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Format: 04/17/2014
Format: 04/17/2014


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: How I Got Back to Life

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Shattered by a car accident, Clare Ann Dumm had to learn to live all over again. Twenty-five years later, she recounts the journey.

By Clare Ann Dumm

When Clare Ann Dumm graduated from Bishop Carroll High School in Ebensburg on May 23, 1984, her future seemed set: College followed by work as a foreign language teacher. A horrible car accident the very next day dramatically altered those plans.

The doctors who assessed her condition at Allegheny General Hospital found traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung, a massive facial scar, double vision, a cracked pelvis, right-side paralysis and a damaged liver.

Clare credits exceptional medical care and rehabilitation for restoring so much of what she had lost. She jokes about writing with her left hand and regrets that her former rapid-fire wit takes longer these days, but few signs of her injuries are visible.

Since her 1990 graduation from Saint Francis University in Loretto, she has talked with her former English professor, Kirk Weixel, about writing of her experiences. This summer, she said, "It's been 25 years. I'm ready." This is that story:

My awareness began with the sound of birds and sparks of light beyond the window. Someone moaned across the room. I heard a deep male voice singing "Good morning, ladies" and a curtain being drawn back. All of these things were merely impressions. I didn't know where I was or how I had gotten there. I was just taking it all in. Soon he was standing beside me.

"Good morning, beautiful," he boomed. He told me he would go into my closet and get my clothes for the day. My closet? What clothes? I don't remember seeing any of these items. I've never been here before. Who is this guy?

"Which of these two shirts would you like to wear?" he asked.

I stared at him blankly.

"How about the navy blue one? It'll look good with your dark hair."

With a few quick movements, like a magician, he had me dressed and into my wheelchair. My wheelchair? When did I get a wheelchair?

As he had supported my right side to lift me from the bed, he explained that it was because that side "didn't work so well anymore." He then pushed my chair toward the nurses' station, stopped before the mirror above the sink in our room, and asked if I wanted "to check [my] look." Reflected back to me was a mere child -- hair removed, long red scar that ran from the crown of my head to my chin, and my big blue eyes.

Seeing that I was disturbed, the muscular man guiding my wheelchair sped me away.

Pffft -- the scene was forgotten.



The last time I had looked in a mirror, the face I saw was very different.

It was the night before my high school graduation party, the night I chose to go to a movie with three girlfriends instead of staying to help my mother bake cookies for the party. My father was taking me to the driver's house, and, before we left, I glanced in the bedroom mirror and ran a comb through my hair. My Irish-German skin was sprinkled lightly with freckles.

The accident that changed that face in the mirror happened later that night as we made a left turn on a busy highway -- and into an oncoming coal truck.

I was treated immediately by an Ebensburg doctor and Emergency Medical Team and was placed in the helicopter that lifted off from the Ebensburg Airport for Allegheny General Hospital on Pittsburgh's North Side. I was in a coma for five weeks, and the next week, still oblivious to what had happened, was transferred to Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital (now owned by HealthSouth), where I would spend the next 41/2 months.

At first, everything was new. I didn't know what anything was -- food, for instance, or the utensils to eat it with. I was certain, though, that the people around me, the people who enabled me to do anything, were on my side, had my interests at heart.

One of those people, for instance, awakened me for a bathroom run at 3 a.m. This nurse, giving me privacy, told me that she had to check on another patient and would be right back. She left me with a buzzer that I was to press when I had finished. Before she could return, I attempted to get up. Forgetting that my right leg was useless, I dropped like a stone. The nurse found me curled on the floor with a scraped eye and reddened cheek.

What I remember from all of this was that she had told me to use the buzzer and I had forgotten. I will never forget her look of concern for me.

I'm going to get hurt, I thought, if I don't remember to follow directions.

To read more, visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette web site.


Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09242/993990-109.stm#ixzz0PyGcLON0

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