Mercy Flight Stat! We are losing Danielle

It was Saturday, May 19, 2007. My youngest son Nate, had a field trip to Fantasy Island (an amusement park), which I chaperoned last time, so my husband, Steve, chaperoned this time and my oldest son, Lance, went along with them. So, having a Saturday morning to myself, I went shopping to get a present for our nephew’s birthday party we were going to that evening and hit some yard sales. I found a nice weight bench and some more weights to add to my collection in my work out room, which is in my basement. I got home around 2:00 in the afternoon and my sister was at my house doing some housework for me. I wiped down the weight equipment and took it down to the basement and thought I’d venture back out to see if I could find any more yard sales. Around the corner I found a treadmill, bought it, loaded it into the back of my explorer, drove home, opened the back of my explorer, slid the treadmill out and that is the last thing I remember.

This is the rest of the story as it has been told to me, as I have no recollection of any or these events.

Steve and Lance got home around 6:00pm from the amusement park and Nate had gone over to one of his friend’s house that was on the trip with them. Steve and Lance were confused as to why the back of the Explorer was open, so they shut it and came in the house. They noticed a new treadmill leaning up against the wall in the basement at the bottom of the steps. Steve called for me and I didn’t answer – so he went up to our bedroom and I was in bed. He asked me if I was ready to go to the birthday party and I mumbled that I had a migraine and couldn’t go. Then I got out of bed, walked to the bathroom where I was shaking and Steve asked me why I was shaking and I said, “I am?” I then walked down stairs and Steve asked me what I was doing and I said I was going to bed and then I walked back upstairs and got back in bed. I get some pretty intense headaches from time to time so he didn’t think a whole lot of it. He told my son to keep an eye on me and he was going to go up to our nephew’s party. Some of the guys were going to get a game of Poker going so Steve came home to get Lance knowing he’d want to play. When he got home he asked Lance how I was and Lance told him I was in his room dry-heaving which made them think I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. Steve came up to check on me and asked why I was in Lance’s room and asked if I needed anything and I just murmured uh-uh (No) so he said he and Lance were going back to the party and he gave me the phone and said call if I need anything. After they were playing for a short while, Steve called home and I didn’t answer. He tried over and over and still - no answer. So he said he was going home to check on me, it was now around 9:30 pm.

When he got home, he found me lying in my upstairs hallway ‘sleeping’. He tried waking me up, but I was unresponsive. He turned me over and brushed my hair out of my face and my eyelids were completely deep purple as they had filled with blood beneath the skin and I was bleeding from my nose and ears. He tried to pick me up, and though I was incoherent I moaned when he tried to move me. He called 911.

The ambulance got there in minutes, as we just live 2 blocks from the hospital. When the crew came in to get me, I was in a coma; they said they thought it looked like I may have had a stroke or some sort of head trauma. They got me to the hospital quickly where they immediately did a CT scan and some other tests.

The results:

Skull Fractures in left temporal region
Multiple areas of Parenchymal Hemorrhagic (bleeding in the space surrounding the brain)
Cerebral Cortex Contusions – (bruising resulting from a blow on one side of the head with damage to the cerebral hemisphere on the opposite side by transmitted force)
Bilateral Epidural Hematomas (bleeding on both sides of the brain causing massive blood clots beneath the dura mater that causes neurological symptoms by pressure on the brain)
Significant loss of most of the suprasellar cistern (fluid-filled space the arteries that supply the brain and where the optic/vision nerves partially cross) and reduction of size of cephalic cisterns (cranial fluid reservoirs) generally
Inhomogeneity (irregularity/non-uniform) throughout, extending into the middle cranial fossa to the level of the centrum semiovale
Significant mass affect (growing mass/clots)
Pending Herniation (deadly effect of very high intracranial pressure, occurs when the brain shifts across structures within the skull. herniation puts extreme pressure on parts of the brain, often fatal)
Left Lateral Ventricle almost completely effaced
Left Rib Fractured
Left Lung collapsed due to puncture wound

