"My name is Leanne Shaw and I am 26 years old. On May 22, 2004 (when I was 15), I was in a car accident. My older sister had just purchased a new car and asked if I would like to drive it. We drove several miles from home just talking and bonding as sisters do. We turned off onto a side street for me to practice my three-point turn-around for my driving test. When we came back to the main road (a 55-mile an hour highway), I had to make a left-hand turn. I looked to the left and it was a straight-away with no cars coming. I looked back to the right and there was a large bush on the corner. I eased out to see around the bush and finally saw nothing coming on the right. I FORGOT TO LOOK BACK TO THE LEFT and pulled out in front of an SUV which hit on my side of the car.
“My sister wasn’t hurt.
“I was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center. I had a traumatic brain injury and was on life support for several days. I had a crushed pelvis and lacerated liver, kidney and spleen. Something told the doctor not to operate that night and by the next morning the liver, kidney and spleen had stopped bleeding and surgery was not needed. They had to do a tracheotomy to breathe for me. They inserted a drain in my head to relieve the pressure. I was in a coma. The doctor predicted I would forever be unable to control my arms and legs and unable to communicate. I was in the coma for over 3 months. A coma isn’t like you see on TV. You don’t just wake up and everything is hunky-dorey. There are long slow stages and after being in a coma for a while, it is harder to use your muscles.
“After I began little movements, they transferred me to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. I was in the inpatient ward there for 3 months with intense Physical, Occupational and Speech therapy before being transferred to the Day Rehab Unit for another 3 months. I continued Children's outpatient therapy for 3 more years. I had to relearn how to hold my head up, to use my muscles, to swallow, and to bear weight on my legs. Walking came much later due to the crushed pelvis.
“I had a feeding tube until I relearned to eat and to swallow liquids without choking. I had to relearn how to talk and to process information when others would speak to me. I had to be taught memory skills. I could remember most things from before my wreck but not what I had for breakfast each day. I carry a memory notebook now to help me remember things I need to ask someone or info I may need later. Another thing they did was put casts on my feet so they didn’t point downward which can happen when bedridden for months. When a Brain Injury happens, brain cells actually die. Other cells have to learn to take over the tasks of those dead cells. Sometimes other cells simply cannot learn those tasks so there are remaining difficulties. My difficulties are short-term memory loss (making studying and then taking tests impossible), balance problems, seizures, some slow-processing issues, and difficulty learning new tasks. Before my wreck I played flute in the marching band and participated in the Miss Freshman pageant at South Gwinnett High School ninth grade. I played the piano and sang in the Youth Choir at church. I was a normal 15 year old. Nowadays I stay busy with helping out around our house (I am an excellent organizer), volunteering at my church, attending Brain Injury Support group meetings, working a couple of days a month at a Drivers Ed school and making my speeches to all who will listen. It is very hard to find a job with today’s market; and once they know I have no high-school diploma, balance issues and a history of seizures, they don’t want to take a chance. But I still have hopes of having a full-time job one day. I have worked too hard to get back to where I am.Most brain injury patients stop progressing after a couple of years following the injury, but I am still progressing ten years later. I have come such a long way from the girl in a wheelchair who couldn’t even hold her head up to the happy and productive young woman standing before you. I owe it all to God, my family and my therapists for keeping me focused on my therapy.
“Besides the wonderful therapists at Children's, did you know Angels live there – when I was in the hospital and before I could communicate well, my mom saw me mumbling to the corner of the room. She asked who I was talking to and I said “My Angels”. Later when I was better able to speak, I told her my angels names were Amber and Chelsea. They were there to help me get better. At one point they took me to heaven and showed me around. They took me to a large pit where the angels were gathered socializing with each other. They were dressed in beautiful bright colors. Then one of them told me it was time to go back because God had a special plan for me. I believe that purpose is to tell everyone I can about Him and how he saved me that day. I believe my speaking to you today is part of that plan. Please remember me and my story when you are behind the wheel.
“Please remember to “look left, then right; and left, then right, and again look left and then right” before you pull out into traffic. A single moment can define your whole life,and I wouldn’t want what happened to me to happen to you.
”Drive safely and thank you for your attention."
- LeAnne Shaw