Shaelyn's Story - Part 2 "Breathe"

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

On May 19 of 2016 the last thing I remember is driving home to my friends and family on a sunny Thursday. I had just landed on U.S. soil after a great time working for an after school program in Antigua, Guatemala. Everyone was relieved that I made it back in one piece, I was safe! I had no idea I was in for another, different kind of adventure.

A car accident involving a semi truck changed my life forever. I was stuck in my car for 45 minutes to an hour. Once they were able to get me out, I was unconscious and my brain was exposed. My whole body was mangled and destroyed, my injuries were extensive. I was life flighted to Tulsa, Oklahoma and rushed into surgery. My parents were told that if I survived I would likely never walk or talk normally again.. I was in a coma for 9 days.

Taken 3 days after the car crash.

Taken 3 days after the car crash.


When I woke up, I was talking! I was sent to a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I would relearn basic things like how to walk long distances without a wheelchair, shower on my own, read on an elementary level, and how to navigate through life with a traumatic brain injury.

I’ll never forget the isolation I felt those first few months after waking up. It’s like I was sitting front row in an empty theatre watching myself try to to navigate this body that I could no longer trust. I watched myself try to perform simple tasks but my body simply couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I sat with a paper full of simple addition, subtraction and multiplication problems. I dug in my mind for the answers, I flashed back to my third grade classroom and I saw myself at 8 years old, racing through these answers to get a star by my name, but I could not think of the answers now. I was helpless. I begged to shower myself, I tried, would drop the soap and my occupational therapist would gently say, “That’s okay”, pick it up, and continue washing me. All I could do was take another step and hope this body I didn’t recognize would hold me up steadily.

After being home from rehab for two days I went back into the hospital for a craniotomy because I was leaking cerebrospinal fluid out of my nose. About 30 minutes before I was rolled back for surgery I got a facebook message from the police officer that was on the scene of my wreck. I lost it. In the pre-op room with my parents it sunk in, I may never wake up. This is brain surgery. I’m so scared. I rolled back to the operating room alone, tears in my eyes. The craniotomy went okay but the leak returned and I had to have another surgery to correct the leak. I was in the hospital for about a month recovering from surgeries. I hid behind a brave face and it was exhausting. I just wanted to know why this was happening to me. I spent 3 months in physical, occupational and speech therapy relearning all kinds of tasks and dealing with my PTSD. I eventually returned to school in Austin, Texas.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

I thought the worst was over. After months of hospital stays and brain surgeries, learning how to love the new me, I thought I had beat this. Then just when I thought I was getting back on my feet, all that is a traumatic brain injury came back and made me lose balance and knocked the wind out of me.

In May of 2018, 2 years after my accident, I had a bad seizure and was non responsive. My boyfriend called EMS and they rushed me to the emergency room, I was unconscious for about 10 hours. I woke up confused with my parents standing over me, wondering how they got to Austin, which is 500 miles away from Springfield. This was my first seizure, and I was terrified. I couldn’t think straight or remember what was going on for more than a few minutes. To say I was out of it would be an understatement. I was wobbly, I stuttered and my thoughts were scrambled for another couple weeks. I remember the first time the doctor called me “epileptic”. I was sitting in his office alone, I was wearing a green shirt. I was scared, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like I had to be strong and put on a front for everyone else. Knowing I made it through my last battle didn’t feel like enough to convince me I could handle this too.

I was so angry. All of my friends just got to go out and have fun every weekend and I was dealing with all of this, so I came up with excuse after excuse to cancel on plans. I put my life on hold to mourn what I thought was going to defeat me. I laid in bed all day, I dropped all of my classes. I was having 10-20 seizures a day. It felt like my life was nothing but ambulance rides, needles and prescription bottles. I hated myself all over again. I didn’t understand why I survived everything just to live for this. I told myself that this was it, this was my life forever and that I was never getting out or getting better. Too many things caused me to feel like I don't have any dignity and no sense of independence. I let epilepsy become who I am and I let it take me over. I gave up.

I have decided that I won’t let epilepsy take over the life I almost lost. I took my doctors advice and got into healthy daily routines. I started taking better care of myself and I have taken big steps to push myself toward independence even if it sometimes feels like 10 steps backwards. I am so much healthier, and I’m so much happier. I didn’t think I would get back to this place. I forget that life is full of ups and downs, not just ups and one down. That’s why you have to keep on. You’re always on your way up.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

My seizures are continuing to get less frequent that makes my life so much easier to live. I made myself get better even when I didn’t want to. I made myself actually tell someone when I felt really sad. And I made myself get up and go for a walk when I felt like laying in bed and calling into work sick. I still have bad days. I still struggle with it. I still have days when I have lots of seizures. And days I’m really sad. Those days suck. But I am so much better than before. I read a quote that really resonated with me (if you know me, you know I love quotes). It said, “Not everyday has to ‘count’. Somedays your only purpose is to make it to the next, and that counts too.” And I thought that was really powerful and true. It’s something we don’t remind each other of enough. I’m so thankful for all of the people who were persistent and stuck around and helped me, and reminded me of that.

What gets me is when people look to me and call me a warrior. If I could say anything and hope it sticks, it’s that deep down, we’re all the same. When you’re backed into a corner, it’s human instinct to kick and scream your way back to yourself. When you’re doubting if you can handle the next thing, don’t. Because you can. We’re all warriors. You would be amazed at the strength you would find inside if you just put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve gotten a new job on the Seven Billion ones team. Hearing the stories of so many incredible people provides so much perspective. I am so amazed by the journeys of the everyday people living around me. I find so much peace and solace in that.

