I am an eight-year-old girl, short and slight, with a grin that looks like it was the first thing to develop and the last thing that would ever give up on life. I model, do commercials and gymnastics, and other such things that cute eight-year-olds do. There is nothing remarkable about me – until that fateful day.
An 18-wheeler strikes our vehicle as it exits the highway. I am sleeping, so I can’t remember the collision, but if a light bulb wrapped in tin foil chose to fight against Thor’s hammer, the results would be similar. When I wake, glass is all over the seats and the floor. I am covered in the shards as well, though not all of them fall to the floor when I move. Police officers and firefighters are everywhere, in my face. I know that something isn’t right; my mom isn’t next to me anymore, and I have no idea where she is. I pass out.
When I wake up, everything is vibrating and the world is too loud. I’ve never been in a helicopter before. This isn’t the kind of thing eight-year-olds usually experience. I look around; again, I’m without my mom. I scream for her, and the adults say she is on her way to the hospital, too, and that she will see me there. I don’t believe them. I lose consciousness once more.
As soon as the helicopter touches down on the landing pad, they rush me to an operating room. Brain surgery is another extreme that young children should not have to experience. The glass from the side windows, skylight, and windshield exploded in on me, penetrating my skull and brain. It also nearly severed my right ear. I need brain surgery to remove the glass and relieve the pressure that is building up.
The neurosurgeon is nice enough to leave me with most of my hair, instead of shaving it all off. He removes the hair in three sections where he needs to make incisions: straight down the middle of my skull, on the right side, and a Y-shape on my forehead. The surgeon realizes that there are more shards than he can reach, so he makes another incision. He is then able to extract most of the glass. The Y-shape cut stops the bleeding. In my eight-year-old mind, it doesn’t make sense to cut someone in order to prevent bleeding, but I don’t grasp much about what is going on. They sew my damaged ear back together. The surgery is complete; I have survived.
I wake up in an ICU room filled with family, friends, and presents. My mother is there. When I see her it is like finding out heaven is real. I spend two weeks in the hospital with people coming in and out of my room. I get to meet NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, because he happens to be visiting the pediatric floor that week. I barely eat, only willing to consume the strawberries my mom gives me.
Doctors talk to me about what is going to happen next. I am crushed that I will not be allowed to do gymnastics for a year. Even though I am young, gymnastics means everything to me. It’s the one place I can escape from the world. This news leaves me feeling claustrophobic.
They tell me to be careful about playing in general and not to overdo it. There are extensive sessions of physical therapy not just for my body but also for my brain. They want to make sure it is still functioning correctly. I spend hours doing puzzles and mind exercises. The rest of the time I spend doing physical things, some as simple as walking. My physical therapist helps me achieve my goals very quickly. I decide that I want to do something in the medical field when I grow up.
I am hesitant about the drive home from the hospital, because it is my first car ride since the accident. In the trunk are all of my belongings, including the activity bag I had in the car during the crash. Later, when my mom cleans it out, she finds a piece of glass from the windshield. It’s shaped like a heart, as if an angel was looking over me as I went through that traumatic experience. My mom gives me the heart glass, and I place it in my jewelry box with my most precious things. From then on, my mom’s nickname for me is Angel.
At my six-month checkup, my doctor lets out a great sigh. My mom is nervous, and we look at each other anxiously. He tells us that it is a sigh of relief; in his many years as a doctor, he has never seen a patient recover from major brain surgery so quickly. He tells me I can go back to gymnastics. Of course I have to take it slow, but the feeling of being in the gym again is what I’ve been looking forward to most during my recovery process.
I am an eight-year-old girl who almost lost everything. Yet, I find a powerful way to deal with this trauma and show fate it hasn’t defeated me. I learn to grin again and enjoy all the little things in life. I take nothing for granted and laugh all the time.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.