My daughter Tabitha was a very active, healthy, outdoorsy type of person. She loved hunting and fishing, even though she didn’t like any type of fish or seafood product. She was the top female junior bowler in this area with her highest score being a 300. Tabitha graduated high school in 2015, ready to start her freshman year in college. She wanted to be a veterinarian. She loved animals and also loved taking care of babies/toddlers. Tabitha had her CNA license and was traveling to people’s houses to take care of them. She was a very caring and giving person.

The Crash

That all changed the morning of December 5, 2015.  Tabitha was coming home from bowling with her boyfriend and another friend, around 1:45 a.m. A drunk driver ran a red light and t-boned her car. Tabitha was in the passenger seat and took the full force of the impact. She never saw it coming. The impact was so forceful that it threw the car across the intersection and down into a drainage ditch, about a 12-foot drop landing on the driver’s side. The car was so mangled that all three of them had to be cut out with the jaws of life.

Tabitha immediately started having trouble breathing. All three passengers sustained injuries but Tabitha’s were the most severe. My first sight of her in the ER, she had not been cleaned up, blood and glass fragments and cuts all over her. She was intubated and unconscious. The doctor told us she required immediate surgery. She ruptured her bladder and spleen, broke her right clavicle, three right ribs and her pelvis in four areas. “That’s not the worst of it,” said the doctor. “She also sustained a basal line skull fracture and there was evidence of damage to the part of the brain that will allow her to wake up. She has significant brain damage throughout her brain, but primarily on the left.” I remember asking, “What’s her chance for survival?” His response, “She’ll live, she may just not have a life.” Fast forward a bit…we spent 19 days in ICU and then about four months in a rehabilitation hospital. They sent us home saying “When walking is a reality, we could come back.” We haven’t been back yet.

Life Goes On

Even with all that being said, life goes on. We have learned to communicate with Tabitha but it’s hard for her to communicate with others. She is slowly learning how to make her voice come out and getting movement in her lips to form the words. Once you’ve had a tracheotomy, talking is very different. She attends therapy three days a week for three hours at a time, just to try to learn what we take for granted – sitting, standing, walking, eating, putting on clothes, brushing hair, using the bathroom, taking a shower, etc.

Tabitha has nine specialists now and takes 11 medications daily. It seems she always has a doctor’s appointment somewhere. Tabitha cannot sit unattended, stand unattended, let alone walk. She cannot talk and has problems eating. I am now Tabitha’s caregiver along with her youngest sister, Devyn. Devyn gave up her summer job to stay home and help with Tabitha when we couldn’t get good quality nursing. During all of this, I am still working 40 hours a week.

We have learned the hard way that this system is not set up for the victims by any means. We have the daily struggles of just transporting Tabitha. We have played the “hurry up and wait game” more times than I care to mention. We have constant battles with the insurance. This is real, this is our lives now.Tabitha is 24/7 care, can never be left alone. Tabitha sleeps a lot, sometimes 18 hours a day. You’d think I would get some sleep as well, but that’s not how it works with a 19-year-old newborn with a TBI. (Traumatic Brain Injury). I won’t say it’s been easy by any means but it is definitely getting easier or maybe we’re just getting in a routine of how to take care of Tabitha.

Then There’s the Emotional Roller Coaster – The Good Days and the Bad.

I’ve always tried to stay positive and encouraging when I’m around Tabitha, mainly for her but also her sisters. We’ve gone through all the emotions – anger, hate, why Tabitha (why anyone for that matter)? We’ve definitely had our meltdowns for sure and I know there will be several more to come. Tabitha has been diagnosed with “locked in syndrome”.  She’s in there but can’t get out all the way yet. Something people may want to think about that bothers me is that just because you have a disabled child, you or they are not any different just because of it.  I see all the time that people will try to talk “around Tabitha” like she is not there and then when they talk to her, their voice increases like she’s deaf – or I’ve even had people “talk down to her” like she’s dumb.  Yes, they may not be the same physically or even mentally as they were, but they are still a human being with feelings.

Tabitha is so much fun.  You never know from one day to the next what she will do. Tabitha sleeps in a hospital bed in my room.  Since she can’t vocalize, I have told her if she needs something during the night, to knock on the wall to get my attention. Sometimes she knocks just to be ornery, just because she can. Once she knocked just to show Devyn and I the “I love you” sign in sign language. Tabitha also loves to “salute” people in a not so nice way.  She frequently gives the bird to unsuspecting people including Devyn and I.  This is part of the TBI.  We were warned that when she starts communicating, TBI patients will often curse.  Since she can’t talk yet, we see the bird. It’s hard not to laugh at times like this. She’s like a 2-year-old at times but she is so much fun to be around. Those times definitely make up for the down days.

All of this was Preventable

As you can see, the drunk driver greatly affected Tabitha’s life. The old Tabitha we had is gone, this is the new Tabitha. Not only does it affect the victim, but everyone who knows them. I could go on and on about my feelings, the struggles, the up and downs, but I hope I got my point across. All this was preventable. If nothing comes out of this, if Tabitha never recovers to anywhere close to the way she was before the crash, I’d hope that this can change at least one person who might have decided to drive after drinking. Please call a cab or a friend. Please do not drink and drive!

Click HERE for a link to Tabitha’s Facebook group, #prayersfortabby which is a closed group. Yvonne is the admin and can add anyone that wants to join. To see full group page, simply request to be added.