Like many victims of serious accidents, Dallas Deen has no memory of her head-on collision on March 20, 2009.
She recalls loading her belongings and her cat, Miss Amy, into her car and leaving her parents’ home in Newington, Georgia. With a newly earned degree as a certified nursing assistant, she was headed to Asheville, North Carolina, where a new job and a new life awaited her.
Just past the Georgia-South Carolina state line, Deen stopped at a rest area to take care of her cat. When she pulled back on to the highway, she was hit by another car.
It was the last thing she remembers before waking up a month later in the hospital.
“When I woke up, I saw the date – April 19 – and I wondered what happened,” she said. “My mind said, ‘why am I here, what happened?’ But when I tried to speak – nothing. I couldn’t talk.”
What had happened to the 23-year-old was a double dose of tragedy. When she arrived at a South Carolina hospital by ambulance, X-rays showed that her left arm was broken in eight places, her left knee and thigh bone (femur) were broken, bones in both feet were crushed, and she had hit her head in the crash. Ten days later, doctors took her into surgery to repair her arm. While she was on the operating table, Deen had a stroke.
When she awoke from a medically induced coma three weeks later, she had lost her ability to speak and her right arm was paralyzed.
“My mom told me, ‘Dallas, there was a wreck,’” she remembered. “I still didn’t understand.
“So I’m lying there, I can’t run, I can’t walk, my right hand is limp from the stroke, my left arm is broken, as well as my leg and both feet. I couldn’t move.” Deen shuddered at the memory.
When their daughter was medically stable, Deen’s parents had her transferred to The Rehabilitation Institute at Memorial University Medical Center. There she would receive specialized therapy in the region’s only certified brain injury rehabilitation program.
“I’m stubborn, even before my accident,” she said. “I didn’t want to do therapy. Dad would say, ‘if you want to go back home you have to work.’”
So Deen worked – hard. She underwent speech therapy twice a day to help her learn to speak again. Occupational therapy helped restore her hand-eye coordination and physical therapy got her back on her feet again, once her injuries had healed. She even learned to drive a car again.
Deen says her main goal throughout her recovery was to return to Asheville. “My speech therapist, Melanie [Tillman], said, ‘Don’t you want your speech back?’” Deen said. “And I said, yeah, back in Asheville.”
She continued working with her therapists at Memorial and just one year and one day after her accident, she was able to return to Asheville. Her mom helped her find a cute apartment and Deen was content. But one thing was missing: her cat, Miss Amy.
While she was in the hospital, Deen’s family and friends went to the crash site and searched for her beloved cat. Sadly, she was never found.
Adapting to life without her feline friend is only one of many changes Deen faces. Her family is supportive, but often emotional. “Everyone was hurting after the accident,” she said. But her family offered their unconditional support throughout the entire rehabilitation process.
Deen’s mobility has returned but speaking is often a challenge. She forgets how to say certain words but, surprisingly, can spell them for her listener.
Although her plans to become a CNA were lost in the wreck, Deen has discovered she has a talent for designing jewelry. Her line of sterling silver, crystal, and beaded pieces, called Earth Treasures by Dallas, sells well at craft fairs and community festivals. A percentage of all sales goes to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in honor of Miss Amy. Some of her creations are on display at The Rehabilitation Institute at MUMC.
Besides the physical differences, Deen has changed in other ways, too. “Now I just breathe and say, ok,” she said.