Erika, on Feb 26, 2002, was a 21 year old senior at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Erika was a high achiever, motivated and hard working young lady during her 4 years of higher education. Having won several awards, earning excellent grades, and involving herself in many activities as a leader, earned her the University Award for Student Leader of the Year and in the top ten nominated for Student of the Year. Unfortunately, two months prior to graduation, Erika’s life was interrupted as we knew it and since, her future remains a mystery.
While on a final class assignment with three other SJU Students and an Amish farmer, Erika was a passenger in the back seat of a vehicle driven by another a school team member. At no fault of their own, a vehicle traveling from the opposite direction, being operated by a never licensed driver crossed over into their lane. The driver of the car Erika was in made four attempts to move out of the path of the oncoming car only to have the oncoming vehicle each time move in the same path. The head-on collision resulted with three fatalities and all of the others seriously hurt, Erika being the most critical. Erika was trapped in the car until she was freed and treated by EMS for transfer to the nearby Lancaster Hospital. Erika had flat lined twice during this period, yet each time fought back to remain with us.
After arriving at Lancaster General Hospital, it was discovered that Erika suffered from Severe Traumatic Brain Injury. She went into a coma and remained on life support for 6-7 weeks before being transferred to the Traumatic Brain Injury Rehab Center at Kessler Institute in East Orange, NJ. Although the prognosis for Erika’s recovery was poor, the strong character of Erika that remained and power of prayer allowed Erika to overcome every life threatening issue that surfaced during her critical stage. Upon arriving at Kessler, Erika’s condition was in a vegetative state and only capable of moving a few fingers on occasion.
As a result of her injury, Erika had lost everything. She had to learn everything learned from infancy to now. She has had rigorous and various rehabilitations both as an inpatient and out-patient in cognitive, speech, and physical therapies. Besides learning life needs (how to brush her teeth, eating, swallowing, smiling, etc.), Erika has worked relentlessly at learning how to read, write, and other academics all over again. Although it has been a long and frustrating journey, Erika has never waved in her effort or determination to recapture what was lost. Without complaint or feeling sorry for her situation, she has worked hard to meet her goal. She inspires all who come in contact with her, especially after learning of her struggle and fortitude to overcome it.
Following in-patient care at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation for several months, Erika continued with advanced cognitive rehabilitation at Rusk Institute at NYU for 60 weeks. Currently, Erika lives on her own and is employed in the Resort and Hospitality industry. T-Bird continues to help Erika with assistance in regaining a full and successful life again.