BADEN — Lydia Herrle ran and laughed with friends on the field at Baden Public School, giving no hint that a year ago she was airlifted to hospital with terrible, life-threatening injuries.
Herrle, 14, was hit by a truck while climbing off a school bus outside her St. Agatha home a year ago Friday. The collision left her in a coma for months with a brain injury and many broken bones.
But her road to recovery has exceeded expectations — Lydia herself has called it a miracle.
“We’re thankful and it’s hopeful,” said Michelle Herrle, Lydia’s mother.
“She continues to progress but even if that stopped right now, we have this beautiful daughter that we can have a relationship with.”
With the help of a team of therapists — and sheer drive — Lydia has relearned the basic skills of feeding herself, walking and talking. Her expertise with each skill varies, but regular practice is showing improvement.
Lydia has regained her independence. She is able to walk, get up from a sitting position and climb stairs, often without any assistance. She’s also practising to run but has some work ahead with co-ordination, balance and knowing how to slow down and stop once momentum sets in.
Lydia has grown a bit taller, too.
Academics and all the skills required to be a student such as focus, writing and reading are being remastered as well.
Lydia’s math skills have caught up to about a Grade 5 level and — having always been articulate — her reading comprehension and vocabulary are even further ahead.
“Her language skills are her strongest. At home with her speech language pathologist and another tutor, she’s been doing some Grade 8 curriculum,” Michelle explained. “Her use of words is strengthening.”
With all the progress she has made, Lydia still has many challenges to overcome.
Problems with her vision have made reading a challenge and she still struggles with fine motor skills necessary for writing. Since her brain works hard to process all she learns, she can’t always turn her mind off to get a full night’s sleep and is left tired the next day.
“She still needs 24-hour surveillance, that someone needs to be with her because we still battle with impulsivity, that she might suddenly get an idea in her mind and not know the dangers associated with it,” Michelle said, adding that Lydia will try to climb a tree like her brothers or drive their golf cart without realizing she doesn’t yet have the abilities to do so safely.
The setbacks don’t stop Lydia from dreaming big.
“She really is longing and determined to recover,” Michelle said. “What’s in her mind right now is the awareness of the deficits that she has and how hard she wants to work to get stronger, to recover.”
Driven to learn as much as possible, Lydia asked her tutors for homework — and once she received it, she asked for even more challenging homework.
“It was too easy, the stuff that I was learning,” she said.
For the past two weeks, she’s returned to Baden Public School for her tutoring lessons. The change from tutoring at home has tested her ability to focus in an environment full of loud students, music and other distractions.
Adapting to the school setting will help Lydia get ready for full reintegration in the classroom.
“September just looms as this big question mark for us. We’re looking at possibilities of high school,” Michelle said, adding that changes in Lydia’s abilities through the summer will ultimately determine what they decide on for the fall.
Like any teen, Lydia’s mostly happy to be around her friends — that life is seemingly back to normal.
“I was thrilled,” she said about returning to school and taking part in nutrition breaks and assemblies.
She’s even set herself a new career goal: to one day become a physiotherapist.
“I like going to physiotherapy, that’s probably my favourite therapy,” Lydia said.
She added that she wants to help “people like me, who have been in a car crash.”
The long-term outlook for Lydia is still uncertain. She physically and mentally continues to heal. However, with any brain injury it’s difficult to judge what level her recovery will reach or when recovery will taper off.
Even with that uncertainty, the Herrle family remains grateful for the progress she has made and the overall positive attitude she’s maintained despite the hardships she faces.
“As we look ahead, not knowing if she will ever be able to attend school full time, will she be able to move out, all of those things, it’s just that. We don’t know, so we just live in today and we trust that it will work out,” Michelle said.