When I was young, especially after I went to driver’s training and earned my driver’s license, I was the type of person who always wore a seat belt--in the front seat-- but never in the back. I thought that if an accident happened while I was sitting in the back, unbelted, I might bump forward, bump back, or bump left or right. I imagined I might break an arm or a leg, an arm and a leg, or maybe all four extremities. However, although I knew that might be painful, it would not be a big tragedy since bones heal in about six weeks. I never imagined what actually did end up happening to me, could happen.
Just a week and a half after my senior year began, on Friday, September 13, 1991, I suffered a severe closed head injury. At that time, I was 17 years old, and a serious automobile accident changed my life forever.
On the fateful evening of my injury, I was sitting (unbelted) in the back of my friend’s car when a person who was later charged with felonious driving crashed into us nearly head-on. I immediately became air-born, flying headfirst up and over the front seat and breaking my left femur (thigh) bone on the back of the seat.
The femur bone is the toughest, and strongest, bone in the body. It takes approximately two tons of pressure per square inch to break that bone, and I broke it. My left foot was wedged under the driver’s seat, my left femur broke against the back of the driver’s seat, and I smashed my head into and broke the steering wheel (coming from the back seat). Had my left foot not been wedged under the drivers’ seat, I would have flown through the windshield and smashed my head against the pavement with more than two tons of pressure.
At some point after the collision, I stopped breathing. When the EMS workers arrived at the scene of the accident, I was technically dead; I did not have any vital signs. They revived me (Thank God) after ripping the car open with the Jaws of Life.
The accident happened on Seven Mile Road in Northville, Michigan. I was transported to the University of Michigan Hospital by the Survival Flight helicopter. (The day before the accident, September 12, 1991, Northville had approved helicopters to land on the streets. I believe that is the biggest factor in my survival.) I had to be continuously revived all the way to the hospital. The survival flight helicopter pilot’s name is Kris Nelson. He does not know this, but he is my hero.
Once at the hospital, the doctors gave me a less than 10% chance of survival, let alone recovering. Kris Nelson told my parents, “She will live ... when I get them here alive, they live.” (He is the person that took care of the only survivor, a little girl, in a Detroit airplane accident in 1988.)
I was diagnosed as having a serious closed-head injury. I was in critical condition and was in a full coma for six weeks and in a severe vegetative state for an additional six weeks. I required an assortment of life-support systems during that entire time. My parents were told that I might not walk, talk, eat, or recognize them ever again. They said that I would never be the same as I had been before the accident. I was a prime candidate to be put into a nursing home.
Soon after the accident many friends of my family and many other people, who had only heard about the tragedy, began to create prayer chains and other special prayer services for my recovery. One of the most unusual suggestions came from an old friend of my parents who lived in Detroit, Michigan. Her name was Linda Nadeau. She brought to the hospital a small bottle of holy water and a special blessed religious metal; both had come from Father Solanus Casey.
Fr. Casey had been involved in a number of medical situations where people had recovered from impossible circumstances. My parents were instructed to attach the medal, containing Father Casey’s image, to my pillow and to bless me every day with the holy water. My mother pinned the medal onto my hospital bed to keep it out of the way. She blessed my forehead with the holy water and said a few short payers every day. Within a couple of weeks, I began to make slow but positive progress.
At that time, by law in the state of Michigan, a person was not allowed to be on a ventilator for more than 10 days. When the doctors and nurses told my parents that they were going to do a tracheotomy on me, my father used some explicative language that prevented them from performing the procedure, so I was fortunate enough to remain on the ventilator. I ended up being on the ventilator to help me breathe for 24 days!
In addition, a metal probe was inserted into, and through, my skull by drilling a hole into it to monitor my severe brain swelling. The measurement is done in ICPs, Inter Cranial Pressure. My ICPs, or brain swelling, was uncontrollable. Typically, when a person’s ICPs are a 10, he/she is experiencing a migraine headache. When he/she reaches an ICP of 20, he/she has permanent brain damage. A person is normally dead by the time his/her ICPs are a 40. Mine was more than double that--it reached an ICP of 83!
Nurses were pushing me into the operating room for emergency brain surgery when a nurse suggested moving the probe that was in my skull to see if my ICPs would stabilize. The doctors had to drill a second hole into my head to move the probe. My parents and my boyfriend wrote a prayer and left it in the chapel near the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with prayers others had written. This statue was behind a partition, so there was no way a person could get close to her. The next day, they returned to the chapel and could not believe what they saw.
All the same prayers that were in the chapel the previous day were still there, except for the one that they had written for me. They looked everywhere for it, until they realized where it was. It was at the statue, near the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Somehow my family's prayer moved to the statue of Mary even through it was impossible for anyone to get there. I believe that means that the Blessed Virgin’s spirit was watching over me.
My neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Roy, got very close to my parents during that time. After having my last CAT scan (I have not had another one since), he told my parents my prognosis using a lot of medical terminology. My father asked him what it all meant and to explain it in terms that he could understand. Because Dr. Roy was so close to them, he told them bluntly that I was no smarter than a dog or a cat.
Thanksgiving came approximately one week later. My parents were given permission to take me home for a one-day (12-hour) visit. Miraculously, that is the day that I believe that I “got better.” The very first words that my father heard me say to him, since before the accident, were “Hi, Dad … I love you.”
On that day, I suddenly (and to everyone’s amazement) started talking, eating, and informing people when I needed to be taken to the bathroom. I could not walk since I had a broken leg, but I wanted to so badly. (I felt as though I did not have a broken leg because an external fixation device was holding my femur in place.) On that day, I began to truly comprehend what had happened to me over two and a half months before.
