It is 9:05 P.M.—five minutes past our sixteen year old daughter Karlee's curfew. She’s never late. A responsible girl who plays sports and makes As. My husband, Chuck, immediately starts calling. No answer at her phone. He says, “I am going to look for her.” Five minutes later, my husband’s voice is shrill and hysterical over the phone: “I've found her. She’s in the ditch…Life Flight is coming.”
We spent a week in the ICU with Karlee in a coma, not knowing if she would live or die. She could be a vegetable; she may never regain consciousness; she may die. Broken bones, collapsed lungs, ventilator, tubes everywhere. We learned things about the human body we didn't want to know. My healthy, athletic daughter lay lifeless, unrecognizable, swollen, and broken.
Though I had worked with children with special needs for years, I had no idea what to do for my own child. Your brain slamming against your skull causes “shearing,” cutting the connections like telephone wires. Over many months, Karlee had to learn how to walk, talk, and eat again. When she was awake, she fought—having to have her arms and legs tied to the bed like an animal. She pulled out her IVs, feeding tubes and even worked a cast off her foot. She didn't know her brother’s name and called him “Cinnamon.”
We were referred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City by a mother who had traveled from Branson for her daughter to receive similar services. We transitioned to the Rehabilitation Institute after hospital discharge for outpatient therapy, school transition services, and later—driving evaluation and training.
At the Institute, we learned how important it was for Karlee to be in a group with her peers during her recovery. We learned how to explain what Brain Injury was to others and what it meant for a 17-year-old trying to get back to school. When that time came, the Rehabilitation Institute gave us the support and confidence we needed to make the transition from rehab to school all the easier.
Karlee returned to school four months after her accident. She was able to graduate on time and with honors. She is now a junior at Graceland University in Iowa. She is studying nursing and hopes to work with children in the rehab or neurology field. Last semester Karlee had a 4.0 grade point average.
We were told repeatedly during and after Karlee's accident, brain injury recovery is a marathon not a sprint. I can now say this is a race we have won.
Written by Kara Cole: Mother of Karlee Cole