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A Young Teacher's ‘Miraculous’ Recovery at Memorial

Her morning started like any other, and Jennifer was less than a mile from the school where she works as a teacher when the car crash occurred.

Rushed by ambulance to Memorial Regional Hospital, 27-year-old Jennifer had suffered a broken neck, internal injuries and bleeding and swelling in her brain. Her condition was life-threatening.

When Jennifer's family arrived at Memorial Regional Hospital, they were quickly updated and offered the support and compassion they needed to help them cope with her prognosis.

Most critical was Jennifer's brain injury. Doctors put her on a ventilator and placed Jennifer in a medically induced coma to help control and monitor the bleeding and swelling in her brain. Next, Greg Zorman, MD, FACS, Chief of Neurosurgery, Memorial Neuroscience Center, performed a ventriculostomy, drilling directly into Jennifer's skull to relieve and monitor the pressure.

Jennifer's mother, Pat, says, "As a mother, I wanted to talk to her and hold her. But as the nurses so gently explained, any stimulation could cause the swelling in her brain to increase. It was torture for me but I knew in my heart that Jennifer would make it."

Jennifer's husband, Derek, and her stepfather, John, also remained by her side. The next 24 hours were critical as the family waited for news.

Living with Hope

"The nurses prepared us for the worst but at the same time, gave us so much hope," says Derek. "The nursing staff was amazing and so compassionate, even bringing us a special bag for families of patients with brain injuries filled with books, pillows, blankets and food – everything we needed so we could be with her."

After several days, when the swelling in her brain had not resolved, Jennifer's family grew more concerned.

"We were anxious for them to wean her off the ventilator and medications," says Pat. "Dr. Zorman placed a temporary probe in her brain to monitor and relieve the pressure, reassuring us that she needed more time. He was experienced, confident and we trusted him implicitly."

After more than two weeks in a coma, the swelling subsided and Jennifer's condition improved. Soon she was taken off of the ventilator and her tracheotomy was removed.

"We were reading books about the long term effects of brain injuries," said Pat. "I had great faith in the Memorial physicians and great faith in God. Jennifer is my only child and my greatest blessing."

"We didn't know if she would be able to care for herself or ever walk again but we were so grateful that Jennifer was alive," Derek says.

Determined Spirit

Initially, Jennifer suffered some memory loss. The young teacher was frustrated, but determined.

"I'd forgotten how to walk, talk and eat and had to relearn the simplest tasks all over again," said Jennifer. "As a teacher, I found that especially frustrating but the nurses, doctors and therapists were so patient and encouraging. They gave me the support I needed."

Very quickly, her family saw signs that the old Jennifer was back.

"I kept seeing little glimpses of her personality coming through and suddenly, it was like a light bulb went on inside her head and everything just clicked," said Derek. "Our Jennifer came back – it was miraculous."

After nearly a month in the intensive care unit followed by rehabilitative therapy, Jennifer returned home. Soon she was back in the classroom with some valuable new lessons to share with her students.

"Having overcome so many obstacles myself, I share in their accomplishments and I have a greater appreciation for learning and life," says Jennifer. "I recall very little of my time in the ICU, but this much I know – I am alive today because of Memorial."


 

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