|My grandparents’ car the day of the accident — April 19, 1989|
“Student in critical condition after being hit by car”
That was the headline in the newspaper the day after the accident. The driver was my grandfather. He had suffered a heart attack, and in the process of dying had lost complete control of his vehicle. This tragedy also resulted in my grandmother’s death, a story I wrote about in my last column titled, “My Mother’s Day heartache.”
The college student lived, and I heard that she eventually recovered. But I never knew the full details, as contact with her family had long since been lost in the 23 years since the accident.
And then, a few days after my story published, I received an email with the subject line, “Your Mother’s Day article — I’m that college student.”
Apprehensive and more than a little scared, I opened the email and read the following letter (shared with permission):
First, my hands are shaking as I write this. My mom sent me the link to your Mother’s Day article you ran about the death of your Grandma and the circumstances leading up to it, and I knew I needed to contact you. I enjoyed reading the bits about her life and seeing the pictures. To me they were always “the couple who hit me.” So it was nice to see faces and make them real. It was good to read about the other half of the story.
First, I have no hard feelings. On the other hand, my life was forever changed after I left the hospital. I have two lives — the one before the accident and the one after. A brain once injured never fully repairs itself. However, I’ve learned where one part is damaged, another part takes over, and with the miracle of medicine I can live a normal life.
I want to tell you my story, because I feel we are already connected. We have that experience in common.
I was one month shy of my 19th birthday and just finishing my freshman year. It was the few days before finals when classes were done. I was wearing my favorite (and only) Jessica McClintock dress. My memories of that day were getting ready to go with my roommates to the LDS Temple and later meet one of my best friends for lunch. I remember walking through the parking lot of the Temple with my roommates and turning around. I then have a vague memory of a car coming over flowers.
That is it.
The next thing I remember was being in a dark room, seeing a nurse walk out and my mom sitting next to me. All I could think was, “What is she doing here?” She would have had to fly in and I knew she wasn’t supposed to be there. I had a tube coming out of my head collecting the blood so it wouldn’t put pressure on my brain. I remember people coming to talk to me. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I don’t know how many days I was in the hospital. Then I was on an airplane with a shaved head and the biggest black eye I had ever seen.
I spent the summer healing physically and trying to retrain my brain.
I had to relearn how to read. I could read the words but could not comprehend what I was reading. I had to relearn how to spell. Left side brain injuries cause one to spell phonetically. Math was gone. Writing was gone. Eventually reading comprehension returned, and my doctor encouraged me to go back to school.
When I returned in the fall, it was the first time in my life I had ever failed a class. I was failing English, what had been my strongest subject. My English professor told me that I couldn’t write and asked how I got into college. I met with him later, told him my story and produced a paper I had written a few months before the accident. It was an ‘A’ paper. “You can write,” he remarked, and told me where to go for help. That was my turning point.
I began to learn that once I was reminded, it all would come back. I got extra help, and after a year or so, became better than what I had been before.
Then there was the emotional toll. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized I was mentally unwell. The accident damaged the area of my brain that produces the chemicals that control emotion. My anger would fly off the handle and I would cry over the smallest thing. A rush of emotion would come like a wave and I couldn’t contain it. I’m not sure how my roommates dealt with me.
I had no comprehension of how I was supposed to feel because I had no memory of it. Only what I was feeling now. My aunt recognized that I might need medication and convinced me to see a doctor. If it didn’t work, I could always stop. I was glad I listened — those are my “Happy Pills.”
That was my outward experience. My inward was more incredible.
First, the surgeon in Provo told my mom he had never performed that particular head surgery before because usually the person is dead. Second, other than my head, I only received a minor scratch on my left shoulder and another on one ankle. Nothing else. My back wasn’t broken and it should have been. My left ear drum was destroyed when I was hit. By the time a specialist looked at it back home, it was perfect. My eyesight improved.
After I left the hospital and into the summer, I had a presence with me I can’t describe. It was like you knew someone is in the room with you but you can’t see them. You only feel them. I have had so many spiritual experiences related to this one incident and many of them are too personal to write. But I will say that because of this I now know that God lives — the greatest blessing of all. The pros outweigh the cons. My mom still keeps the dress I wore that day, bloodied and torn, to remind her of the miracle that was her daughter.
God was there that day. Only He knows the entire reason. It’s an incredible story. I don’t tell many, but sometimes I feel like I have to — like right now. I am very sorry you lost your Grandparents that day. I couldn’t wish for anyone to lose a loved one that way, but I believe there was a reason. It sounds like your grandmother was a great lady. I hope I get to meet her someday, but not too soon.
Feel free to contact me. I would love to get to know you.
Smiles, Lisa B. Brown
I didn’t stop crying for a long time. I had braced myself for hatred or bitterness, but found only acceptance and understanding in her amazing narrative. Reading Lisa’s story of faith, resilience and perseverance in the face of life-altering tragedy was another defining moment for me.
“Overwhelmed” and “grateful” only begin to describe my feelings about the letter I received from this extraordinary woman named Lisa. I look forward to building our new friendship — a friendship based on the experience that forever connected us and transformed both of our lives.
|Lisa sporting her black eye — one month after the accident.|
|Lisa at BYU graduation, August 1994 — 5 years after the accident.|
|Lisa today — 23 years after the accident.|