By Adam Harris
When a drunken driver entered Interstate 35 exit ramp in October of last year, one Baylor student’s life was changed forever.
Saginaw junior Hollie Thomas was a psychology major when she left Waco on Oct. 9, 2011, but an event that night changed her life — and her plans.
It was 1 a.m. and Thomas and her brother were driving from Waco to their hometown outside of Fort Worth.
Thomas’ family had been in town to watch her perform in the Golden Wave Band color guard during that night’s football game against Iowa State. Thomas decided to go home with her family after the game.
Thomas was driving and her brother was in the passenger seat when a drunken driver, who had been driving for almost four miles in the wrong direction, crashed into Thomas’ car head-on.
Her mother, Debra Thomas, was driving on the interstate about 15 minutes ahead of her daughter when the accident occurred and had to make her way through the traffic that built up behind Thomas’ car. Thomas was taken to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. Her brother escaped with only minor injuries.
“Within the first eight hours, they told me she was going to be OK,” she said. The next communication she received was delivered much more “matter-of-factly,” Debra Thomas said.
The doctors explained the extent of the damage — Thomas suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury, which is the intermediate level of traumatic brain injury.
Symptoms of the injury include post-traumatic amnesia, which can last up to seven days, and a loss of consciousness ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours.
Debra Thomas said, in that moment, she decided to turn things over to God.
She said she prayed over her daughter and a new feeling of hope entered her.
“I felt relief and felt safe,” she said. Thomas’ mother slept in the hospital every night in a small chair as she watched over her daughter.
Thomas came in and out of consciousness following the accident. Along with the injury to her brain, Thomas had a broken ankle, puncture wounds in her legs and scratches in numerous places.
The injuries required occupational and physical therapy, and Thomas found herself under the care of a Baylor speech pathology graduate who aided her in regaining her speech skills.
The speech therapist would help her remember different aspects of her daily routine. She also helped her with a case of echolalia, a speech disorder that caused her to repeat things others said automatically.
During the early stage of her recovery, Thomas would wake up and work with the therapist. She still has no recollection of these moments. Thomas’ mother, on the other hand, recalls the moments her daughter was awake. Her daily routine became therapy and then sleeping.
“She had a drive in her that I never knew she had,” Debra Thomas said.
Each day Thomas’ therapy brought her closer to a return to normalcy.
Thomas said she heard stories about some of the therapy and laughs about it now. Although she doesn’t remember it, Thomas said, at one point she was asked where she went to school. Her response was Floyd Casey instead of Baylor. Following some discussion with both the therapist and her mother, Thomas said they finally gave in.
“I was adamant and won that argument,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ first memory was waking up to her mother at her side 11 days after the accident.
Thomas was discharged from the hospital on Oct. 30, 2011, and continued her therapy when she left. Her favorite part of therapy was the speech portion, and this led to a detour in her path at Baylor.
At the time of the accident, Thomas was a psychology major. Now she studies speech pathology with the hope of being able to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation.
She said the accident was God’s way of telling her what to do with her life. She now wants to assist people with similar traumatic brain injuries as an outpatient therapist in a hospital. She wants to assist people in getting back to their normal routines.
“I think of it positively,” Thomas said.
Thomas made it back to Baylor for the spring semester of 2012 with a new purpose.
She believes that her injury will help her “connect with the patients” when she enters the field herself.