Paula Murray doesn't remember anything from an accident eight years ago that left her in a coma for 40 days.
She is told she was driving when her car was struck by a tractor-trailer. She is told her parents were by her side at a New Jersey hospital for all 40 days and nights of her coma. She is told that on Valentine's Day she said hi to her dad and later to her mother.
Paula suffered a traumatic brain injury. The accident left her unable to speak or move the right side of her body. For six years, Paula worked to relearn how to speak, eat, walk and live.
Today she is able to do all these things and more.
About a year ago, the 28-year-old moved to Pot-Nets Bayside with her parents, Mike and Barb.
“She is a total beach babe,” said Barb of Paula, who loves everything sun, surf and sand.
The family enjoys time on the water on their boat, and Paula likes tubing, except when the tube flips her into the surf.
Her parents, who helped her every day of her recovery, feel lucky to have Paula back and to see her smile every day. Now, they want to help others with traumatic brain injuries.
“We had to learn everything as we went,” Barb said. “We want to be able to tell others what we learned the hard way.”
The family is organizing a Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group, which will hold its first meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, August 12 in the conference room of the Beebe Medical Arts Building on Route 24.
“It's a way to connect with others who have similar stories,” Mike said.
The group is geared toward younger people, ages 16-35, and their caretakers, parents or health professionals.
Mike said younger people often feel sidelined during support group meetings with older participants. He said he hopes the new support group will connect people of similar ages who can share experiences.
“With traumatic brain injuries, people often walk away,” Barb said. “Friends and loved ones become distant. Paula had a boyfriend of five years who left.”
Paula is quick to add, “He didn't have character.”
Barb and Mike bought the Pot-Nets home while Paula was going to therapy five days a week.
"She would be so exhausted from therapy, we wanted her to have a beach escape," Barb said. Once Paula's therapy ended, the family knew they wanted to move to Delaware permanently.
While Paula doesn't drive, she can do nearly everything else, including work out daily at Club Fitness in Rehoboth Beach.
"The people at Club Fitness have been really supportive," Mike said.
Before the accident, Paula was going to school to become a gym teacher. Since the accident, Paula hasn't been sure what she wanted to do. With the help of Club Fitness, Paula will be taking courses, and when she is ready, there is now a job waiting for her at the gym.
"I will be working in the daycare," Paula says with her trademark smile. She likes kids and the gym atmosphere, she said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Paula is a testament to what happens when hard work pays off, Barb said. The family worked together and continues to strive for Paula to have a normal life.
"When your child has an injury, you have to be an advocate," Barb said. "No one else is going to take care of your loved one."
Paula continues to go to cognitive therapy through the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which provides guidance and skill training to prepare Paula to go back to school and work at a job.
"I always tell other families in similar situations - never give up," Barb said. "As parents, we pushed Paula to keep achieving. If you don't stay stimulated, you might not get better."
Barb, who is a mentor at Magee Rehabilitation in Philadelphia, where Paula did most of her therapy, said she hopes the support group creates a safe place for families to talk about therapy.
"There are a lot of alternative therapies out there that worked for us," Barb said. "I hope to be able to tell others what it took us months to research and find out about."
In addition to her family's support, Paula said she also relied on God to get her through the hard times.
Paula said she hopes the support group helps others in the Cape Region.
"I want to encourage other people with similar injuries," Paula said.
For more information on the Traumatic Brain Injury support group, call 856-297-0516 or 856-297-0518.
Crab feast to benefit association
The 6th annual Crab Feast Fundraiser to benefit the Brain Injury Association of Delaware is set for 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company.
Tickets are $32 for adults, $8 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. The menu includes all-you-can-eat crabs, fries, corn and drinks, hamburgers and hot dogs. The event also features a live auction, 50/50, face painting and more. Purchase tickets online at biade.org or call 800-411-0505. Groups of 9 can reserve a table by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Leipsic Volunteer Fire Company is at 318 Main St., Leipsic, 19901.