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!!