I dread this day.
And I celebrate it, too.
Exactly TEN years ago, my daughter nearly died.
So I hate this day.
But, she persevered.
So I celebrate it.
Just about everything in my life is categorized BEFORE and AFTER Maria’s accident. Funny how that happens. It’s almost like a different person, different family. And in many ways, it really is.
You may or may not know that my daughter, Maria was involved in a terrible accident 10 years ago.
She was camping with her father when the tragedy happened.
She was accidentally shot by a little boy playing with what he thought was an unloaded gun.
It wasn’t unloaded.
There was one bullet in the chamber.
That’s all it takes.
The bullet went into Maria’s thigh. It shattered her femur and severed her femoral artery. She nearly bled to death right then and there. My daughter, Alexa tied a sweatshirt around her sister’s leg and saved her life. My life-saving Lex! I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call. Worst of my life. I was in shock – talking to Maria as they loaded her onto the Mercy Flight helicopter.
She was in bad shape.
Thank GOD for Mercy Flight – Maria was flown to a trauma center in Rochester. She would have died, otherwise.
I was able to get in touch with my husband, Scott – who met me at Strong. He got there first. He was in the middle of a show with his band when he got my call. He dropped everything. It’s funny. I think about that sometimes. He was performing with his band – they are an incredible group of guys who we are all lucky to have. He was performing at our friend’s house party with many of our friends there for the party. I didn’t go to the party because my mood was not festive. The truth is – I hated that my girls were camping for the weekend and had a terrible feeling that something was going to happen. I stayed home and started a deep cleaning on my house. I was actually carpet cleaning my family room when I got the call.
Have you ever wondered how you will react when something terrible happens? I now know that answer for me. I will be honest and say – from what I can recall – I was very much panic-stricken. I wasn’t the calm person I thought I’d be.
At any rate, that call changed my life.
I remember that moment I first saw Maria. She was as white as the sheet covering her. She didn’t appear to be in pain – I guess being in shock does that. She was on massive pain killing medications with bags of blood dripping into her – she’d lost a lot. The surgeon made me sign a consent form saying they may have to amputate her leg. I told them we could live without her leg – but not without her. Dr. Jason Kim promised he would do his best. He did. He saved her life and her leg.
The next few days Maria was kept in a medically induced coma, on a ventilator. Scariest days of my life. I didn’t leave her side.
Maria spent a few months at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. And then several months at Boston Children’s Hospital where she was taken by ambulance (We call it the ride from hell – but that story is for another time). Followed by 8 weeks of outpatient rehab also in Boston.
She had massive nerve pain that was tough to control. She developed an infection in her spine that nearly killed her – but she continued to be strong.
We were roommates for months. Everything else in life was put on hold. My home. My marriage. My pets. My friends. My job. I was wrapped up in my girl and her care.
It’s funny what I remember from that time period. It was a robotic existence. Wake up, talk to doctors, get breakfast for us, watch Maria struggle through physical therapy, try and pass time, get lunch, more therapy, more doctors, get dinner, watch a movie or read to Maria, get a snack for her, be sure she gets her meds, call and check on Alexa, talk to my husband, try and get some sleep on the chair while checking on Maria.
Repeat around 180 times.
She was antsy.
I was livid. Like, LIVID! How could THIS HAPPEN?
For weeks, I spent nearly all of my time fuming on the inside. How could this happen? I was bitter and angry.
It took quite some time for me to realize how much the anger build up was hurting me.
I started including the hospital chapel into my daily routine. That helped me so much. Instead of being angry with God, I asked for help. They had a little table in the chapel. On the table was a basket, some paper and pencils. They encouraged you to write down your wish, your prayer – your feelings – and put it in the basket. No name needed.
Everyday. The same prayer. Same feelings. Same everything.
The hospital chaplain came to visit Maria – at her request – every day. I could tell by the way he talked to us that he had connected those anonymous prayers to me. He told me one day that I should turn my anger to something else. Anything else, basically.
So I did.
I turned it into determination.
I still stopped by the chapel, but also included the hospital library in my daily walk to kill time while Maria was in therapy or napping. I learned everything I could about my girl’s medical condition. Besides her broken femur and artery bypass – she had developed something called RSD – Reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. When the bullet went through Maria’s leg – it hit the bone and femoral artery but thankfully it didn’t sever the nerve. However – doctors say the heat from the bullet singed the nerve. Enough to cause excruciating non-stop pain.
