Heather Dawn Story

  July 23, 1991 started out as any other day in northern CA.  It was hot, about 90 degrees out, but the dry heat was comforting like a warm blanket.  I was all dressed and just about ready to leave for my summer job, as a bookkeeper.  One last thing to do, French braid my long, blonde hair.  I had my head tipped down, starting at the nape of my neck.  As I was finishing, I lifted my head up and got the most excruciating pain in my head.  It was as if someone was trying to open my skull with an ice pick on the right side of my head.   The pain was so intense, I could barely stand.  My mother got me an appointment with the doctor right away.  Due to the pain, she had to virtually lift me into the pickup truck to drive me there.  During the short drive to the doctor’s office, I passed out from the increasingly immense pain.  After being examined by the doctor, I was rushed to the hospital.  I had a CAT scan and was prepped for surgery in under 30 minutes.  The CAT scan showed a ruptured artery in my brain, an aneurysm. My mother had to sign a form stating that she understood that death or paralysis was a risk of the surgery.  The doctor had told my parents that if I survived the surgery I would only have a 6 % chance of making it through surgery, being a vegetable.  The hospital used the Life Flight helicopter to bring in the best neurosurgeon in CA to perform my surgery.

     The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.  I was told that I had brain surgery a week prior and that the left side of my body was paralyzed.  In my 16 year old mind, my greatest concern was not whether I would walk again.  It was the fact that they had shaved all my hair off!  I remember reaching up to touch my head, where the scar remains to this day, and touching the cold metal staples that held my skull closed.  I had never seen surgical staples before, only the big staples in the wooden fences.  Those were always rusty and gross looking.  I thought, “I hope these are stainless steel.”  Yes, I still had my sense of humor.

Prior to my surgery, I felt uncomfortable around senior citizens and people with disabilities.  I didn’t know what to do or say so I just avoided them.  These actions, unknown to me at the time, affected my relationships with my grandparents as well as disabled classmates at school.  2 weeks post-surgery, I was sent to a rehabilitation hospital for intense physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  Within a week of being there I was walking with a cane.  It was while I was there that I learned compassion for seniors and people with disabilities.  Every person in the 65 bed hospital had a disability that they were getting help for and most were senior citizens.  In this setting I had to face my preconceived notions that these types of people were different.  My stay there was 2 months in length and I learned a lot about seniors and people with disabilities, these people became my good friends and temporary family.

     When I returned home, I had a new and wonderful relationship with my aging grandparents.  I also developed close friendships with my classmates who had disabilities.  It was through this experience that I have come to realize my passion in life.  In high school I had taken bookkeeping classes and desperately wanted to be an accountant because numbers were easy for me.  After my aneurysm, I was not as good with numbers and I realized that I need a job with constant human interaction.  I am here at Penn State pursuing a degree in Human Development and Family Studies.  I’m not sure of the exact job title I want yet but I know one thing.  I want to have a career in which I can help people and make a positive difference in their lives.  I believe I was saved that fateful July day to help others.  I am thankful to be alive and you will see it daily on my face in the form of a smile.

My teacher's response-  Heather, I read your paper and wow! It's very powerful and well written. I'll give it back for you to make a few grammatical/punctuation corrections but it's very good as it is. In fact, I'll be asking you to submit it for publication in Best of Freshman Writing.  See you Friday.