My name is Annette. I have been asked to share my world a bit and perhaps give a little insight. Give an example of how to grow with all the hurt and move despite it all. I volunteer as a victim’s advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A nonprofit that seeks to end drinking driving victims. I speak and write, to help my audience understand the totally preventable impacts of the crime of drunk driving. I have been impacted and it will stay that way for the rest of my life. I have made too many people cry and an uncomfortable amount of them wince. Like any origin story, mine is bloody and broken, but it paves the way to growth and empowerment. It’s striking how monumental a second can be. A life can change in the blink of an eye, and it can be overwhelming.
Just as any tragic story starts, it was a normal day and I was crossing a street that I had crossed a hundred times before. This became the start of another life I was not prepared for. I was a pedestrian struck by a drunk driver at 45 miles per hour. Yeah, I have heard it all before, I can take a hit. I can attest to it being as badass as it sounds, but the figures on making it scared me more then they reassured me. According to the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle at 50 miles per hour has a 75% risk of death. They also show that a pedestrian hit at 46 miles per hour has a 90% chance of being seriously injured. The way I see it is I had no other choice but to be dead or broken with this. I sustained a broken leg and skull fracture. I had abrasions on the right side of my body from scraping on the street after I was struck. It was a mess and am dumbstruck onto how I made it. Broken bones become unbroken and life goes on, but it's a different ballgame with the brain.
A traumatic brain injury does not heal like any other injury. Yes, there is always hope that it will get better, but that hope is limited and dependent on the injury. No two brain injuries are alike, even given similar circumstances in sustaining the injury. These injuries can lead to more problems in the future; the effects of a brain injury can show up all at once later in life. That is daunting, to say the least. To have the likelihood of there being more to come is a scary reality.
From the moment of impact, I was in a coma and I was out for two and a half months. My brain suffered so much trauma that it needed to reboot. The easiest way to explain it is to imagine the brain is like a circuit board; all of my connections were ripped from the circuit board. My recovery is going to be reconnecting all that was lost. My brain injury left me with hemiparesis and an assortment of mechanical lapses in my body; for example, I cannot cry, move my right toes, or feel hunger pains. I never fully appreciated what a marvel the brain is until mine was broken. The brain is a special place where the chemistry and environment need to be perfect. Leading an existence with a brain out of order is arduous. You must work just to maintain functionality in your life. I remember how effortless movement used to be for me, now it takes a concentrated plan of action. This is a devastating reality.
One thing that helps me cope is the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. MADD is a non-profit organization that works toward a world with no more DUI, or DWI, victims. MADD uses education as a platform to educate people about impaired driving. In 1980 Candace Lightner, the founder of MADD, lost her daughter to a three-time DUI offender. This led Candace to start a campaign fighting against drunk driving. Since 1999, MADD has offered a program designed to end underage drinking. MADD provides free education to those who request it and provides support to victims and their families.
MADD also offers Victim Impact Panels. Their website explains:
The purpose of the Victim Impact Panel (VIP) program is to help drunk and drugged driving offenders to recognize and internalize the lasting and long-term effects of substance-impaired driving. The classes seek to create empathy and understanding of the tragedy, leave a permanent impression that leads to changes in thinking and behavior and prevents future offenses. I regularly participate in these panels to give my personal story. I use my platform as a victim to show that even if you are broken and bleeding you can make a change.
My story begins in the dark. It’s a tale I cannot recall but bear the scars of. My tale is gathered from the accounts of my parents, sisters, and others who witnessed it. These various perspectives have painted for me a sense of what happened. It sounds horrific. I am sometimes relieved that I do not remember. I have since come to describe myself as being like a glow stick. Sometimes a person needs to break before they can shine. I tell my tale to anyone who lends me an ear. I shine a spotlight on my victimhood because I am reclaiming it, making it my armor. Despite working with an out of order body, I want it to tell a captivating story that allows me to walk a little taller and feel a bit braver. I want to inspire.