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Lucy’s Accident Part 2: One Year Later

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Last Updated on April 8, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Today marks a very important anniversary in our family: the day our daughter should have died but didn’t. In case you missed Part One, where I explained the details of the accident, you can read it here.

Going Back A Year

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Once Lucy took off in the life flight helicopter, Chris and I were loaded into an ambulance and taken to our car, which was in a parking lot in a different mountain area.  When we got to our car, we took Grace’s car seat out and set it next to Susan and Greg’s car (they were not back yet).  There was a dad and his two teenage boys in the parking lot. They had just climbed the same waterfall but left just before the fall.  I asked them to tell my in-laws that we were going to the hospital if they saw them.

We drove home quickly, calling and texting family and close friends as we went.  At home, I packed a quick bag with Lucy’s favorite stuffies, clothes, toiletries, and a picture of our family.  For all we knew, she could be in a coma for weeks or in surgery by the time I got there.  Due to Covid, only one parent was allowed in the hospital, so I went alone.

Before I went inside, Chris and I knelt in prayer together, crying and pleading for help for our girl.  We thanked our Heavenly Father for protecting her as she fell.  We also began a dedicated fast for her recovery.

Heading To Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT

I took one car and headed for the hospital, while Chris took the other and went back up the canyon.  I’m so grateful that we had two cars… just a few weeks before the accident, I had felt strongly that we needed two cars.  It would have been a nightmare without them that night.

During the hour’s drive to the hospital, I received a phone call from life flight.  They reported that the Emergency Department team hadn’t found anything initially other than what we already knew. They also told me that Lucy was able to rest during the flight.  It was probably better than a bumpy ambulance ride on her head and neck.  Miracle #9.

When I arrived at the ER, I told them my daughter had been life-flighted and I needed to get to her.  The nurses gave each other a look and my heart immediately sank.  They called for the ER social worker, and in a minute, I thought they would tell me she had passed away already.  Tears filled my eyes as I stood there and waited.

When the social worker arrived, she didn’t say anything. She just took me to Lucy.  To walk in and see her still alive and breathing was the greatest relief.  At this point, she was even awake!  Miracle #10

Seeing Lucy Again

Lucy was not logical or even really conscious of me at all.  She knew who I was but kept asking where she was, what had happened to her, what was wrong with her teeth, and where Grace was.  This series of questions would play on repeat dozens and dozens of times. I quickly learned that the best answer was to simply tell her that she had fallen on some rocks and that everything else was fine. If I said she had fallen off some rocks, she would panic. I also tried to stay out of her line of sight so she would just gaze off into the distance and not panic. Seeing her mind so broken and slipping on itself was a terrible feeling.

A doctor soon came and told me that, miraculously, her x-rays showed NO broken bones.  No broken neck, collar bones, wrists, fingers…anything!  I was shocked.  Miracle #11.  How could this be?!  He also informed me that they were still waiting on the CT results, but initially, that looked totally fine as well.  No brain bleeding and no broken skull. Miracle #12.

He then asked me to explain how the accident had happened. I was SO grateful for the pictures and video I snapped right before the fall.  I could show him photos of exactly where she had fallen from and even a video of her on the ledge she fell from as she was climbing up.

The doctor emphasized what we already knew…she was very, very lucky.  At that point, it was explained that the ER dentist would need to cover the exposed roots on her two front teeth, and they would need to stitch up her head.  He told me she would be admitted to the hospital.

Putting Lucy Back Together Again

After hours of observation, around 11 pm, the team decided that they would do both procedures at the same time.  They put her to sleep, and the dentist and the surgeon set to work simultaneously. They didn’t need to shave her head, which was a miracle.  Miracle #13.  She had broken her teeth but still had enough teeth left to cap (versus an implant, which would take months).  Miracle #14.

Around midnight they finished with everything and transferred us to our room in the Neuro-Trauma Unit.  The nurses were so incredibly nice.  They checked us in, switched her brace to a more comfortable one, got me some supplies to shower (I was still covered in blood and mud from the hike), and made me a bed.  I couldn’t fall asleep well until past 3:30 am.  Every time I closed my eyes, I could hear the screaming and just see her falling.