And then, my organs began failing. They said I needed to see a neurologist immediately. They began prepping me to keep me alive while they awaited Mercy flight; breathing tube in my mouth/down my throat, a tube in the side of my chest to inflate my collapsed lung, tubes in my nose etc. and sedated me (so just in case I came out of the coma I wouldn’t freak out with all of the tubes) got IV’s going etc. I was air lifted by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial Hospital with a superior Department of Neurology. My husband, boys and other family members who were at the hospital left to get to Strong. As some of them were leaving, the doctors asked them to prepare my husband for my death, the injury was so severe they did not expect that I would make it. The damage to my brain was so severe, it was causing my organs to shut down and fail and I was dying.

Mercy Flight got me to Strong, where they quickly ran more tests. When my husband and family arrived, they told them that I would die in a few hours from the severe trauma, damage, bleeding and pressure, but the neurosurgeon was going to attempt surgery though the prognosis was not good. I could die during the surgery, or be in a persistent vegetative state afterwards, but the level or expectancy of recovery was just unknown at that point.

They rushed me into surgery, it was now 3am and they operated through the night/early morning. He cut my head open, cut out a piece of my skull as my brain was swollen to allow it room, removed the massive blood clots, put drains in my head to allow the blood and fluids to drain, etc. They also had to do a blood transfusion due to my severe anemia and all of the loss of blood.

I survived the surgery. To their amazement, later Sunday I woke up. Whispered to my husband to please help me and take all of the tubes out, and then tried to pull them out myself so they sedated me again, also because they didn’t want me to exert myself at all in my condition.

They had me all restrained and mitten things on my hands and everything to keep me from pulling anything out and because I had no idea what was going on, where I was, what happened etc. They had a nurse with me 24/7, and over the next week I would wake up a little here and there.

A week later, they were able to remove some of the tubes, and I was starting to come around. I began talking again, my speech very slow, slurred etc. But it got a little better over the next couple of days. After more CT scans and tests, they were encouraged to see that the surgery was successful, there was no more bleeding and the brain swelling and intracranial pressure had gone down and they were now hopeful that I would live, though they could not estimate what kind of recovery I would make from the brain damage.

They took the 38 staples out of my head and transferred me to a brain trauma/injury rehabilitation hospital on Tuesday May 29th and started speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. I had no short-term memory at all; I couldn’t remember anything from just minutes before. Though I could talk, I had a very hard time coming up with words; I just didn’t know what a lot of basic things were called etc. My brain was processing very slowly. My long-term memory was good though, I knew who everyone was, but still had no idea what had happened to me. The left side of my body was weak, and I had little balance and was very dizzy. My vision was affected, my eyes no longer worked together. My left eye just wondered off on its own so I had to wear a patch because I was seeing double and blurry if I tried to look out of both eyes. So the therapists had their work cut out for them, but they were awesome. I do remember some of the time there. In one session, one of the therapists would read a few words to me that I would have to repeat. He said 5 words and I repeated them all. He then said something else, and then asked me to repeat the words again and I couldn’t remember a single one. Another therapist had given me a phone book and said she needed yard work done and her hair cut, could I find phone numbers for her. But I couldn’t because I couldn’t remember what those people were called (landscapers, hair stylists etc.) It was very depressing for me the first couple of days, and I cried a lot just wanting my brain to work.

Then within a couple of days I began to make miraculous progress. I could repeat a list of 10 words or numbers forward and backward and still remember them later on. My short-term memory was returning. I could stop asking my husband “what’s that called? What are those again?” because words were coming to me again. I was doing well in physical therapy, getting stronger and could walk on my own, well with someone next to me because I’d still get dizzy and lose my balance from time to time. My left eye also looked normal again and wasn’t wondering off but my vision was still double/blurred. After 4 days of therapy I was eating on my own, showering, totally able to take care of myself and I begged to go home. Although my family was with me all the time, I was really missing being home with them and was ready to try and get back to normal.

I had to show them I could count money, cook a grilled cheese sandwich, shower and basic living skills.  The Dr. said if I could have 24/7 care at home and do outpatient therapy they would discharge me.

