Health Concern: Catastrophic Injuries to arm.
Personal Strategy: Extensive surgery and therapy; support from friends.
Doctors told Abby Meehan that if she hadn’t made a last-minute, split-second decision, she could be dead.
Abby was riding her bicycle in Pearl River one night in June 2008 when a four-wheeler without headlights collided with her, head on. Though she was wearing a reflective belt, she didn’t have a helmet and was listening to music through headphones.
“I didn’t hear anything until the last second when I heard a really loud engine sound,” she says. She instinctively turned her bike to the left, absorbing the impact with her right arm. “The doctors told me if I hadn’t turned at the last minute I probably wouldn’t be alive.”
In the moments after the collision, it became clear something was very wrong with her right arm. “I remember lying in the ditch face up. I didn’t know what happened, just that something hit me. And something was really wrong with my right arm,” she says. “I thought I had lost it.” Later, she recalls, “It didn’t look like an arm, it was so mangled.” She also had a huge gash on her right thigh “like a shark bite” and a “gash in my knee down to the bone.”
Abby had broken many bones in her arm, injuries that landed her a two-week hospital stay, eight surgeries to repair her arm and hand and lengthy therapy. She has plates, pins and screws in her arm and wrist. “My right arm is pretty much made out of titanium,” she says.
“Abby had a catastrophic injury that resulted in severe injuries to her right arm, which is her dominant hand. She had complex fractures of her upper arm, forearm, wrist, hand and fingers and several tendon/nerve problems that required multiple surgeries and intensive therapy for over a year,” says Missy Hymel, one of Abby’s therapists at Advanced Hand Specialists in Mandeville.
Much of Abby’s progress came from the help of the therapists at AHS. “We worked diligently with her in a one-to-one setting focusing on increasing her range of motion, strength and functional use of her right arm; many times we had to be very creative in our treatment techniques,” says Hymel.
Doctors told Abby they might have to amputate one finger, but they saved it by rebuilding the finger with bone from her hip. “They said I’d never move it again,” she says, but she is now bending her finger at least a little. “I don’t have full function, but I have a lot.”
Abby has been finished with therapy for a year now, but she’s still experiencing some pain—and she’s still working on that finger. It was a long road to recovery. “I had to learn to do everything with my left hand,” says Abby. “After one month of rehab, I was finally able to hold a pen. I love sports, so I learned to throw a Frisbee, shoot a basketball, go bowling and throw darts with my left hand.”
Apart from becoming ambidextrous, Abby’s accident changed her career path. “I’m in grad school for occupational therapy because of this.”
“She has seen firsthand how an injury to a person can be so devastating, and has chosen this as her profession, with the hopes of delivering expert care to her patients,” says Hymel.
Abby credits a group of close friends and the staff at AHS for helping her get through her ordeal. “I definitely have a great group of friends. They’re as close as family,” she says. “They kept my spirits high through it all. The therapists were great to work with. When you have a long recovery like that, it’s hard to see a lot of improvement. If I got discouraged, they always had something to say to keep me going.”Filed under: IN Better Health, January-February 2011, You and Your Family