My daughter Tabitha was a very active, healthy, outdoorsy type of person. She loved hunting and fishing, even though she didn’t like any type of fish or seafood product. She was the top female junior bowler in this area with her highest score being a 300. Tabitha graduated high school in 2015, ready to start her freshman year in college. She wanted to be a veterinarian. She loved animals and also loved taking care of babies/toddlers. Tabitha had her CNA license and was traveling to people’s houses to take care of them. She was a very caring and giving person.
That all changed the morning of December 5, 2015. Tabitha was coming home from bowling with her boyfriend and another friend, around 1:45am. A drunk driver ran a red light and t-boned her car. Tabitha was in the passenger seat and took the full force of the impact. She never saw it coming. The impact was so forceful that it threw the car across the intersection and down into a drainage ditch, about a 12-foot drop landing on the driver’s side. The car was so mangled that all three of them had to be cut out with the jaws of life.
Tabitha immediately started having trouble breathing. All three passengers sustained injuries but Tabitha’s were the most severe. My first sight of her in the ER, she had not been cleaned up, blood and glass fragments and cuts all over her. She was intubated and unconscious. The doctor told us she required immediate surgery. She ruptured her bladder and spleen, broke her right clavicle, three right ribs and her pelvis in four areas. “That’s not the worst of it,” said the doctor. "She also sustained a basal line skull fracture and there was evidence of damage to the part of the brain that will allow her to wake up. She has significant brain damage throughout her brain, but primarily on the left.” I remember asking, “What’s her chance for survival?” His response, “She’ll live, she may just not have a life.”
The doctors had actually started to talk to us about “making the decision on her life." She had minimal brain activity. Three days post-accident, my brother-in-law and his father drove in and prayed a blessing on Tabitha. As they were doing that, I watched the numbers on the monitors recording her vitals and brain pressures, etc. start to go down! When Tabitha was stable enough to have an MRI, we dreaded the results fearing we would have to make a decision.
I absolutely believe in the power of prayer! The doctors were amazed at what they saw! They said the damage they saw had shifted off the part of the brain that controls waking. They said because of her age to give her time and hope. To me, making that decision was never an option. Even if there was minimal brain activity, there was some. She was in there!
Fast forward a bit...we spent 19 days in ICU and then transferred her to a specialty hospital that dealt with brain injuries and tracheotomies. We spent about eight weeks there and then transferred her to Columbia to a rehabilitation facility with the hopes of being able to “walk” out of there. We spent six weeks there, totaling about four months in a hospital. She did not walk out. They sent us home saying “When walking is a reality, we could come back." We haven’t been back yet. Tabitha cannot sit unattended, stand unattended, let alone walk. She cannot talk and has problems eating. She still has a feeding tube that she gets at least two tubing feedings through every day because she has problems chewing, eating and swallowing. She is a huge risk for choking and usually once she chokes during a meal, she’s done and won’t eat anymore.
Even with all that being said, life goes on. We have learned to communicate with Tabitha but it’s hard for her to communicate with others. She is slowly learning how to make her voice come out and getting movement in her lips to form the words. Once you’ve had a tracheotomy, talking is very different. She attends therapy three days a week for three hours at a time, just to try to learn what we take for granted – sitting, standing, walking, eating, putting on clothes, brushing hair, using the bathroom, taking a shower, etc.
Tabitha has nine specialists now and takes 11 medications daily. It seems she always has a doctor's appointment somewhere. During all of this, I am still working 40 hours a week.
As you can see, the drunk driver greatly affected Tabitha’s life. The old Tabitha we had is gone, this is the new Tabitha. Not only does it affect the victim, but everyone who knows them. I am now Tabitha’s caregiver along with her youngest sister, Devyn. Devyn gave up her summer job to stay home and help with Tabitha when we couldn’t get good quality nursing.
I won’t say it’s been easy by any means but it is definitely getting easier or maybe we’re just getting in a routine of how to take care of Tabitha. Tabitha is 24/7 care, can never be left alone. Tabitha sleeps a lot, sometimes 18 hours a day. You’d think I would get some sleep as well, but that’s not how it works with a 19-year-old newborn with a TBI. (Traumatic Brain Injury).
After work there’s supper to fix, Tabitha to feed, shower to be given, her laundry to be done, etc. Like I previously said, she gets two tubing feedings from the time she goes to bed before she gets up and then if she soils her protective undergarment during the night, she might cry out. Sleep? It’s overrated when you have a TBI patient.
Then there’s the emotional roller coaster – the good days and the bad. I’ve always tried to stay positive and encouraging when I’m around Tabitha, mainly for her but also her sisters. We’ve gone through all the emotions – anger, hate, why Tabitha (why anyone for that matter)? We’ve definitely had our meltdowns for sure and I know there will be several more to come. We have learned the hard way that this system is not set up for the victims by any means. We have the daily struggles of just transporting Tabitha. We have played the “hurry up and wait game” more times than I care to mention. We have constant battles with the insurance. This is real, this is our lives now.
Tabitha has been diagnosed with "locked in syndrome". She's in there but can't get out all the way yet.
Something people may want to think about that bothers me is that just because you have a disabled child, you or they are not any different just because of it. I see all the time that people will try to talk "around Tabitha" like she is not there and then when they talk to her, their voice increases like she's deaf - or I've even had people "talk down to her" like she's dumb. Yes, they may not be the same physically or even mentally as they were, but they are still a human being with feelings.
I could go on and on about my feelings, the struggles, the up and downs, but I hope I got my point across. All this was preventable. If nothing comes out of this, if the guy never goes to jail, if Tabitha never recovers to anywhere close to the way she was before the accident, I’d hope that this can change at least one person who might have decided to drive after drinking. Please call a cab or a friend. Please do not drink and drive!
Tabitha is so much fun! You never know from one day to the next what she will do. Tabitha sleeps in a hospital bed in my room. Since she can't vocalize, I have told her if she needs something during the night, to knock on the wall to get my attention. Sometimes she knocks just to be ornery, just because she can. Once she knocked just to show Devyn and I the "I love you" sign in sign language. Tabitha loves to "salute" people in a not so nice way. She frequently gives the bird to unsuspecting people including Devyn and I. This is part of the TBI. We were warned that when she starts communicating, TBI patients will often curse. Since she can't talk yet, we see the bird. It's hard not to laugh at times like this. She's like a 2-year-old at times but she is so much fun to be around. Those times definitely make up for the down days.
My new motto: One day at a time, no matter what happens, it’s out of our control. And definitely put your faith in God and believe in His miracles.
Tabitha is our miracle!