Growing And Healing

GROWING AND HEALING

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COMMUNITY STORIES | 12.10.2016 | BY VALERIE BACH

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I am the mother of a 5 year old with a Congenital Heart Defect who is now also a TBI survivor. Natalie was born on 10-10-10, and only three days after birth she was diagnosed with a severe heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. She had her first open heart surgery on 1-11-11. Last March, five years after her open heart surgery, Natalie fell head-first from a second story window at our home. I had sent her upstairs to get ready for a shower when the accident happened. She was leaning against the screen of an open window when the screen broke and she fell 13 feet onto the concrete patio below. Natalie spent three weeks in a coma and another four weeks in rehab. We are currently five months into recovery.

Before the accident, Natalie's first day of kindergarten.

Before the accident, Natalie's first day of kindergarten.

When I think of what the healing process means to me, I believe that continually seeking progress and working towards a better life is key. For example, before Natalie's accident happened, my family was going through some financial problems. At that time I remember thinking, "Things have to get better. If we just hang in there things will get better on their own.” Things didn't get better. Natalie fell from the window and things got much worse. I have learned that you have to keep working at your goals and moving forward no matter how bad things get.  For me, that means celebrating progress, learning to accept the present, and not dwelling on the past or what's been lost.

Family photo from before the accident.

Family photo from before the accident.

One of the thing I do with Natalie is practice deep breathing exercises with her. She is often frustrated and angry, and she’s not able to understand or explain why. When I find she is having moments of unexplained anger or sadness, I work on getting her to breath deeply. She is only five years old, so I usually have to find a way to make it fun for her. For example, I will often set up a game where I place two tissues on the ground and we compete to see who can blow their tissue the farthest. Her change in mood with just a few deep breaths is incredible and usually pretty quick.

Just after they took Natalie off the ventilator after 21 days in a coma.

Just after they took Natalie off the ventilator after 21 days in a coma.

We also spend a lot of time in the pool. Swimming has been Natalie's favorite outdoor activity since she was born. I think it has been key in both her physical recovery and her cognitive recovery. It's also very encouraging to watch her learn new skills and do things she could not do before the accident.

Natalie learning to swim again.

Natalie learning to swim again.

For me personally, I have found meditating every morning before I start my day is pivotal for me. I usually listen to some sort of motivational video and recite phrases that put me in a positive mindset for the rest of my day.

Occupational therapy in rehab.

Occupational therapy in rehab.

I think my daughter has a great shot of recovery and living a meaningful life. She is young and she has the benefit of being surrounded by a supportive family and community.