Lucy moaned consistently throughout the night and called out to me several times.  I held her hand and comforted her as much as I could.  

Lucy Coming Back To Us Mentally and Physically

She woke about 8 am when the doctors came barging in for rounds.  Of course, the most important doctors (the neurologists) came in first when we were still asleep.  This happened every day while we were there.

We were told that the first day would be a sort of “boot camp” to test where she was.  We were told it was lucky it was a Monday, as everyone was back to work!  Miracle #15.

That first day we saw around 11 specialists and had hours of testing.  There were many miracles throughout the hours ahead.

On our first day in the hospital, we were cared for by the head nurse in the Neuro Trauma Unit.  He came in and gave Lucy an excellent thorough “once-over” from head to toe. This was also the first time I could see her whole body.

The experience amazed me… there wasn’t a single bruise on her body.  Miracle #16.  

Even in the coming weeks, I never saw a bruise in a single place on her body!  I had to supervise her and help her shower for the first few days due to the risk of her falling again, so I can honestly say she didn’t bruise anywhere.

How is this possible after falling over 30 feet onto rocks? I have no idea. It’s almost like Lucy fell into a divine marshmallow and only the tippy top of her head poked through to hit a rock. Even then, it was gentle enough only to lacerate her scalp. It’s really mind-blowing!

She had a long scrape on her chest, which was pretty minimal. She also had a few scrapes on her hands and very tiny rock marks on her calves that I didn’t even notice until she pointed them out to me a week later.

She was wearing short sleeves and short overalls!  I would have expected her to have many more scrapes after tumbling down a rock face.  Miracle #17

Lucy’s Injuries

Her neck was quite painful, along with her shoulder (which never bruised). After several examinations of her neck, they took off the neck brace.  Lucy was so relieved. Miracle #18

When I asked our nurse if he could tell her trajectory from her wounds, he explained that it’s nearly impossible to ever know for sure. He told me there was no way she went from Point A to Point B (over 30-40 feet) and survived.  He said she must have tumbled along the way.   Miracle #19

I’ve since gently poked and prodded the three eye-witnesses (Grant, Lincoln, and my mother-in-law, Susan). From their accounts, it doesn’t seem she did tumble very much.  Their combined stories explain her slipping and falling on her bum, sliding a bit, turning around to try to get a grip (probably where the thin chest scrape came from), and then doing a complete flip to her fall.   All three confirm she fell on her head.

With this in mind, she really shouldn’t be alive.  The face of that waterfall and cliff is pretty sheer. She definitely free-fell most of the way and landed on her head.  The nurse from the first day told me that even falling 10 feet straight onto your head could kill you.

The fact that she didn’t have a fractured skull, brain bleeding, or anything else is nothing short of a real-life miracle.  It defies all physics and logic.  Miracle #20.

Throughout the day Lucy was seen by neurologists, the concussion team, the education specialist, and the speech therapist.  She was a rockstar, staying awake for most of the day.  She needed lots of pain medication but consciously made it through all the needed tests.

She basically passed all tests with flying colors.  Her memory was amazing from day one.. she could recall words, numbers in sequence, stories, etc. all very well.  

Road to Recovery

After a couple of naps, Lucy was ready for a quick walk around the unit.  We were all very nervous about her falling.  I’ve since learned that if another head injury occurred quickly after such a traumatic one, it could have landed Lucy in a coma for the rest of her life.

After all of this activity, Lucy soon hit a huge nausea wall.  Nausea is a primary symptom of brain injuries and something she dealt with for weeks, in addition to headaches and dizziness. All things considered, Lucy had very little nausea overall.

Lucy was lucid, clear, and logical by the second night in the hospital.  She was eating some solid food and drinking a bit.  She was also able to get up and down for the bathroom.  What a miracle! Miracle #21.

We heard the nurses giving reports as they changed shifts the first night. They said they anticipated that Lucy would definitely go home the next day.  When we asked them about this, they couldn’t confirm it. But I did let Chris know that we would likely get out tomorrow. Less than 48 hours in the hospital?! Miracle #22.

