Brain Injury: I can explain it to you, but I cannot understand it for you™
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High school was done for the 2004-2005 school year, the dance recital was over, summer vacation was starting, and Bari had begun to take driving lessons. Bari (15 years old at the time) and her then-boyfriend had been invited to a house party to celebrate the birthday of a friend. Before leaving for the party, Bari and I had decided that it was best if she called me to pick her up from her boyfriend’s house later that evening. The party location and her boyfriend’s house were about 45 minutes northwest of our house. As her mother, I was worried that her boyfriend would be too tired after their long day and I was worried for his and her safety. My husband was out of town on business and like a lot of moms, I cannot sleep until Bari is back at home anyway.
Bari called me near 9:30 p.m. to let me know they were leaving the party at 10:30 p.m. and would be on their way to his house and that she was indeed tired and would soon be ready to come home. His house was only 15 minutes from the party. Shortly after 10:00 p.m. I got in my car to drive the 45 minutes to his house expecting to find Bari watching for me out the window, but when I got there what I encountered was his frantic mother telling me we had to get to the hospital right away because the kids had been in a car accident.
In that moment I was not in a panic, since I made the assumption that they may not be too injured and were going to be alright. I guess I just didn’t have enough details and I didn’t imagine the worse. His mother did tell me they were hit by a truck, but she didn’t know what kind of truck it was. I remember thinking maybe a pick-up truck or something of the sort. They were not going to be on the freeway and I could not imagine that traveling the side roads and quiet city streets that time of night could cause anything worse than a fender-bender. I was so terribly wrong. His mother told me they were taken to our local Children’s Hospital so I took the freeway since it was the quickest and most direct route, with his step-father was following us in their car. Had I known what I was about to find out, I may not have decided to drive myself to the hospital.
While we were en route, her cell phone rang. It was her son on the other end speaking in a rather frantic tone of voice. I asked her if I could talk to him and she handed me the phone where I simply asked him to tell me what kind of truck they were hit by. He replied, “We were run over by a semi and they can’t get her out.” Those words live in my memory to this day. I felt like my mind stopped thinking at that moment, I handed the phone back to his mom.
When we entered the Froedtert Hospital/Children’s Hospital emergency room, his parents were taken directly to the back where their son was already being treated and waiting for them. I told the lady at the desk that my daughter was in an accident and that her boyfriend was already there. I gave her Bari’s name and they told me she was being transported by flight for life but that it had not arrived yet. As I sat down in the waiting area, a woman came over to me and asked if she could speak with me in private. She took me to a small room, handed me a tissue box, and said “Ma’am I am sorry to tell you but Flight for Life was called to a fatal accident.” Then without another word, she just left.
I sat there for what seemed like forever when another woman came in from Children’s Hospital abruptly and said, “No, no, that is not your daughter. That was a different accident.” She took me out of that small room and escorted me into another room to wait for an update. Bari was still not at the hospital since the extrication took quite a while. I sat there alone not sure what to do or think. A woman came in to ask me if there was anyone they could call, but my mind was blank. I stared at her and didn’t know what to say. When I was just 2 months pregnant with Bari, her birth father was killed in a car accident. My only thought at that moment was is this really happening again! How was I going to call her father in NY and tell him what had just happened? This was not the call on Father’s Day weekend that anyone expected to make. The hours that passed and the events of the evening were very powerful reminders of the life that hung in the balance. Due to the plethora of friends, teachers, and family members that came to the emergency room, they had to close it and send everyone home. The accident had happened only a few blocks from the party and the impact was so loud that the party-goers could hear the crash. They began to call everyone that knew Bari and they came to the hospital to offer support and comfort. I did not witness what happened in the waiting room but was told later about the out-pouring of emotions and the number of people that just kept coming.
It was in the early morning hours on June 18, 2005, that I was finally taken to the PICU to see Bari. What I saw when I walked in her room was this little tiny girl, long blond hair still with blood and glass in it. An ICP (probe) had been inserted into her head to measure brain swelling. She required a “respirator breathing machine”, an IV line giving her medication, machines monitoring her heart, a chest tube had been inserted, a catheter was in place, wounds that had been stitched, so many machines, and so many sounds, and my gift from God, my small helpless little angel struggling to stay alive.
