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 6 weeks in Guatemala working with a ministry 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, and all of my airways were crushed.
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 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 8 weeks.
After 4 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 4 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 in love. 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.