The first night Lucy didn’t sleep well.. moaning and obviously in lots of pain.  She asked the sequence of non-sensical questions until about 3 am when she suddenly called out to me.  I rushed to her side and she was with me again.  She then gently asked logical questions while we got her more pain medications.

Lucy has explained to me that this is when she gained memory back.  She has a total memory blackout from the hike, save a couple of moments of the hike and once of me calling her down from the cliff. Everything from the hike until this moment in the middle of the night is blank.

The second night she slept much better, but hospitals never offer a great night’s rest.  I got about 3 hours of sleep the first night and maybe 6.5 the second.

When we woke on Tuesday, Lucy was ready to go home.  She didn’t want to spend any more time in that hospital bed.  I was reluctant and let the staff know I didn’t want to rush it, but I did know she would rest better at home in her own bed.

With the dizziness subsided, the test of the day was making sure Lucy could keep enough food and water down to stay hydrated.  The nurses removed Lucy’s IV by lunchtime and encouraged her to drink more water.  The most exciting part of Tuesday was that Lucy was finally able to take a shower!

Cleaning Up Her Head

Both of us arrived at the hospital covered in dirt and dust from the hike.  I could shower the first night, but poor Lucy had to sit in the dirt for a bit longer.  Her hair was almost entirely red from the blood on the top. 🙁  I joked that she was a redhead, and we couldn’t wait to get her back to blonde.

She was in a lot of pain from her head wound, but we eventually got clearance to wash her hair and rinse the wound area.  Before the shower, I realized Lucy literally had no clothes or shoes. All of her clothing had been cut off during the life flight or the ER, but I’m not sure.  Her sandals broke as well.

I left the hospital for a while to run to Target and get her underwear, an outfit, and shoes.  I also grabbed as much hair detangler product as I could find. The velcro from the neck braces, days in bed, and other things had turned her hair into a bee’s nest!  

Once I returned, we were able to shower Lucy.  It really wore her out, but made her feel so much better.  Tenderly, we brushed her hair after she napped.  It was an experience I hope never to repeat as I watched all that blood wash out of her hair, but it brought me so much joy to see her happy and feeling more normal.

Going Back Home

By 4 pm, we still didn’t have final confirmation that we would be going home, but all signs pointed to yes.  My parents left that day to drive over and Chris’ family created a sign to welcome her home.

Finally, by 5:30, we began the discharge process.  Amazing!! Less than 48 hours in a hospital. 

When we left, we brought all of the beautiful flowers and gifts that had been generously sent by so many.  It was so touching to see and each one brought tears to my eyes.

Getting home to her siblings was overwhelming, but Lucy appreciated it. Her siblings were a mess without her… not sleeping well, acting out, and crying a lot. I shudder to think of coming home without her and the shock waves that would have sent through the family.

Recovering At Home

Lucy’s recovery at home was a long, slow process. We immediately contacted a local brain clinic called Neural Effects, and I’ll be forever grateful. Dr. Tom was able to get us in 3 days after her accident, whereas the neurology team only saw her twice and not for over a week. We were able to start profound healing right away.

I contacted the school and told them we would not be doing any schooling until she recovered a bit. Thankfully, they were so nice and understanding.

We focused, instead, on serious brain trauma healing. The brain clinic saw her 3x per week and she had homework daily. This mainly consisted of some exercises to raise her heart rate, breathing exercises, and tons of mental stimulation.

For example, Jessie, our amazing therapist, would try to use 3-4 areas of the brain simultaneously. Lucy might stand on a balance board, throw a ball, listen to music and recite the alphabet backward, all at the same time! Full disclosure, I am unsure if I could do these things even without a head injury!

We noticed Lucy was (and still is) particularly sensitive to noise. At first, she felt like everything was highly amplified, and she couldn’t be around her brothers. She had to spend a lot of quiet time in her room, often sleeping. Just going to brain therapy would wipe her out for the day, and 10 minutes could push her into full nausea in the beginning.