Bari sustained multiple injuries. She had 17 stitches to close a laceration on the right side of her head, they had to sew through three layers of flesh to close a five-inch wound to her right calf, she sustained 5 fractured ribs, one bruised lung, and one punctured lung, there were tears to her spleen and liver and she had a blown right pupil.
She required two blood transfusions. She was eventually given a feeding tube and once the respirator was removed, an oxygen nose piece was used. Her left arm and leg moved constantly, while her right side was paralyzed and her right arm was bent at an angle across her chest, immobile as if frozen in place. Bari was a dancer and her ankles were stiff and not flexible, with her feet and toes pointed out, as if she were dancing and about to go “en pointe.”
Using the Glasgow Coma Scale, Bari had a rate of three. She was placed in a medically induced coma at first, but then it continued. I was told by the doctors that Bari had a traumatic brain injury and its classification was “severe”. Her post-traumatic amnesia was also rated as very severe since the duration was greater than 7 days. In addition to the catheter, Bari’s bowels had stopped working for nearly 9 days. We were told this function was not only important to allow her body to prevent the buildup of toxins but to also allow the internal bleeding to be expelled from her body.
After seven days in the PICU, Bari was moved to the Rehabilitation Floor. Overstimulating would have been a detriment to Bari’s recovery, so the decision was made to list her as “Jessica B” on the nurses’ boards. She was given a private room due to the size of the “tent” bed that she was in. This type of bed was required since Bari’s left side movements were becoming more active even though her right side still was paralyzed. The bed prevented her from falling out since all four sides of this bed were made of a heavy-duty mesh material that could be zipped closed.
August 5th, (50 days after the accident) Bari was discharged from the hospital today and was home in time for supper. I bought a baby monitor for Bari’s room to listen for her. I placed a sign on the left and right sides of her bed to remind her not to get out of bed without me. This visual reminded her to call into the monitor and that I would be there. The next morning at 5:30 a.m., I heard this little voice call “Mommy” in the monitor.
Bari’s recovery seemed impossible, fifteen years of life and learning had been wiped out in an instant. It was by the Grace of God that Bari survived and is who she is today. Prayer chains from all over the world were participating in active prayer due to the vast amount of people aware of Bari’s situation. Daily talks with God gave me the strength to face each new day and each new situation. Unconditional love and support from family and close friends gave my husband and me the reassurance that we could get Bari and ourselves through this.
God had blessed the many medical professionals that would treat and care for Bari with the skills needed to keep her recovery continuous. We were told that at the scene so many things went right the night of the accident that I strongly feel that God was watching her and guiding the many policemen, paramedics, firefighters, and Flight for Life people that were present. It is apparent that these individuals have been blessed with the skills and abilities that save lives. Many doubt the power of prayer and the presence of God, but how can you deny “God-Given Talents” as they are so often referred to? We do not always recognize our purpose in life, but when we do, we must act upon it. While this account does not detail the whole story, it is also not the end of the story. Where this account stops, the Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin begins.
The Beginning of the Brain Injury Resource Center of Wisconsin
This 501c3 non-profit organization was formed because our lives were changed in a dramatic way in June of 2005. Living, loving, and encouraging a survivor of brain injury for the past several years has not only shown us how hard it is to find the answers, but how difficult it can be to get someone to really care about the little issues that occur after the fact. Keeping a silent voice, ignoring it, denying the condition, or hoping it will all go away someday isn’t the answer and unfortunately not always the reality. When our daughter Bari was made a part of the brain injury world in 2005, no one in our immediate circle knew what that really meant. No one was prepared for what lay ahead.
Bari had been a dancer for over nine years. Her passion for dance led her to perform in various talent shows, become a demonstrator for her dance studio, and eventually compete in the Dance Masters of WI Pageant. Her passion and talent enabled her to be a part of an elite group known as “Tour De Force” at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. Each Tour De Force Dancer has a contract and the “Bari Clause” was written into her contract in anticipation of her return to Tour De Force.
