Parker woman makes recovery from brain injury

Posted 11/13/08

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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Parker woman makes recovery from brain injury


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 forget.

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 alive.

“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 Aurora.

“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 of them.

“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 recovery.”

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 possible.

“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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