So, on Friday June 1st, I was discharged and the place cheered and they were all saying I set the record for the quickest recovery and discharge there with a traumatic brain injury of this severity!

Oh – and how did all of this happen to me? The doctors at both hospitals originally thought I was assaulted and contacted the police. The police and investigators went to my house and investigated everything. There was no evidence of anyone else being there, or assault or rape or any thing. They found my hair clip broken at the bottom of my basement steps and my sandals stuck behind different steps. They said that I fell down the stairs and crashed into my cement floor head first, with my skull taking the weight of the treadmill plus my own weight. I guess maybe it’s a good thing I don’t remember that at all – yuk. They say I was knocked unconscious from the fall but eventually came too and walked myself upstairs to my bed. They could see that I had stopped a few times along the way to lay down as I had a bloody nose and there were spots in my carpet where it had bled. They say it is common with this type of brain injury to be unconscious, then have a lucid interval “short period when the person talks etc.” and then return to a coma.

So here I am now, back home but not quite back to myself. I finally got the ok to stop the therapy because I was stumping the therapists as they couldn’t find anything that I couldn’t do. Physically, I’m up and around with only a few issues. I still have the dizziness and loss of balance which they say will just take time to heal so if I’m walking any distance I hold someone’s hand. I also have the vision issues, but I’m going to be seeing a brain injury optometrist as it may be optic nerve damage. And I have massive headaches which they say is expected.

They have put me on disability indefinitely.  I cannot drive or return to work – and that of course is making me crazy but they say any sort of repetitive/constant/too frequent actions, stress, etc can prevent the skull, brain, arteries, nerves and neurons from completely healing so I’m trying to be patient. Thus the reason it has taken me days to type this story out. And because most of it I really wasn’t ‘around’ for so I had to keep asking my husband and kids what happened next!

I’m doing a lot of reading and research on Traumatic Brain Injuries like mine, and I find that many people do not fully recover if it all. I will not be one of those statistics. I will fight with everything that is within me to not only fully recover, but to be stronger than I ever have been.
5/19/11: That was four years ago that I wrote that recap.  Since then much has changed.

I went back for a follow up CT scan at Medina, and when they looked at my chart, the girl looked back and me and said “You’re not supposed to be here”. I said that I was sure I was scheduled for today. And she said “Oh no, that’s not what I mean. I was here the night they brought you in. No one thought you would make it.”

After 1 month of being home, I had to take an intense physical driver’s license exam to be cleared to drive. IT involved watching driving simulations to react to the scenarios, a board full of lighted buttons that would light up in different spots randomly and I had to hit the button that was lit to test my reaction time and Peripheral vision and more. It took 2 different sessions, and was very difficult. But I passed with an ‘above average’ score.

I wanted to go back to work. After following up with my neurologist, him reviewing the CT scans, the license exam and meeting with me – he cleared me to return to work. I started back 5 weeks after an accident that could have ended my life. But God had other plans.

So there is my story. 4 years ago today I nearly lost my life. I didn't have an appointment. Hebrews 9:27 says “It is appointed unto man once to die…” but I realize now, though I came very close, I didn’t have an appointment that day. Here it is 4 years later and when I read what I wrote here it still brings tears to my eyes and so much gratitude and thankfulness to God for sparing me. And to my amazing family that stayed by my side day and night, talking to me when I couldn’t respond, playing worship music in my room, praying and getting others around the country to pray, and just being with me, I am forever indebted. Surely their faithfulness brought me through with such amazing resiliency.

I wanted to share this with you today, on this my 4th anniversary of my accident – because you must know that no matter what you face, what battles you encounter, whether physical, financial or emotional – you can be victorious! Call on God that never fails and press on, don’t you dare quit regardless of what the prognosis or expectations are. Believe that complete healing, or financial freedom, or relationship reconciliation, or whatever it is WILL HAPPEN! And don’t stop pushing, fighting, and believing until you’re on the other side of the battle claiming the victory!! Tell me again why you CAN’T?!? That’s right, YOU CAN!!

