When Trish Brown’s three sons entered the emergency room at Swedish Hospital, doctors and family members prepared them for the worst: Their mother …
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When Trish Brown’s three sons entered the emergency room at
Swedish Hospital, doctors and family members prepared them for the
worst: Their mother was not expected to survive.
Brown had suffered severe head trauma from a horrific motorcycle
crash just hours earlier. It was Sept. 17, 2002, a date that her
sons, close family members and co-workers would not soon
At age 44, Brown had achieved the pinnacle of success by quickly
ascending the ranks as an emergency dispatcher. Two years after
beginning her dispatch career at the Parker Police Department in
1996, she was offered a job with the Aurora Fire Department, where
she was promoted to supervisor in two short years.
Brown was on top of the world when everything came crashing down
in a matter of seconds on the clear fall day. She was astride her
purple Harley-Davidson, sans helmet, cruising along East Parker
Road toward the Parker Recreation Center. She had only been riding
a motorcycle for about a year, but was comfortable enough to take
trips by herself to scenic locales like Estes Park, Golden and
Rocky Mountain National Park.
Although the only thing Brown remembers about that day was
waving to a neighbor as she left her subdivision off Tomahawk Road,
she knows it could easily have been her last. Brown was rounding a
curve in front of Ave Maria Catholic Church when she saw two
vehicles directly ahead. The first car was making an illegal left
turn into the church parking lot, which caused Brown to slam on the
brakes. Somehow, in the process of slowing down, her motorcycle
re-engaged and was thrown sideways. According to witness accounts,
Brown was launched 10 feet into the air and made a hard landing
headfirst on the unforgiving pavement. She suffered broken ribs and
a punctured heart and ear drum. Worst of all, the jarring impact
caused the frontal lobes of her brain to detach.
The driver who was directly in front of Brown called 911; the
driver making the illegal left turn fled the area and never was
heard from again.
As she lay on the ground unconscious, Brown’s 10-year-old son
was coincidentally passing by the gut-wrenching scene on a school
bus. A friend pointed to the motionless woman and mentioned that it
looked liked his mother, but he was not certain until he was pulled
out of school later that day.
Brown was in critical condition, and time was crucial to her
survival. Instead of calling in a helicopter, Brown was transported
by ambulance to Swedish Hospital. Fellow dispatchers soon learned
that the motorcycle had a fire union emblem affixed to the back,
and rushed to their co-worker’s side. Brown’s three boys arrived in
the same vehicle, uncertain if their mother was even still
“The victims advocate, my parents, everybody was telling them,
‘this is pretty serious and your mom may not make it,’” Brown
recalled. “They were just devastated. My older son — he’s a pretty
outspoken kid — said ‘no, Mom. I wouldn’t accept that.’”
The fate of the standout dispatcher, devoted mother and lover of
animals was up in the air. Doctors did not know if she would wake
up, and co-workers were almost certain that such a crushing blow to
the head meant the end of her career. That was before they
witnessed the awe-inspiring determination Brown showed over the
next few months.
Within four weeks, Brown awoke from a medically induced coma.
She felt normal, but clearly suffered from cognitive deficiencies
in the first days. Friends and family members almost didn’t
recognize the bruised and battered woman lying in the hospital bed
at her new temporary home at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in
“For them it was hard because they would visit me on a Monday,
and by Wednesday, I wouldn’t even remember that they had been
there,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even remember their names. They had
to tell me what their names were.”
Brown’s sudden awakening could not have happened at a better
time. Her insurance company stopped paying for her hospital stay,
and the staff was in the process of drawing up papers to have her
transferred to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.
“I believe right after that was done — and maybe it was a
miracle in itself — is when I woke up,” Brown said. “According to
my doctors, unless my recovery happened, that was where I was going
to stay for the rest of my life.”
Aurora firefighters, police officers and city employees stepped
up and donated their own sick time to Brown, who, as a result,
never went without a paycheck during her rehabilitation. Dave
Maddox, a retired Aurora firefighter who lives in Parker, was one
“She pulled it off and she’s done well,” said Maddox, who did
not meet Brown until after the crash. “She’s made an amazing
Her recovery was slow and laborious, but Brown showed marked
improvement over the next few weeks. Visiting times were limited to
minutes to prevent overstimulation of the brain, which was
painstakingly repairing tissue inside her skull.
Just five months later, Brown was taking an exhausting 8-hour
cognitive exam to try and prove she could perform the many tasks
required of an emergency dispatcher. The fire chief at the time
resisted the idea of having Brown back as a dispatcher, but she
proved herself capable of handling the tough task.
To further prove a point, the 50-year-old received a bachelor’s
degree in criminal justice in September. Soon after, she paid a
visit to the doctors and nurses at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital
that made her astounding recovery possible. Their knowledge of the
brain and paths to full rehabilitation, coupled with Brown’s
unfaltering focus to get back to normal, made it all happen.
Today, her sons are grateful their mother is still around to
watch them as they pursue their dreams.
“Mother’s Day is now more special than Christmas,” she said.
All three boys are avid motorcyclists, but Brown has sworn off
riding for the rest of her life. Doctors said one more head injury
could result in her death. She is now a walking, talking
spokesperson for helmet safety, and wants to use her story to
motivate people with brain injuries and prove that recovery is
“I’m looking forward to the rest of my life because I’ve been
able to move forward and give people hope,” she said. “If you just
take a step away and feel confident in yourself, then the sky’s the
limit for what your future can hold.”
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