Peggy Kreinest will never be the same since her 2009 multi-trauma car accident. And that’s ok with her.
“I like my life better now than before the accident,” she said. “I drive, I live by myself, I eat food, I talk. I have a lot of new friends; some of the old ones I don’t see as much. I think it’s because a lot of them were lawyers and that’s all we had to talk about.”
Kreinest’s law career was cut short on June 14, 2009, during a drive with her sister from Tybee Island to her home in Savannah. The driver of an oncoming car apparently suffered a seizure, flipped his vehicle, and landed on Kreinest’s car. She and her sister were taken to Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC); the other driver and his two passengers were killed.
Kreinest’s sister, Sally, was released from the hospital with no injuries. Kreinest, however, had suffered a severe brain injury. She spent five weeks at MUMC, then upon her release, she recuperated at Sally’s house for a month and a half.
“I remember staying with her, but I don’t remember what I did there,” she said.
Kreinest’s particular brain injury affected her ability to retain short-term memories. Most of her long-term memory is still intact, although she struggles to recall names and streets that she has known for years.
“My memory loss affects how I understand things,” she said. “I have to read something two or three times to understand what I’m reading. That’s why I’m not practicing law anymore.”
It was a bitter pill for her to swallow. Relaying the news to the other attorneys at her firm, Weiner, Shearouse, Weitz, Greenburg, & Shawe in Savannah, was tough. She had only been a practicing attorney for seven years and, at 46, her career was over.
Following her accident, Kreinest went through six months of outpatient speech and physical therapy at The Rehabilitation Institute of MUMC. Therapy was intense – two to three times a week – eventually tapering off to once a week until the end of 2009.
Now Kreinest’s life has settled into a new “normal,” for which she is very grateful. Her family, including three sisters, is no longer trying to “baby” her. “Now they’re more natural and normal,” she said.
She spends her days working on her house, doing a little landscaping, and walking her new puppy. She volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, a haven for families with critically ill children who are being treated at MUMC.
Now she has added another volunteer job to her resume. “Jennifer [Jolley] has me coming back in here [at The Rehabilitation Institute] to volunteer,” Kreinest said.
She figures she has a lot to share with others who are facing challenges similar to hers. “I tell patients it does get better,” she said. “Your mind improves. Your mental acceptance improves, and then you can move forward. Your old self is gone, but you can improve.”
That tragic day in 2009 was the impetus for many changes in her life – not all of them bad, she points out.
“The accident opened my door of understanding and enjoying people better,” she said. “I thought I had it all under control and I could just dismiss people. Now I’m more friendly with people. I do what I can for them.”