January 2023 - I'm not sure how this happened, but here we are in 2023. It has been many years since this traumatic brain injury accident happened. And I have fully recovered and lived a normal life since my last update. Aside from some occasional headaches, very minor things, you or I would never know this accident happened. Until, a month or so ago when I realized I had had a headache that had been constant for a few weeks. As I was rubbing my head I felt a spot that felt like I had a scab, but I knew I had not bumped my head or had anything To cause a scab. My daughter-in-law had stopped over and in the course of our conversation I asked her to look at the top of my head to see what it was that felt like a scab. And she told me there was a piece of metal coming out of my head. I was in disbelief. She took a picture, and sure enough there was.

I called strong neurosurgery, and was told I should go the ER. Because the ECMC trauma hospital is closer to me now than strong is, I went there. After several hours of waiting, I still was nowhere near being called back and decided to call UB Neuro - The office was getting ready to close but she thought they would be able to get back to me and get me an appointment next week, she just wasn't sure which surgeon to put me through because it wasn't a craniotomy complication that she was familiar with.
The following week after much back and forth it was determined Dr. Gibbons team would handle my issue, but they could not see me for a month. I felt very uneasy and just prayed about it, and the head nurse called me back that day and told me to come in the following day. When I arrived, and saw they looked at my head and ordered and emergency CT Scan which they reviewed  right away and confirmed the plate was protruding through my skull and skin, and the risk for infection and meningitis of my skull was extremely high. They followed up with bloodwork and scheduled surgery immediately.  They told me they could see three scenarios, the best case scenario would be that the skull plate was pushing its way out of my head, but there was enough new, healthy skull, bone to hold my skull together, and they could just remove the plate and screws and leave the other two intact. The second scenario would be that there was not enough new healthy skull bone to hold my skull together and they would have to replace all three plates in my skull, One in the front of my temporal region, one on the top of my head, and one in the back of my head to hold my skull together. And the worst case scenario is that because the plate had pushed its way through my skin for an unknown amount of time, infection may have sat into my skull, causing meningitis, and a completely different path would need to be taken.
The morning of sugery, After the anesthesiologist came in to see me in surgery, triage that day, Dr. Gibbons, the neurosurgeon came to me and said he again reviewed the CT scan as closely as possible, And while it looked like, at least, some screws had dislodged in the plate was bent and twisted, he was hoping for the best case scenario. And off I went to sleep, Leaving it in Gods hands, because once again, there was literally nothing I could do.
I’m not 100% sure how long I was on the operating table, but it wasn’t more than a couple of hours, because, when the neurosurgeon opened my head, he had to make the incision bigger than he had planned, but there was enough healthy bone, holding my skull together, and he had to dig because one of the screws had literally been sheared off with half still in the skull plate and half in my skull that he had to go digging for remove it all, but was able to leave the other two plates intact and an incision 4 inches from my top of my head to the back of my head and stitches, holding it all together was able to Remove the plate and the screws, including the broken, screw, and close me up.  I remember waking up in recovery, and the nurse telling me, she thought I would be able to go home that day insteadc of staying there, overnight! They took me back to my room where my kids including my daughter-in-law’s and my stepmom, and Steve were all there and they prepped me for discharge.  The first few days are kind of fuzzy, but I know my stepmom brought me some bandages, and a shower, cap, and my sister Carla brought me food, and made sure that I was taken care of, and I am so thankful for that! And another amazing moment, was when I went back to the Neurosurgeon for follow up, When he walked into the room, he said well, Danielle, you got your best case scenario. And I said well, Dr, there were a lot of people praying!  
So while I am just a few weeks out, and still on the road to recovery from the craniotomy repair, I’m struggling with some headaches, and ongoing neck pain that seem to start the day before surgery, but otherwise the incision is healing well and IAM working and doing all the things that I would expect it to be doing at this point! Maybe not for your average person, but for a person who God is orchestrating every step! Lol. So we may never know why things happen, or why God allows things to happen, but I know that God has good plans for me, and hope and a future, and I want you to believe that he has the same for you!