I asked friends and family to send Maria positive, inspirational quotes that we could hang on the wall of her hospital room. And boy did they. The truth is – those quotes were just as much for me as they were for Maria. I took a walk to the Harvard Book Store which was right across the street from the hospital and found an amazing book on inspirational stories and quotes. I would read it to Maria every night. She loved it.
Lex and my sister, Paula came to Boston and we painted our hospital window – “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.” It’s a Lance Armstrong quote that said what we felt.
It was a game-changer.
It made a world of difference. I felt hopeful. That’s the key, really. Whatever the situation, however dire it may be, it’s hope that you need most. One of my favorite sayings is “If you have hope, you have everything.” It’s true. At least I believe it to be true.
We began to laugh more. I walked to a hair salon and got a hair cut – after six months of nothing. I felt like a new woman. I convinced the lady to come and cut Maria’s hair, too. It didn’t take much convincing. It was amazing. We started to feel like human beings again. We started to feel the tide turning. My husband came to Boston on a regular basis – he was a life-line. My sister, Paula came often, too. She flew from Florida on a regular basis! I mean, who does that? Alexa came often – she became a Jet Blue frequent flier at 14 – and the incredible hospital staff in Boston let her stay in Maria’s room with us. Gosh we were lucky. We even had friends fly to Boston to visit. My best friend Tara flew from Seattle for a few days and it meant the world to us.
We stopped hiding inside ourselves. We started accepting help. We started to live again. Sure, it wasn’t our life – but it was life. And life is good.
They say attitude is everything and guess what – it is. It really is.
Maria was still in pain. I was still incredibly sad. But, we finally saw a light – a dim one – but a light nonetheless. We knew we were finally headed in the right direction. We changed up our routine a bit. I would put Maria into a wagon – she couldn’t walk at all – and pull her into the courtyard where we could feel the sun shine on our skin. We found a Ms. Pac-man game in the hospital and played non-stop in the afternoons. We actually laughed!
Our days still sucked, but they sucked much less.
Sometimes I still look at some of those photos and see the pain in Maria’s eyes. I see the courage, too. And I am forever grateful to the people who saved her.
The doctors and nurses – man, somehow we got the best of the best.
I’m telling you – that basket with the paper and pens really changed the trajectory of our journey.
So think about that the next time you are struggling. Think about where you can find inspiration. Our friends showered us with beautiful sayings, pictures and quotes. We still have them – in boxes and in our hearts.
If you know of someone going through challenging, difficult times – send them love and HOPE. It will make a difference. I promise.
We made it through the hospital stay and then spent a few months in outpatient therapy in Boston. That was where Maria worked incredibly hard to learn to walk again. She went from 9-5 everyday. Some days she went kicking and screaming – but it was a time for tough love. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it was for her – but my job was to get her there. The doctors, nurses and therapists did the rest.
They helped her walk again.
The Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Center is known around the world – they are the best of the best. They only treat 5 or 6 children at a time. Most children stay for a week or two. Maria holds the record for the longest stay at nearly two months. We stayed in a hotel just outside Boston – funny how we sort of missed the machine beeps, staff visits and everything else that comes with hospital stays.
Eight weeks in a hotel in the Boston area wiped out our savings which was scary considering I was no longer working. I let my husband worry about that stuff so I could worry about Maria.
It was a crazy few months but it brought me my girl back. She was incredibly strong and never gave up. She held onto that hope.
She went from a wheelchair.
To a walker.
To nothing but her legs!!!!
We are so grateful and thankful and will be forever. Thankful to the friends, family and strangers who sent cards, blankets, toys, gifts and love to us.
It’s hard to believe that was TEN years ago. A decade.
Maria is doing amazingly well and living her very best life. She is engaged to be married next year and is now a mommy.
Lincoln Roger was born on February 21, 2020. 7 pounds and 15 ounces of love. He’s perfect and she is a wonderful mother. She doesn’t hate her scars – she celebrates them and says they are a reminder of her most challenging time – and they come with knowledge that if she can get through that horror – she can get through anything!
I’m beyond proud.
Ugh, I dread this day.
But, I celebrate it, too.
There is an awful lot to celebrate.
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