Sixteen years ago, during a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Talaria was involved in a car accident in South Dakota in which her car flipped four times. She sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and compound fractures in her C1, C2 and C4 vertebrae (C1 and C2 are at the top of the neck and C4 is at the base of the neck). Her boyfriend, Menkerios, suffered a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and a large gash on his leg. “Thank goodness he was conscious, because he had enough know-how to stabilize my head until the paramedics arrived,” said Talaria. She spent more than a month in a coma before being transferred to Craig in July 2001.
Talaria visited Craig this summer, and she walked around greeting many of the team that cared for her during her four-month stay at Craig. Her story is one that gives hope to thousands of Americans who experience devastating injuries each year, but her path was not an easy one.
Once she left Craig, she was scared and felt out of place. She credits her family who helped her every day with her recovery and made sure she could always get to her outpatient therapy sessions. She recalls working with a neurosurgeon in California, where she was living after the accident, who told her she would never be able to maintain concentration and retain the information that she would need to graduate from college. School had always been important to her, so being told she couldn't be successful in college gave her added determination. She started college three years after her accident and graduated cum laude with an English degree.
Talaria’s recovery was a gradual process. “Sometimes I thought I was back, then something would happen - like putting dishes away and I’d notice that my hand was shaking. Or I’d forget something I was just about to say. It took until halfway through my first year of college before I really felt like myself again.”
Talaria didn’t tell people about her accident when she started school. “I guarded my TBI like a dangerous secret at first, thinking I'd get pity, or worse...preferential treatment if anyone knew. I was meticulously organized and thought about graduating much like I imagine a warrior would think about being victorious in battle. Or at least staying alive. Now, however, whenever I forget something or lose my place in thought or otherwise, I never think of my brain injury as being responsible. I just remember that I'm human and move on.”
“I am very fortunate to have recovered, yet I don't think of it as a recovery. I think of it as growth. Craig allowed me to grow into myself. The accident almost became the method in which I achieved self-acceptance, and not a terrible experience. I now live in the present as much as possible, because no one can see the future, and the past is over. The present is all we have. Every, every day. Thank you, Craig.”
There is another happy ending to Talaria’s story of life after Craig. Talaria stayed in touch with Menkerios, but it wasn’t until he came out to California six years later to attend a wedding that they truly reconnected. “I was in the Bay Area, and his friend's wedding was in Los Angeles. He caught a flight to the Bay Area to visit me and then basically never left. (My plan worked perfectly). We've been married for five of the 10 years we've been together.”
She and Menkerios welcomed daughter Valhalla 16 months ago and they live the Bay Area.