Overcoming TBI and 14 Broken Bones: Maggie’s Story

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Left: Maggie in the hospital with a feeding tube; Right: Maggie today

Left: Maggie in the hospital with a feeding tube; Right: Maggie today

I met Maggie a few months ago when she stopped by the farm to pick up an order. Her bubbly, inviting personality made it super easy and fun to chat with her. After a little while, she opened up to me about her incredible story (which we’ll talk about below). It completely blew me away!

I was so imporessed not just by what Maggie had been through, but also by her positive outlook and persevering spirit. Ever since then, it’s been a joy to keep in touch with Maggie and see all of the amazing things she’s doing to empower and inspire others to live healthy lives. She even started a blog about it (check it out at mywholehealthy.com)! I hope you’ll enjoy learning about Maggie and her story as much as I have!


Let’s start from the beginning. Can you give us a bit of background on where you were at in life before the accident?

First of all, I just want to say thank you for having me on From The Pasture! It’s no secret that I love your blog and the Primal Pastures farm. I’m honored to be interviewed by you!

So the accident happened in Nov. 2007 and the summer before, I was living in the San Diego area and working at SURFER Magazine. At the end of the summer I also got engaged to the man who is now my husband! It was an amazing few months. That fall, I returned to Montreal, Canada to start my final year of university and I was focused on completing my journalism degree so I could get married and move to California as soon as possible! My life seemed to be lining up in a pretty spectacular way.

Tell us a bit about the accident and what kind of a state you were in as a result of it.

Maggie's car after being hit by a drunk driver

Maggie’s car after being hit by a drunk driver

The accident was horrible. I won’t sugar coat it. I had flown home to Nova Scotia from Montreal for the weekend to see my dad, and driving from the airport to my house in a rental car, I was struck head-on by another vehicle that veered suddenly into my lane, giving me no time to react. I remember the collision and deep, paralyzing terror that engulfed me. It was awful and there was nothing I could do. It was soon discovered the other driver was drunk and they did not survive the collision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suffered 14 broken bones, a severe traumatic brain injury, lost 9 teeth in front and had a lot of difficulty seeing well for weeks. I still get double vision. The brain injury put me in a coma that rated a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale and a 3 is the least responsive you can be without being dead.

I stayed in the coma for about a week, with some tense moments for my family when I had additional brain bleeding and extremely high blood pressure in the ICU that set off the alarms.

I was hospitalized for 3 months, with an 2 additional months of outpatient rehab at the hospital before being released and going off to figure out on my own what I needed to achieve a full recovery. I did not stay in Canada, instead immediately coming to California and getting married so as to not be away from the man I loved. So I had no support network here except my husband, no doctors I knew, no therapists. I didn’t want to be anywhere else, but it was tough and I was a long way from “better”.

I remember you telling me about how a doctor once said that you would never get 100% better. What allowed you to persevere and stay hopeful in spite of such unfavorable circumstances and negativity from your doctors?

My new fiancé immediately flew to Canada as soon as he heard the news of my accident and stayed with me the entire time I was in the hospital and beyond. I know, without a doubt, that I would not have healed the way I have without his unwavering love and support. I do remember from the early days in the hospital, I always had a “of course I’m going to get better” attitude and maybe a lot of it was the brain injury itself that actually made me excessively happy and agreeable, but I’ve always been a pretty positive person, so maybe it’s just how I’m wired.

Learning to walk again

Learning to walk again

I did have moments of doubt and deep sadness and fear, but my family was there, and my mum and dad made sure that no matter what happened, whether I recovered or not, I knew they would be there for me and they would take care of me. So that gave me a real safety net that allowed me to relax and focus on healing.

To be fair, I didn’t really get negativity from my doctors and the one who told me (after I asked him point blank) that I could not expect to get 100% better was my neurosurgeon who sees these injuries every day. All he had to draw from was what he has seen and maybe it’s true that people never feel like they “get better” and perhaps always have visible signs of their brain injury.

The area where I’m from does often have the attitude of accepting bad news as just the way it is. Like it can’t be changed. And I’m sure many people would have heard the surgeon say, “no, you won’t get 100% better” and thought to themselves, “oh. okay…” but my reaction was the opposite. I smiled politely and listened, but my attitude was “WATCH ME. I’m going to get 110% better because I have to work at it and no one else does.” It also helped that I had just started reading The Brain That Changes Itself (thank goodness I could still read!) which has case studies of the remarkable things the brain can do and how it can overcome, so I was full of hope, and the surgeon’s comment just made me mad.

Tell us about how you’re doing today!

