving down to Georgia with us, where both our sons and their families were living, Eileen had some surgeries in Philadelphia, lengthening on her arm and foot on the right side, and the following year, a transfer on her right knee. She also had Strabismus surgery for the double vision that was due to her injury.

One of Eileen's motivators to walk again was to be able to walk down the aisle at her brother and his fiancée's wedding. Our son's friend, who was to be a groomsman, went to physical therapy with Eileen to learn how to assist her, walking down the aisle. She did it!

The journey has been long and arduous for Eileen and her family. To this day, Eileen still works to maintain and improve her functioning. She still makes improvements and has come to terms with her disability and her deficits. There are still frustrations but they are overcome so much more quickly. We are so proud of her!

Eileen and I became involved with the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association® in an effort to give back and give support to others who have had a TBI and their families who are going through what our family has gone through. My best advice I give to people we visit is, try to stay positive and supportive of your loved one; be sure to take time for yourself every day, even for an hour or more if possible, when someone can cover for you; it will help you to remain strong and focused. Do not listen to others who may say, "Well, I know someone with the same injury who can or never will do [such and such] . . ." NO two brain injuries are alike. Always encourage your loved one to keep trying to the best of their ability; your never know when the next improvement will happen! Always ask people to address your loved one and give them the opportunity to respond themselves, if they can.