My father wanted to know what was happening in my head that was enabling me to do almost everything that he was told that I might not ever do again. However, Dr. Mark Roy refused to do another CAT scan on me even after my father pleaded with him. In response to my father’s pleading, Dr. Roy said, “Why should we do another one? Just look at her. There is no explanation. Just accept that she is a miracle.”
There is no medical information in any medical books, even today, that could explain how a person, who was injured half as badly as I was, could recover even half as far as I have.
I do not remember anything about the accident. Everything I know about the accident and my initial time in the hospital is what I’ve been told by other people. I do not even remember being in the car that I was in when the accident occurred. My family was told if I ever remembered the accident, “even in ten or fifteen years,” that I would probably go insane. The reason they said that is because the accident was extremely traumatic and because the pain that I was experiencing was tremendous. Thank God, I do not remember it.
My speech articulation was the most affected. I learned, in my Language Development and Disorders class, that my speech was the most affected because the Broca’s area of my brain received the biggest impact when my head broke the steering wheel. (That would account for the scar on my left temple.)
I underwent six different therapies to get back to an independently functional level: occupational, physical, speech, psychological, recreational, and voice (a subcategory of speech). It must be understood that my progress toward recovery was very slow and tedious, like Fr. Casey’s struggle to reach the priesthood. My slow, yet steady, improvement rate was only an example of how Father Solanus Casey worked.
It was worth all of the pain, suffering, and aggravations of going through all of those therapies because I look, feel, and am perceived as being “normal.” Although I do have damage to my vocal cords from being on the ventilator for so long, nobody would or could ever know that I have been (and still am) brain damaged.
I was one credit shy of graduating from high school on time, so I was required to take two summer school classes. Since I was done with all of my high school requirements, I was able to take any two classes that I wanted. I took Senior Refresher Math and a gym class. Even though I did not receive a diploma, I was still a special part of the 1992 Northville High School graduation ceremony. I was awarded two honors. (1992 was the first year to offer one of the honors.) One is a plaque, which consists of different people’s names that have overcome adversities and their graduation years. That plaque currently hangs in the high school office.
For the other honor, I was given a plaque, which is currently hung in my home. It says: `Presented To Meghan Kathleen Kearney In Recognition Of Your Courageous Struggle, Overcoming Extraordinary Obstacles, To Be Back With Your Family And Classmates. Northville Public Schools June 12, 1992.’
Before the accident, I had no intention of ever going to college. Actually, I hated school. I took the most basic courses required, just so I could graduate. I did the least amount of work needed to pass most of my classes, even if that meant getting a `D’ on my report card.
The doctors at the hospital told my parents that I would never be the same after the accident. They were right. I am not the same. I love school. I enjoy learning and love to be challenged. I am a totally different person since the accident.
I was very athletic before the accident. I played almost every sport that was available. I was in track, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, karate, gymnastics, and more. I was very coordinated. Also, I loved to sing. I had a very nice voice, before the ventilator damaged my vocal chords. I was in choir every year and would have at least one solo part in every concert.
Now, I am not coordinated, and I cannot sing. Still, that’s okay with me because it is a complete, and total, miracle that I am even here. I could, and should, have a lot more difficulties than I do.
I currently am an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. I majored in Human Development and minored in Psychology and graduated on May 25, 2002. That was the first time that I had the opportunity to wear a cap and gown. I was elated!
I got married two months after graduating from the University on July 27, 2002. My husband and I were blessed right away. Our first baby, a daughter, was born on April 11, 2003. Her name is Kaitlynn Elizabeth. Both she and her younger brother, Bradley Michael, are the lights of my life. Bradley was born on April 3, 2005, just eight days short of two years after Kaitlynn was born.
I believe that God has a higher purpose for me. Since the accident, I have asked God, “Why? Why am I here? Why was my intelligence spared when so many other people, with less severe injuries, do not recover as fully?” I believe that I have finally found the answer to my questions. God wants me to educate others about head injury prevention. It is my newly found passion.
In July 2000, I successfully completed the HeadSmart Neighbors and HeadSmart Schools Workshops. The Brain Injury Association awarded me a HeadSmart Educator Certificate of Training. Currently, I am a VIP speaker for the Think First program. VIP speakers are voices of injury prevention. We tell our stories in order to help facilitate the Think First mission. Think First is a national head and neck injury prevention foundation. The organization is called Think First because people ought to think first, before an accident occurs.
My VIP, Think First, message is that wearing seatbelts is very important even while seated in the back seat. If I had simply taken 5 seconds to put my seat belt on I probably would not have been injured nearly as severely. Even if I can only help to prevent one person from experiencing a traumatic head injury, it will be worth it.
There were two other girls in the car with me when that terrible accident took place. They were, and still are, good friends of mine. The front seat passenger, Jessica Bates, was wearing her seat belt. She hit her head on the side window and as a result sustained a minor head injury and was unconscious for approximately twelve hours. Jessica does not remember anything about the accident either. Gina (Signorelli) Matteucci was driving. I broke her jaw by landing on the back of her head, but I technically saved her life too because since I landed on the back of her head, I kept her inside the car. She was also not wearing her seat belt.
The man who caused the accident and his passenger broke both of their legs. The driver was charged and convicted of felonious driving. Felonious is worse than reckless. His sentence was that his driver’s license was taken away for one year. If he had been drinking alcohol at the time of the accident his sentence would have been much more severe.
Meghan Kathleen Schiesser
“Father Solanus Casey struggled throughout much of his adult life working with the very common people to make their lives better. Much of his work went unnoticed, as he never tried to highlight his successes publicly. This too was how Meghan’s progress was. It was with slow, steady, and tedious effort on the part of many people to bring Meghan back from near death, and almost certain non-functional status. The work of these people, and Meghan herself, was certainly influenced by the image of Father Solanus Casey.”
Michael Joseph Kearney
(Father of Meghan)
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