For Kelly Lang of Leesburg, Virginia, a car accident on November 27, 2001 changed her and her family’s life.
Kelly was about a mile from home, taking her daughter to rehearsal for the “Nutcracker” when she was rear-ended at a stoplight. The car hit two other vehicles before hitting hers, pushing her car about 60 feet where it ended up suspended on a guardrail.
In the backseat were her daughters, Hannah, 5, and Olivia, 3. Once the car stopped, Kelly was unconscious, but woke up to the sounds of Hannah screaming, “Mommy, wake up!” She remembers the EMTs talking to her, but doesn’t remember any details other than them repeatedly asking if anyone was in the third-row seating. Later she understood why they kept repeating the question — because likely no one would have survived there. She remembers finally waking up in the emergency room, where apparently she was talking, but doesn’t recall any of it.
All three were taken to the local ER about four miles away. Olivia was code blue at the scene, barely breathing and struggling for her life. The local hospital wasn’t equipped for pediatric trauma so she had to be transferred to the nearest pediatric unit in Fairfax.
In her daze, Kelly thought to ask the ER to call a friend to accompany Olivia to the Fairfax hospital. Hannah was physically okay, though she would later suffer from PTSD. Kelly called one of Hannah’s school friends to come pick her up, and to spend the night with them at their house.
Kelly was checked over and released a few hours later—without any shoes, and her pants had been cut off, so she was given scrubs to wear home. Her friend’s sister-in-law came to take her to the Fairfax hospital to be with Olivia. Upon visiting the restroom, Kelly was shocked to look into the mirror and discover that she had two black eyes and a bloody nose with dried blood all over her face. She couldn’t believe they had let her leave the ER looking like that! She would have a lot of pain over the next few days.
When Kelly finally arrived at Olivia’s side, she found her 3-year-old daughter intubated, and was told that she has suffered a brain injury, but they weren’t sure how severe it was. They would have to do surgery if the swelling didn’t go down, and an inter-cranial pressure monitor was put in so they could monitor the swelling. Eventually it was removed, and Olivia did not need surgery. She had fractured the back of her skull, and they were monitoring her 3–4 bleeds. She was in a coma for about 10 days, and around day 14, she was transferred to a pediatric rehab hospital in Baltimore.
After Olivia came home from in-patient rehab, the family started to notice something was wrong with Kelly. She was very fatigued, and her husband would have trouble waking her. She went to her general practitioner, who fortunately sent her to a neuro psychologist right away who diagnosed her with Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). She had never heard of PCS—but feels that she reached the right doctor at the right time to put it all together.
In 2002 Kelly attended a support group for parents of kids with TBI, and discovered Brain Injury Services (BIS), where Olivia was immediately accepted. They encouraged Kelly to also apply, and she joined the speakers bureau in 2006—which ended up being extremely therapeutic for her, and she has been a member ever since.
Through BIS, Kelly would eventually meet Anne Forrest, who connected her to the Brain Injury Associate of America (BIAA). In 2006 Olivia was on a poster for the BIAA to promote Brain Injury Awareness Month. In 2011 Kelly joined the Brain Injury Advisory Council (BIAC).
Olivia graduated high school in 2017 and is attending community college, taking two classes per semester. She was a panel member at Brain Injury Awareness Day in 2017. Together Kelly and Olivia are actively involved in spreading awareness. Kelly stated, “This whole experience has taught me how to advocate and share our story, hoping to help others.”
How has the BIAC changed your life?
It has given me the resources and advocacy opportunities, as well as learning opportunities. It has put me in touch with a lot of professionals in the brain injury community, as well as other advocates.
Originally published in Summer 2018 The Challenge! Magazine and republished here with permission from the author.
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photo credit:Feature: Shutterstock; inset, Kelly Lang