I’m doing well! A couple of years after the accident, I completed my journalism degree and graduated with a B.A. I have freelanced a bit and volunteered with the Wounded Warriors at Camp Pendleton, along with keeping my healing and recovery my number one priority.

It’s been 7 years now since the accident happened and I am still married to the same incredible man. I have healed A LOT and while there are still things I want to improve in my mind and body, most people tell me they can’t tell I ever suffered the injuries I did. I recently earned my certification as a personal trainer and launched a health and wellness blog that I’m really excited about! I hope to start training clients soon and when I open the doors to accept those clients, I will announce it in my newsletter, which people can sign up for on the website if they’d like.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to go through something so terrible that was also completely preventable. I’m sure you went through a period of feeling angry at the drunk driver and perhaps even angry at the world. Is this something you still deal with? How have you been able to work through those emotions?

Ahhh I love this question! I WAS extremely angry for a long time. I wanted someone to PAY for what had happened to me, even though the other driver had paid the ultimate price with their life.

It was my mum who told me about a Hawaiian ritual for forgiveness called Ho’oponopono that changed my entire mindset and allowed me to completely forgive and let go. When she told me it involved picturing the person I needed to forgive and saying, “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you,” I balked. I said “I’m supposed to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness?! But I didn’t do anything wrong!!!” I was outraged at the idea.

But then she explained that it didn’t need to mean I was apologizing for wrongdoing. It could mean “I’m sorry for what happened” as a kind expression of empathy for us both, and forgiveness to let go of anger, asking for the driver’s spirit, and my feelings toward myself, to let go of all anger around what had happened.

So I started doing it, saying the words without meaning them at first, but soon found that I did mean them and I felt real empathy for the other driver instead of hate and anger. I kept saying the words until I felt that all of my anger had dissipated and I was no longer clinging to feelings that were really only hurting me. It really worked!

Physically, what have you done to heal yourself from your injuries? Food, exercise, etc.?

WarriorOneYogaPoseThere are so many things that have helped me in different ways but the biggest, most helpful thing I can say I did was practice yoga. One person I did know here when I moved to California was my husband’s yoga teacher, Summer. My heart felt pulled to go to her yoga classes, and when I started, I could soon feel neural synapses in my brain reconnecting. It felt like puzzle pieces falling into place with a CLICK. It was pretty profound. Along with the cognitive healing I could feel happening, it also benefited my body awareness and range of motion immensely.

I didn’t start working out until a few years ago but the other big player in my recovery was getting to work with and ride horses again. I’ve been riding since I was 7 and one of my biggest fears in the hospital was not that I might not be able to walk, but that I might not be able to ride. That possibility terrified me. For any horse people out there, they’ll know how horses are in our blood and not much matters more to us than those beautiful creatures! Working with horses and getting back in the saddle helped me in much the way yoga did. Body awareness, balance, divided attention, flexibility, core strength… these were all strengthened by being with horses. And the horses know… they are big and can definitely hurt you if you’re not careful, but they are so aware and in tune with your needs. Just being in their presence was extremely healing.

PigeonWithABindYogaPoseBeyond those two activities, changing my diet was the other big player. My doctors had all told me that the majority of my cognitive healing would happen in the first two years after the accident. The big stuff would heal and all that would be left was the smaller, more subtle things that would just continue to heal for years.

So as I approached that two year milestone, I found I was still tired all the time, struggling to focus and complete my correspondence work for my degree. I didn’t understand why if my brain was supposed to be mostly better, why didn’t I feel better? Like, at all?

And then I had a conversation with my best friend, whose boyfriend suffers from severe celiac disease. We somehow got on the topic of gluten and its effects of the body and after she relayed some of the symptoms of celiac and gluten intolerance to me, it was like a huge light bulb lit up for me. I researched it more and saw the symptoms corresponded with exactly what I was feeling.

So I started paying close attention to what I was eating, and within days I found that any time I ate something that contained gluten, I would be sick within 15 minutes. Thick, heavy brain fog that felt like cotton candy coating my brain, headaches, extreme fatigue, difficulty focusing and thinking, crankiness… it was awful. So I cut all gluten out of my diet! Within two weeks I felt like a person again. It was a drastic turnaround. I still wasn’t better by any means, but now I could feel the difference between real mental fatigue caused by my brain injury, and cognitive function breakdown caused by gluten.

I have been 100% gluten free since 2009. Other grains don’t seem to bother me so I’m not paleo but I do eat almost 100% organic produce and pastured meats and eggs from people/farmers I know, like you guys! My brain has to work harder than it used to as it is, why would I make that harder by eating things like toxic pesticides or meat from unhealthy, medicated animals?

