Sara Naraghi hasn’t been able to cry for 13 years, although she’s had more than her share of struggles.
Her body stopped making tears after her car was broadsided by a truck in Holland on Oct. 25, 2002.
In addition to a broken neck and several other broken bones, Sara suffered a traumatic brain injury.
The recovery continues for 32-year-old Sara.
“When we got the call that Sara had been in an accident, we couldn’t believe it,” her mom, Theresa Naraghi, said. “She was such a cautious driver that her friends called her ‘granny’ and didn’t like to ride with her.”
Sara and Theresa are closer than most mother-daughter duos. Sitting side-by-side at the dining table in their Grandville home, they finish each others’ sentences and seem to read each others’ minds.
The circumstances of the past several years have strengthened that bond.
“At the time of the accident, we didn’t know about closed head injuries,” Theresa said. “Now we are still learning. It’s been a long, hard road.”
After an AeroMed flight to Spectrum Hospital Butterworth Hospital, Sara lay in a coma for two months. As her condition stabilized, she moved to Spectrum Health Continuing Care and, much later, home with the help of Spectrum Health At Home Care.
She needed to relearn everything: How to swallow. How to eat. How to talk. How to walk.
“My life totally changed the day of the accident,” Sara said. “Before, I could drive, I could do everything. And then it was all ripped out.”
For Sara, quitting was never an option. And although her life is much different than the one she imagined before the accident, she stays busy. She enjoys her job at Goodwill Industries where she prices clothing donated by retail stores. And she has a three-day-a-week social life that includes shopping, dinner, movies and visits to the YMCA, always accompanied by aides.
Michael Lawrence, PhD, ABPP-CN, a clinical neuropsychologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, didn’t treat Sara, but as an expert in social reintegration after traumatic brain injuries, he says she’s headed in the right direction.
“The brain is highly complex and vulnerable,” Dr. Lawrence said. “You don’t walk away from an injury like that without limitations. But it’s important to live life to the fullest and that includes interacting and socializing.”
Another plus for Sara is the strong support she receives from her parents and younger brother.
“It takes family support for patients to thrive. This isn’t just a patient illness,” Dr. Lawrence said. “Good rehab is a lifelong reality for traumatic brain injury patients. They need support throughout their life because challenges will come and go throughout all the stages of life.”
Looking through a photo album, Sara and her mom reminisce about the journey they’ve traveled, pointing out favorite nurses and aides who helped them through the most difficult physical and emotional trials they’ve faced.
“Nobody really understands unless they’ve been through it,” Sara said. “People think a brain injury is like a broken arm that will heal, but it’s not. It takes special people—special nurses and doctors—to get you through it.”
Her advice for others recovering from a brain injury?
“Never give up. Just try as much as you can. Getting better is not going to be fast, it just takes a long time. I’m still improving after almost 13 years.”