Little by little, Lucy’s tolerance got higher and higher. Eventually, after about a month, we graduated from brain therapy. We were told it was then time to use her regular schoolwork to help her recovery progress. Miracle #23.

Visiting the Chiropractor

An interesting twist: I had felt like I needed to get Lucy to the chiropractor just 2 weeks before her fall. At this appointment, she had x-rays are taken of her neck, back, torso, and head. Once she was up for it, about a week after her accident, we went to visit the same chiropractor.

He listened to her story and immediately wanted to take x-rays before doing any treatment. When the x-rays processed and he compared them to her previous ones, he actually started to cry. He, again, told Lucy it was nothing short of a miracle. Besides just a few degrees of difference in her neck, nothing had changed.

He told us he had multiple patients who had been in small fender benders experience much more change in their x-rays than Lucy had after such a traumatic event. He also told us he often treats college football players with large impacts on their heads and necks. Often, the ligaments are completely torn on one side of the spine or the other, resulting in surgery, months in a brace, and more.

For what Lucy did physically, there is no reason she should have been as well off as she was. Miracle #24.

Fast Forward A Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the fall. What, if any, symptoms still affect Lucy?

  • Noise. She is still quite sensitive to noise and becomes overstimulated quite quickly. This is tough, as teenagers are loud and tend to find themselves in loud situations.
  • School. She is mostly back to normal but can get overwhelmed quicker than she used to. Her stress tolerance is a bit lower. She keeps a safe space where she can go for a “brain break” when needed.
  • Anxiety. It is always tricky to know whether the anxiety comes from being a teenage girl or some combo from brain injury, but we are dealing with some anxiety. It doesn’t help that her parents moved her to Portugal, so we are definitely to blame for some of it!
  • Memory. She thinks her memory is a bit different than it used to be. I personally don’t really see this in her, but I don’t think she is wrong either! In brain therapy, we were told the brain connections between the two sides of your brain are like highways. When she fell, those connections severed, and she had to rebuild them. The therapy creates new highways through intense stimulation. However, without therapy, the brain uses old backroads that eventually break down and leave you with lifetime problems. Maybe we didn’t catch all of those highways.

Physically, she is excellent! She does have some PTSD, understandably, and a healthy amount of caution that wasn’t there before. However, I can’t say that is all that bad. 🙂

Miracles #25+++

Thank You

We KNOW that the power of God and the power of so many praying for Lucy has sustained her through this last year. It’s been quite the road and we are forever grateful that day didn’t end in the way physics would tell us it should have.

How Are The Parents Doing?

I actually had quite a bit of survivor’s guilt after Lucy’s rapid recovery. Why, when so many don’t get such a miracle, did we? I can’t answer that, but I struggled. Not that I wanted Lucy to be worse, but I am still astounded at the miracle that it is. I feel unworthy of such an event in my life. I’m humbled and forever grateful.

Chris has some PTSD but tends to bury it deep and leave it in a box far away. We both sought counseling of our own and the two brothers under Lucy. Chris only needed one session, whereas I’m still recovering after several.

I had to talk it out with Chris over and over and over. He got tired of it, but I was like a dog with a bone. How did she fall? How did she hit? What happened when he got to her first? I had to puzzle it all out to find healing. He, on the other hand, wanted to move on. This was a bit tricky, but thankfully he has always been very patient with my questions and speculations.

We have to remember that Lucy is still healing and will be for a while. Physically, she is doing so well that it’s easy to forget her brain’s trauma.

Moving Forward

Lucy’s brain will continue to heal and process. We were told she would never remember the event completely. Her mind will black out the actual event, but the memories right before and after may continue returning. Through hearing stories about the event, her mind will create her own version of the memory, like a dream. I find this fascinating!

How will learning a new language affect all of this? I wish I knew. God has to lead us here to Portugal, so I must trust that is all part of her process. He is very aware of her and her needs.

For now, we try to hug her tighter (despite her teenage protests), count our blessings, and savor every minute we get together. We aren’t perfect at this, but we try, and that’s what counts in the end.

Xoxo,

Leslie

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Additional Reading

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