This “clause” would allow her to remain a part of the group during her recovery. None of us knew at the time that due to her internal injuries, paralysis, and severe traumatic brain injury that Bari would never be able to return to the world she once knew and loved. Bari was outgoing and vivacious. She entered the American Coed Pageant, joined Tennis and Cheerleading, performed in the musical West Side Story, became involved in modeling, and many other pursuits. None of us knew at the time that the change in her that was a result of her severe traumatic brain injury would cause her to lose the many friends that she had come to know and love.
She was an academic achiever. She was part of the National Honor Society and National Society of High School Scholars. She won the prestigious Rexnord Award of Excellence and was the Wisconsin State Academic Achievement Award recipient from the American Coed Pageant. Prior to her accident, she expressed the desire to attend college in Florida and possibly use her passion for dance to intern at Disney World. She expressed interest in possibly entering the field of Psychiatry, her motivation again stemmed from the dance world and the insecurities that dancers deal with in terms of self-esteem, body image, stereotypes, etc. Bari was ready to take on the world and this is but a small account of the world that Bari was a part of before everything changed.
None of us knew at the time that this severe traumatic brain injury would limit her job and career choices either. Day by day we began to realize that all the hopes, dreams, and aspirations that had been a part of Bari’s life plan prior to the accident would soon be placed in a box and put on a shelf. Reminders of who she was would be hidden for years to come. Painful reminders of the past were more than Bari and the family could bear. To this very day, certain songs on the radio will cause emotions that went dormant to awaken and the tears to begin to flow. Certain types of television shows and movies are too hard to watch due to the graphical depictions and content as it relates to an individual being injured due to a vehicle-related accident. Even books can be a challenge whether they are fiction or not.
We have not taken Bari’s recovery for granted. We do not feel “lucky” to be where we are today. In our hearts, we believe that it was by the Grace of God that we are where we are today. God can’t prevent all tragedies, stop all accidents, nor stop all the man-made mistakes that cause us so much pain. Bari’s ultimate survival and continued recovery are in God’s hands. He has blessed the many physicians, therapists, and other medical professionals with the gift of healing that have been a part of Bari’s life since June 2005. He has provided the strength needed for those that love and support Bari. He has opened the minds and hearts of many who have encountered Bari during this journey of recovery.
Knowing what we know now and why we know it gave birth to this Organization. We can’t change the past, but our goal is to bring more knowledge, comfort, and support to families just like us who live with brain injury every day and encounter a different challenge around every corner. Unfortunately, not every situation will have the same outcome, but everyone needs someone to listen and offer empathy when needed and sympathy when appropriate.
Fast forward to October 10, 2015
If anyone ever doubts that the Lord does not hear our prayers, then you are not really paying attention when the answers come.
Two years and a little over a month later – the date was July 20, 2007. Gary Rieth was the passenger in what was been described as a motor vehicle versus a tree accident. Gary sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple other injuries. Gary’s story is featured in Vol 6, Issue 1 of the BIRCofWI Bulletin. Bari and Gary were destined to meet and be an inspiration to the brain injury community. I prayed day in and day out for the Lord to give Bari a beautiful life. He answered this prayer the day that Gary entered her life. On October 10, 2015, Bari married Gary Rieth. These two are a true testament that perseverance, determination, family support, and faith are key components in recovery! Together with their dogs Lilly and Chloe, they make an adorable new married couple!
Gary and Bari have come a long way since their injuries. The road has been long and hard, but the struggles have all been worth it. Who could have guessed that these two survivors would one day meet, get married, and then start a family! Babies are a true gift from God and these two will be magnificent parents!
The bottom line of this story is that no one can predict where life will go regardless of the highs and lows, ups and downs, good, bad, and in-between times. Unconditional love, support, encouragement, and giving them the security in knowing that they can achieve what they really desire is not out of their reach.
Who are we?
We are a 501C3, Registered Charity 27-4483622, Tax Exempt Organization.
We are 100% funded through the generosity of people like you.
A world where all preventable brain injuries are prevented, all unpreventable brain injuries are minimized and all individuals who have experienced brain injury maximize their quality of life.
To offer assistance, provide resources, and create a better future through brain injury prevention, education, and advocacy.