Traumatic Brain Injured Children and Public Schools - The Story of Jenny
Jenny was a brand new kindergartner when I first met her. On the first day of school, she and her mom were lost and couldn’t find the classroom. I looked on my list, found out what classroom she was in and walked Jenny and her mom down. She was a sweet little girl, with long, black hair and deep, dark eyes. She was just so pretty in her little red dress.
I watched Jenny grow through the years. I didn’t have much contact with her after that first meeting. She was an average student – not at the top of her class, but certainly not at the bottom, either. She had many friends and the teachers loved her. Her biggest problem was that her mom kept her home from school from time to time just so that they could both go get manicures and pedicures. Jenny would show up the next day with her nails beautifully done. In my opinion, she had great parents that loved her and loved to treat her well.
Much later, I found out that Jenny lived with much of her extended family. Besides her parents and sister, she also lived with an aunt and uncle, her grandparents on both her mother and father’s side, and many cousins. They chose to live together to make things easier on everyone. The adults could all work various hours and someone could always be home with the children. It worked really well for this family.
Jenny’s family also did everything together. If there was a carnival or festival around, they would all attend together. They loved all of the county fairs around the area and went to many of them. They always awaited the state fair with great excitement. They would all pile into two mini-vans and drive the forty or fifty miles to see what great adventures they could find at the fair.
One year as they were headed to the fair, Jenny was riding with her mom, who was driving. Also in the van were Jenny’s aunt, three cousins and Jenny’s little sister, Jasmine. They were all laughing and singing and having a great time. Jenny’s father, uncle and some more cousins were following close behind in another van, also having a great time.
As they were driving, a man driving a pick-up truck and pulling an 18-foot trailer pulled onto the highway. He was in quite a hurry and was going above the speed limit. He wanted to switch lanes and wasn’t paying much attention to the other traffic on the highway. As he pulled into the left lane – the lane that Jenny’s family occupied – his trailer clipped the front of the van that Jenny was in. Jenny’s mom tried to avoid the accident but the trailer hit with enough force that the van was forced off the road. It flipped multiple times into the median strip. Because only Jasmine was belted in, everyone was thrown from the vehicle. Jenny flew out the back window, breaking it as she went through. When the van finally stopped, it somehow ended on top of her. Her aunt and mother went out the front window. Even though Jasmine was strapped into her car seat, she also flew out of the van. Because of the car seat she was safe. No one else was as lucky.
Jenny’s father and uncle were on the scene immediately. They called 911 for help and did everything they could to help their family. They were afraid to move anyone, for fear that they would make any injuries worse. Jenny’s mom was one of the luckier ones, she was able to stand and she went to be close to Jenny. The van was still on top of her – her father and uncle tried to tip it off of her but didn’t have enough strength. At this point, Jenny was unconscious and not moving. Two of her cousins were also unconscious, and the third one had an obviously broken leg. Her aunt had not moved since she landed on the ground.
Emergency crews were soon there. Everyone was loaded into three ambulances, and Jenny was flown by helicopter to a Wichita hospital. Her father, uncle and cousins followed as quickly as they could. Once they arrived at the hospital, they were given the news.
Jasmine was fine, she had no injuries. One of the cousins did, indeed, have a broken leg – it was broken in multiple places – at one point amputation was considered. Her other leg was also broken and needed multiple pins to fix it. Another cousin had a mild concussion. The third cousin had a broken back – she would be paralyzed and be in a wheelchair the rest of her life. Jenny’s aunt and been pronounced dead upon arrival to the hospital. Jenny was in a coma. She would not awaken from the coma for many months.
Jenny was in third grade when the accident happened. The accident happened at the beginning of the school year, in September. She was in the coma until after Christmas. No one – not even the doctors – knew exactly what would happen when she awoke from the coma. There could been any number of complications.
They discovered that Jenny’s brain had been severely damaged. She would have to learn to do everything – walk, talk, eat, dress herself – all over again. The doctors told Jenny’s family to expect the recovery to take many months – maybe even years. But Jenny was determined. She wanted to be back in school. And she wanted to walk and talk again.
The accident had also changed Jenny’s personality. Whether it was the brain damage, or all the attention she was getting, Jenny changed from a quiet, shy little girl who was afraid to speak to people she didn’t know into a little chatterbox that talked to everyone who came within listening distance. She talked with a pronounced slur, but she talked. She always had a smile on her face and wanted everyone around her to be as happy as she was.
Jenny was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital about a week after coming out of the coma. She worked every day to be able to walk and talk, feed and dress herself and everything else she needed to do. Meanwhile, at school, we had meetings with her parents to initiate special education services. Because she had a traumatic brain injury she qualified for services. We wanted everything to be ready for her for when she came back to school. We also needed to do this so that she could receive “homebound” services while in the rehab hospital. We didn’t expect Jenny to be back to school that particular school year, but wanted everything in place for the next year.
Jenny surprised us all. She was talking with only a slight slur by February. She was walking with assistance by Easter and she was back at school in time for our school carnival in April. She was one very determined young lady.
The next school year, it was decided that Jenny would do her third grade year all over again. She had missed so much school and forgotten so much of what she had learned that it was just the best solution for her. We also put in place some accommodations to help her out. She would arrive at school ten minutes after the rest of the students so that she wouldn’t have to walk in the crowds. She was still unsteady on her feet and the slightest push or shove would cause her to fall again. She was also allowed frequent breaks throughout the day so she wouldn’t tire out as quickly. She also had a full time aide to assist her with writing her assignments and explaining them so that Jenny could understand them.
Jenny stayed with us for three more years. After fifth grade, she was supposed to move up to middle school. Jenny’s parents did not trust the middle school to treat Jenny with the care she needed, so they decided to homeschool her. When high school began, Jenny convinced her parents that she would be okay at school, and she was allowed to go back to school. Right now she is a junior in high school and is doing well. Although it is much better, she is still unsteady on her feet. She still talks with a slur. She is also in the top ten percent of her class, making mostly “A’s” in her advanced classes.
She is still one very determined young lady – and a hero to all that know her.