March 23rd, 1998 was a day that changed Sabina Ehrenhardt’s life forever, but the Beach Lake resident has no memory of it. She only ‘recalls’ what she has been told by family and friends. 16 years on, she shares her story in the hopes that it will inspire others and create understanding for people recovering from traumatic brain injury.
Oh, and possibly land her on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. The accident hasn’t robbed Sabina of her sense of humor or passion for life.
On the evening of March 23rd, 1998, 20 year old Sabina is involved in a side-on collision along Route 6 near Tunkhannock. The car she is riding in spins out of control, crossing the center line and sliding sideways into the oncoming traffic.
Sabina is sitting in the passenger seat, seat belt buckled. She bears the full force of the impact as the van driving in the opposite direction, unable to stop, strikes her door at 55 miles per hour.
Everyone but Sabina walks away from the crash.
Her right pelvic bone is shattered, her collar bone, right eye socket and ribs fractured, her liver lacerated. The bleeding is so extensive that before night’s end, she will have a full body transfusion. She will lie in a coma for six weeks, medical staff reluctant to offer hope that she will ever recover. CAT scans reveal that there is bleeding from the brain stem. She has suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Sabina and her family don’t dwell on that day. Instead, they remark on the series of miracles and the special individuals that have brought them to where they are today.
Take for example, the five EMTs and the New York State ambulance that were driving behind Sabina. Thanks to them, she is given a chance to live. They call for help, stabilize her and within minutes, she is life-flighted to the trauma center at CMC, now Geisinger Community Medical Center.
Less than three weeks after the accident, Sabina is life-flighted to Hershey Medical Center. Although she is still in a semi-comatose state, Dr. Spence Reid successfully operates on her pelvis. Sabina is still in contact with the man she credits with giving her the chance to walk again.
Eight weeks after the accident, Sabina is moved to Heinz Rehab Hospital in Wilkes-Barre. Here, she begins the long and painful process of recovery. She must relearn everything, from swallowing and eating to walking and writing. Her family is beside her throughout the gruelling physical and occupational therapy sessions.
“Watching Sabina in therapy was hard” remembers Sabina’s father, Joseph. “She was in so much pain at times that she would scream at the therapists.”
“They pushed her because they knew what she needed to do to recover. I’ll never forget the love and care she received at Heinz Rehab Center. The day that she smiled and spoke for the first time will stay with me forever.” That was just one week after Sabina began therapy at Heinz Rehab Center.
Since the accident, Sabina has dealt with constant pain and setbacks. She still has short-term memory issues and struggles to concentrate.
She has also celebrated milestones that in the days and weeks following the accident, her family thought would never be possible. Sabina passed her driving test with flying colors and lived independently for 6 years before returning to her family’s home in Beach Lake. She completed a 2-year degree in medical office administration and hopes to find work in that field.
Sabina remains in contact with the physical therapist from Heinz Rehab Center who she credits with teaching her to walk again. The two formed an enduring bond.
“We shared so much. I wouldn’t be walking today if it wasn’t for her.”
Today, Sabina and her therapist share happier experiences, like becoming mothers. Sabina describes her daughter, Jessica, as ‘bubbly’ and ‘a handful’. Keeping up with her is what motivates Sabina to persevere with the exercises she learned during physical therapy.
To this day, Sabina and her family believe that God kept her here for a purpose. Maybe to inspire others?
“I have the same issues that everyone has, the same day-to-day worries about the small stuff. When I think of what could have happened and the people that helped me get my life back, it puts it in perspective.”
“You can’t focus on the things you can’t control. You just have to place your trust in God and keep working towards your goals.”