The Road to Recovery
When Michelle was injured in the wreck, she was sent to Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, with a broken pelvis and punctured lung. The worst injury was that a portion of her brain was sheared off. She was in a coma for several months and then in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers for a total of 14 months.
Mike said he was especially grateful to three people with ties to Palestine — Jackie Gragg, Todd Staples and Cliff Johnson — who were instrumental in getting Michelle moved from Tyler to Baylor Hospital for additional care for her head injury.
While in a coma, one of Michelle’s arms and one of her legs drew up near her body, and it wasn’t uncommon to see Michelle curled into a ball.
“They would use Botox to straighten it, then cast it. She would curl up into a ball and spin all of the time, it would drive you nuts,” Mike said. “In fact, she got a shear from pivoting all of the time.”
At one point doctors, said she wouldn’t walk, something she has proven wrong. And later, they said she wouldn’t talk.
“She didn’t talk for months even when she was out of the coma,” Mike said. “But eventually doctors thought to put a cell phone in her hand. I could go out in the hall and she would talk to me, but if I was in front of her, she wouldn’t do it. That’s how we taught her to talk again.”
Even though she is now home and Medicaid and Medicare are no longer paying for physical and occupational therapy, her family tries to continue everything they can on their own to help Michelle stay as physically and mentally able as possible.
“They say with a brain injury there is a four to five year window and that’s the best you are going to get,” Mike said. “I will keep pushing her until we get something better.”
With short-term memory issues, vision problems and other issues her brain injury caused, Michelle has the mentality of a 13-or 14-year-old girl. Due to her vision limitations, she will never be able to drive again.
“Michelle before the accident was so intelligent and made really good grades but she’s not the same person anymore,” her father said. “Now, someone has to be with her 24 hours a day. Because of her vision problems, she will never be able to drive again. She isn’t getting to do what a normal 26-year-old woman should be doing.”
For her father, the hardest thing to see is Michelle’s lack of a social life.
“Michelle was prom queen and had so many friends, but most of them have married and moved off,” Mike said. “She has one friend who has stood by her, but the rest are gone. Seeing her not having very many friends any more and knowing she wants a life of her own is hard. I know she wants that, but it’s probably not going to happen.”