Let them help you. Let the medicine help you. There is no shame in vulnerability or asking for help. There wouldn’t be light without darkness.  We’re all just human, fighting battles, and we have so much to learn from each other if you just pay attention.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

Shaelyn's Story - Part 1 "Warrior"

My name is Shaelyn and I'm 20 years old. I grew up in Nixa, Missouri but now I live Texas where I'm in college and studying English. After graduating in 2015, I took a “gap year” before college to do volunteer work and to travel. In my second semester, I spent time in Guatemala working with a program called Ahava. Ahava provides an after school program in Pastores, a village outside of Antigua, where they sponsor between 65-70 kids by paying for their tuition, school supplies, uniforms, and PE clothes. After school, the kids come to the center, and we provided them with hot meals, medical care, ministry, tutoring, and most importantly – community.


Upon getting home to Texas, I packed up my stuff to head back to Springfield to be with my friends and family for the summer before going back to school in the fall. When I was driving through Pryor, Oklahoma I was in a horrific accident involving a semi truck. We came to a stop light, I was northbound, he was southbound, he made a left hand turn in front of me, I didn't have time to stop. I essentially t-boned the back of his trailer and drove up under it. The trailer ripped the roof off of my car and my car was stuck under the semi. The truck kept driving for a while, dragging my sideways car with him. When my car finally did come out from under the truck, it flipped several times, landed upside down, and slid about 100 yards. I was strapped into the driver's seat the whole time.

I remained trapped in my car for an hour before they could get me out. The entire time, I was hanging upside down. They then life-flighted me to a hospital in Tulsa where I was rushed immediately to surgery. My injuries were extensive. My skull had been crushed. My brain was exposed on the scene. There were pieces of bone, rocks and debris embedded in my brain. The bleeds in my brain were extremely difficult to stop.

After surgery, I was in a coma for 9 days. During those 9 days, I was paralyzed on the right side of my body. Because of how serious the trauma was to my head and brain, and because I was not moving the right side of my body, my friends and family were told to remain optimistic, but were also told to prepare that I may never wake up. If I did wake up, the doctors cautioned my family, I would certainly not be myself anymore. Most likely, I would never speak or walk normally again.


But, because I'm writing this, I'm sure you know, I woke up! But it's not like in the movies. The patient doesn’t wake up from their coma and instantly snap back to happy, normal life. My journey had only just begun.  

After staying in Tulsa for another couple weeks, I was off to a rehab hospital in Nebraska where I would relearn how to do simple things that my body couldn't do anymore, like walking. For months my mom had to shower me, brush my teeth, clean me up after I used the bathroom, and help me roll over in bed. I was constantly in extreme pain. I had to relearn addition and subtraction. I was on a 2nd grade math level and a 5th grade reading level. As I made progress over the next 5 weeks, it was decided that I could go home.

However, after only being home for a few days, I started getting severe headaches and a clear liquid was dripping out of my nose. So I went to the doctor, and was immediately admitted to the hospital again. I was leaking cerebrospinal fluid, which is serious and dangerous. I underwent another two surgeries on my brain, one a craniotomy and one an endoscopy, and I was in the hospital for another month or so.

After 3 months in the hospital, I was so ready to get back to life. But what I didn't know was that life would never be the same.


My traumatic brain injury was controlling my life. I couldn't think the same, I couldn't talk the same, I couldn't drive, people didn't treat me the same. I was a different person in every way. Everyone had called me a fighter and a warrior for the past 3 months in the hospital, but all I did was survive and not complain about the pain. To me, that was nothing. Being at home, lonely, with everything in which I found my identity stripped away, that is when I was a warrior.

As far as where I'm at now, I'm happy and doing well! I'm living my life, working, and adjusting to my new life. I was told I likely wouldn’t go back to college but I went back early and finished this semester with a 4.0.

My journey is still far from over. Sometimes, my PTSD will hold me hostage in my apartment. Sometimes I have dreams about the accident and it's all I can do to get out of bed to use the restroom. Some nights I lay in bed and think of the days my dad had to hold me up as I walked down the hallway to get a snack before bed; a pretty far walk for me without my wheelchair. On nights like that, I feel paralyzed again. But there are other days, too. Days that I feel this fire in my belly. The same fire that pushed me to get out of my wheelchair for the first time. The same fire that held back the tears and whispered in my ear "you are more than this." I'm going to change the world with that fire.


Additional Words of Advice from Shae:

When a wave comes - a wave being any life changing, traumatic event - just ride it. Don't dig your heels down and try to stand up through it...that will destroy you. Just ride the wave wherever it takes you. Sometimes it might take you into scary, unfamiliar, uncharted and seemingly dangerous waters, but those dangers are what it takes to make you ripe; and that ripeness is necessary for growth. Don't be afraid of the ways it will transform you or change you because at the end of it all, you'll be able to see yourself more clearly than ever. It might break you, but that's life and we are made to break and we are made to heal. The human heart can take on way more than we give credit for. You won't need a mirror to know what you look like anymore, because you'll know that what you're made of is so much more than what's looking back at you in some silly piece of glass. I know what I'm made of now, and I'm not afraid for what's in front of me. On the bad days - the really bad days when all you want to do is lay in your bed and hide under your blanket, my best advice is this; 10 seconds at a time. Count to ten... breathe..... over again. You can do anything for 10 seconds.