REPOSTED from The Citizens Voice by PAUL GOLIAS / PUBLISHED: AUGUST 1, 2016
WILKES-BARRE — The remarkable life story of Sarah Godfrey draws an ever-expanding crescendo of “Wows!” and “That’s wonderful!”
Clinically dead and suffering from severe brain trauma following a horrific auto accident, Godfrey came out of a six-week coma and — supported by family, friends and medical professionals — she has continued on a long path of recovery and learning.
She is now poised to begin her latest challenge.
Godfrey, 23, will depart for Fife, Scotland, in late August to begin studies at the University of St. Andrews for a master’s degree and then hopefully a doctorate in health psychology. She said her goal is to work one day in a neuropsychology setting and help others suffering from brain injuries, including brain trauma.
“The level of recovery that I achieved and where I am academically and emotionally is due to the incredible support system that had people fighting for me,” Godfrey said.
Now, she said she hopes to help others who face psychiatric and biological issues that affect health.
It can be as basic as helping someone improve their health by eliminating smoking, she said, or helping on more complex issues in an interdisciplinary way.
Godfrey’s saga began late in the afternoon of Nov. 17, 2006.
Godfrey, an eighth grade student at the former St. Boniface Parochial School, had been dropped off in front of her home on Hazle Street. As she crossed the street, a car slammed into her. The impact tossed her into the air and she landed on the pavement.
Paramedics worked feverishly to force oxygen to her brain.
Godfrey was life-flighted to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, where she was unconscious for six weeks.
“I don’t remember anything,” she said. “I was told about it later.”
There was more sadness to relate. Sarah’s parents, Mark and Brigid Godfrey, told Sarah on Feb. 10, 2007, that her grandmother, Mary Jones Casey, had died on Dec. 3, three weeks after the accident. Casey had been standing on the porch as Sarah came home from school and witnessed the accident.
Sarah’s condition remained critical even after coming out of the coma. She had a tracheotomy, she could not sit up or walk and she could not hold a pencil. But slowly she began to respond to physical and occupational therapy.
She spent time at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then came “home” to John Heinz Institute of Allied Services in Luzerne County, where she underwent intense rehabilitation that included speech, occupational, physical and cognitive therapies.
Godfrey said she appreciates the intense work of the therapists “early on and especially at John Heinz.
“I can’t give enough accolades to the people who have shown love and support,” she said.
Godfrey was awarded a diploma from St. Boniface as a member of the last class at that school, and enrolled at Holy Redeemer High School in the fall of 2007.
She carried a condensed class load. Her days included classes, therapy at Heinz after and then sessions with a tutor at home in the evening.
“I had always been a conscientious student and I really wanted to get back and it worked!” she said.
Godfrey attained the honor roll every year and graduated in 2011 with high honors amid applause and tears from classmates, faculty and family.
Godfrey enrolled in Ursinus College in Collegeville and earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in psychology and self-designed minors in drama therapy and movement psychology — or dance therapy.
She studied during the fall semester in 2013 at St. Andrews and it was there that she met Cameron Houston, her boyfriend. He is a senior at St. Andrews studying medieval history.
Godfrey returned to the British Isles during the summer of 2014 to study at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.
Godfrey interacted with CHOP therapists during summer breaks at Ursinus, aiding youngsters at Camp Cranium in Millville — a camp for children with brain injuries. Working with kids facing brain-related issues “gave me lots of motivation to keep learning” Godfrey said.
She also worked as a Red Cross blood center volunteer, took part in mock trials and managed dance team and theatre company productions at the college’s Arts Center. She served with Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group that strives to reduce the stigma of mental illness. The Active Minds work led to further activism “for autism acceptance” Godfrey said. In her senior year, she served as Active Minds’ president and helped run an art fair that raised funds for Camp Cranium.
“Traumatic brain injury is a serious mental and physical recovery challenge,” she said.
Coming full circle, Godfrey works as a teachers’ assistant with youngsters on the autism spectrum at The Graham Academy in Kingston.
“This is a very special place,” she said. “I hate to leave, but I am excited to pursue further education.”
St. Andrews had 500 applicants for full-scholarships in the master’s program and Godfrey won one of three awarded. The grants cover schooling, travel, lodging, books and meals. She said she thinks her “level of passion” for study of how the brain works played a role in the award.
Godfrey is an avid reader and most often she will be found with a book on psychology, learning or behavioral neuroscience.
“I am fascinated in how the mind works,” she reiterated.