Recovering nurse eager to give backNovember 29, 2013
By TONY RAAP
Herald Staff Writer
The crash happened just outside of Bloomington.
Judy Fairchild-Roberts and her husband, Stan, were headed home to Holland.
It was June 15 and the couple had spent the weekend in Indianapolis watching their grandson play baseball. At about 8:45 p.m., a deer scampered across State Road 37 and collided with Stan’s 2010 Ford F-150 pickup.
The impact cut the deer in half. Its hindquarters smashed through the windshield and hit Judy in the face before landing at her feet.
“I never saw it,” said Stan, who was in the driver’s seat. “It was just that quick.”
They were covered in blood from the deer carcass. Judy’s hair was full of jagged shards of glass.
Stan unbuckled his seat belt and yelled his wife’s name. There was no answer.
A woman driving behind them, whose name remains a mystery, saw what happened and followed them into the median. She happened to be a nurse.
She told Stan to elevate his wife’s legs to increase circulation. That’s when he realized Judy’s feet were pinned to the floor.
He yanked them out from beneath the deer carcass and propped her heels on a door handle. The nurse found a pulse, but Judy was unconscious.
She was rushed to Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital. A neurosurgeon was waiting in the emergency room when they arrived. After examining Judy, the doctor determined that she had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“He told me then that the outlook was not good, and it was going to be a tough road ahead,” said Stan, who walked away from the crash without a scratch. “We were expecting the worst.”
Judy, a longtime nurse who has worked as Memorial Hospital’s house supervisor for more than a dozen years, lay unconscious for nine days.
She spent more than a month in the hospital before being transferred to Brookside Village, an assisted living center in Jasper. Her progress was steady but slow.
For weeks, she didn’t speak. Then, one day in August, she woke up talking.
That morning, a nurse at Brookside called Stan to tell him that Judy had asked for the phone number of her son Darrick, who lives in Michigan.
“And I said, ”˜OK, what does she need that for?’” Stan said.
Because Judy wanted to call Darrick, the nurse told him.
“And I said, ”˜How’s she going to do that?’” said Stan, who chuckled at the memory. “And she said, ”˜She’s talking.’”
Once Judy began speaking, her progress took off. Brain injuries often mystify doctors.
Some patients never wake up. Others with the same injury make miraculous recoveries.
In Judy’s case, most of the damage was on the surface of her brain. If the damage had seeped deeper into her brain tissue, the outcome would have been worse, doctors told the couple.
In September, she was transferred again, to HealthSouth Deaconess Rehabilitation Hospital in Evansville, where she went through three weeks of intensive rehabilitation.
Later that month, she returned home for the first time since the crash. Her doctors expect her to make a full recovery.
Judy said she considers herself “very fortunate.” The ordeal helped her realize “how short life can be and just how thankful I am that I made it through,” she added.
After the crash, friends, relatives and co-workers followed her recovery on social media. Many posted words of encouragement, which meant a lot, Judy said.
She continues to do outpatient rehab at Brookside and hopes to return to work in the spring.
Last week, she and Sue Willis, an infection preventionist and employee health coordinator at Memorial Hospital, were named the winners of the 2013 Little Company of Mary Award.
Hospital administrators said the honor reflected Judy’s devotion to Memorial Hospital’s mission and core values. Besides being the house supervisor, Judy also is a parish nurse at United Methodist Church in Holland, where she has taken parishioners’ blood pressure and held clinics before church services.
During her recovery, she said she has encountered a number of kind and caring nurses. It’s something she would like to pay forward.
“I want to go back to work,” she said, “and I want to make a difference for patients.”
Contact Tony Raap at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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