Talk to us about your blog and everything you’re doing now to share your story, knowledge, and passions with others!

MaggieLaughTreeThe blog is called My Whole Healthy and I chose that name because I wanted to create a sort of online oasis of healing information that focuses of everything that contributes to whole health. It’s not just fitness, it’s not just diet, it’s not just meditation… it’s all of that and much, much more. I want people to feel like the “My” is not just about me, it’s about and for them too.

I’m excited to have a place to share the things I’ve learned over the last 7 years and throughout my life that have benefited my health, in the hopes that others will connect with what I’m saying and be able to use what I share to help themselves! As someone with a print journalism degree, it’s actually really hard for me to write from a personal perspective because all of my training was to do the exact opposite of that! But I know that the only way to authentically share what I’ve been through and what I’ve learned is to let people in a little bit so they can get a real sense of who I am.

I just recently found out about another SUPER exciting new development in your life! Care to let everyone in on your not-so-secret little secret?

Haha, I ALMOST said it in one of my earlier answers but my husband and I are going to have a baby this spring!!! It is our first child and we have wanted this for years but were forced to wait due to the level of healing I needed to achieve first. Now, finally, I am pregnant and about half way through the pregnancy already, and so far everything is great! The baby and I are healthy and happy and I am over the moon with happiness at the thought of being a mama to this little soul. Even though life threw some of the worst stuff imaginable at me, I got through it and am now living a life more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Feel free to ask Maggie any additional questions you may have in the comments section below. And be sure to stay in touch with her on instagram, facebook, twitter, and through her blog!

Comments

  1. Cherri Urban says

    Bethany, I love this story (way to go, Maggie!) and your blog! Paige has Celiac and has eaten gluten free for eight years now and I’ve seen first hand the positive difference it has made in her health (and the horrible results when she gets accidentally cross contaminated). Keep up the good work, both of you beautiful ladies!

    • Bethany McDaniel says

      Thanks so much for reading, Cherri! :) I remember talking to Paige about Celiac a looooong time ago. In fact, that was the first time I had ever even heard anything about gluten sensitivity or Celiac! I never thought back then that I would one day avoid gluten like the plague like I do now! So glad it’s made such a difference in her health!

  2. says

    Maggie – what a story. I have known you for a couple of years now and never had any idea whatsoever. Thank you so much for sharing with us and being real, it is truly inspiring!! – Farmer Paul

    • says

      Thanks so much Paul! I guess I do tend to gloss over the nitty gritty when I mention it. It’s not exactly the most uplifting conversation piece 😉

  3. Dave McKegney says

    Hi Maggie – I’m a friend of your Mum’s who put me on to your inspiring story which I am forwarding to a nephew who is struggling with brain trauma following an encounter with a train. Congratulations and best of luck in your new-found motherhood.

    • says

      Hi Dave! I totally remember you. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for reading! I really hope it helps your nephew to hear/read that recovery is possible.

  4. Sherry says

    Hi Maggie I have often thought about over the past 7 years and happy that u are doing so well. I am glad u were able to ride again. I remember your smiling face from back in the days we rode together at Bayviewstables in Chester . Take care. Sherry

  5. Kasey Bowser says

    What an amazing and inspiring story!!! So happy for you Maggie! Wait to fight through it and overcome such great obstacles. Congrats on your little one too!

    Nice job Bethany! We miss you in AZ! :)

  6. Lisa says

    Thank you for sharing Maggie’s amazing story. She’s done incredible work personally for many in helping to heal and inspire them, now she will be taking that energy of hers that is so infectious and sharing it in a professional sense. Through all of the difficult, painful journey she has had to endure, Maggie’s taken so much away from it that she has chosen to let it lift her rather than drag her down. And she stands now, free, stronger and more beautiful than ever (outside and in) than ever due to.

  7. BETTY FEKETE says

    This was an inspirational story. I have also made major changes in my diet and lifestyle. I work with many younger women who haven’t quite gotten onboard eating healthier for themselves and their families. They do see that for a woman my age, I look younger and have much more energy than their mothers and in some cases themselves. Together we will be the awakening that many need and hopefully it will be without a major health issue that triggers it.

  8. Lisa says

    Thank you for sharing Maggie’s story…I’m going to share it with my co-workers…The Brain That Changes Itself is part of our work library, it’s a life chaning read! What an awesome gift you’ve brought us by offering happy, medication free animals…I’d love to see more stories like this one!

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