The Long Journey to Recovery

Holly Freese tells a story of personal courage and valiant resolve about a Kutztown University student’s recovery from an automobile accident. This is a must read for anyone who might face a life-changing experience.

It’s mid-day and a woman is struggling to get to the bathroom. She calls for a family member to help her as she gets out of bed and grabs on to her walker and walks the 50 feet she’s able to before having to stop due to extreme pain. This woman isn’t elderly. She’s 20-years-old.

Lauren Hoke, a student at Kutztown University, was enthusiastic about school and determined to maintain her 4.0 GPA as she went into student teaching. Her dream was to graduate with at least a 3.5 GPA and teach 1st grade. Her brother Kyle, 18, of East Stroudsburg described his sister as easy going and “an all around fun person to be around.”

On Feb. 17 Lauren had just washed her car and was on her way home when she lost control. Investigators suspect that her tire blew out, causing her to swerve off the highway. When she tried to get back onto the road, she turned too sharply which cause the car to flip. She then rolled to the other side of the road where she was hit by an oncoming car.

Lauren’s car was totaled, but that damage was minimal compared to the trauma caused to her. She fractured her pelvis in seven places, her spine in two places. She also had a brain hemorrhage, punctured her spleen causing internal bleeding, and suffered from a collapsed lung.

For five days after the accident, Lauren was in the Critical Care Unit, where she was awaiting to hear if she would need any surgery. Lauren said this part was the worst, because she couldn’t eat or drink anything until doctors knew what was going to be done.

For days after the accident, she was only allowed to dip a sponge in water if her mouth was dry until they knew if surgery was necessary. “I would just cry for water,” Lauren said. “I had to wait days [for news].”

Another torture Lauren had to face while in CCU was a neck brace she had to wear. “I don’t think I slept a night until it was off,” Lauren said about what she referred to as “the worst thing ever invented.”

Lauren was then moved to a transitional trauma room for an additional five days. At this point in her hospital stay, x-rays and CT scans were administered daily, but she could not move on her own because of her injured spine and pelvis. In order to move her, a board was placed under her and health care providers had pick her up to move her from stretcher to stretcher.

Her last few days at the hospital, Lauren was preparing to head home. Basic tasks that a person does everyday, like getting dressed or going to the bathroom, became the things Lauren needed to practice and master before leaving.
A physical therapist who visited before Lauren was discharged, realized she had a pinched nerve in the leg she was allowed to put weight on. “I couldn’t stand on it at all,” Lauren said. “It would immediately burn so bad I would scream and cry all at the same time. It was the worst pain I felt throughout the whole thing.”

When she made it home, the long journey to recovery wasn’t over. Her mother or father had to give her a shot in her stomach for a month and a half. She also had eight different medications she had to take throughout the day. By now she could successfully use a walker but could only make it a short distance before being in extreme pain. She also needed supervised bathroom visits so in the middle of the night, she had to text her brother or dad to help her. She needed a special raised toilet seat that had handles for support. She also needed to use a stool in the shower so she could sit down.

Lauren said that coping after the accident was hard. But for her brother, the most difficult part about dealing with her accident was trying to remain calm around their family. “I knew someone had to be there to help get everyone else through it,” Kyle said. “It was hard seeing everyone else’s reactions on top of my own.”

After being home for a while, Lauren experienced a wide range of emotions with trying to deal with her recovery. “I was super happy to be out of the hospital. It was nice having family come see me everyday, but at times it would get annoying to have someone watch your every move 24/7,” she said, “and I was so upset to be home and not school.”

However, Lauren became aware of some positive outcomes from her accident. She was incredibly touched by the number of people who cared about her. She kept friends updated on her Facebook about her recovery noting, “I would post something about my accident and 90 people would like it. I actually got a blessing from the Pope in Italy and I thought that was super cool.”

She also said she has bonded with her family since being home, which has been good for her. She also started dating her current boyfriend Manny Green, who pushed back enlisting in the Navy until she was fully recovered so he could be there for her and help her throughout the recovery process. “He’s my Superman right now,” she said about Green.

“Life is life is life,” was her response when asked how her life has changed since the accident. She is being sued by the man who hit her so the accident has put a lot of stress on her and her family. Lauren kept her sense of humor, however, and simply said, “My dad will probably have grey hair by the end of the year.”

Lauren still can’t do everything she use to be able to and is limited in psychical activity that includes some personal disappointments. “I can’t go on roller coasters this year because of my brain hemorrhage.”

She also had to leave school for a semester and was given only a week after her accident to decide if she wanted to withdrawal and get her money back. She pointed out several times that she’s upset she’s not in school right now, but she is excited to go back.

Lauren said that she is going to take summer classes to catch up instead of packing her schedule next year. And now, her new plan after she graduates if to take a year and travel so she can see as many places as she can. Lauren said she finds herself more optimistic and values life more. “Things can always be worse,” she said.

Kyle wants people to know that anything can happen. “She wasn’t texting or doing anything to distract herself, and she had her seatbelt on, and she was still in an accident,” he said. “With a little luck and a lot of strength, things will get better,” Kyle said. “My sister is unbelievably lucky and strong to get through this like she did.”

[box type=”bio”]Holly Freese is a Junior majoring in Journalism in the Mass Communication Department at Bloomsburg University. The photograph of Lauren’s car after the accident is provided courtesy of the Hoke Family.[/box]

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