The following story by Joel Hood appeared in the "Sun-Sentinel" on March 31, 2006.
After 7 weeks in coma, full recovery expected for teenager
One by one, pieces of her old life return.
She remembers some of her favorite teachers. She remembers the five Advanced Placement and two honors courses she took. And she remembers where she was the November night her life changed forever, driving home from an evening of bowling, making a U-turn on a street as she'd done a hundred times before.
But this time a large Oldsmobile seemingly appeared out of nowhere, slamming into the back of Abby Mize's small Toyota. The collision was so violent that Mize was ejected. At the hospital, the paramedics told her shell-shocked parents, Jim and Wanda Mize, that Abby would be lucky to live through the night.
She did, barely. For the next seven weeks, Abby lay in a coma as her anxious parents wondered if their daughter would ever be the same.
"Those were the dark days," Jim Mize said. "One of the real worries you have with brain injuries is how it will affect their personality. We didn't know how this was going to turn out. But we had hope."
Three months later, Abby Mize is far from the focused 17-year-old Palm Beach Central High School senior she was before the accident. She uses a walker and wears a patch to protect her right eye, which sustained extensive nerve damage. Her left arm is streaked with red scars: road burn.
Mize was allowed to return to her Wellington home Feb. 3 with dreams of returning to high school, perhaps to repeat her senior year. There are too many activities she's missed, she said, such as competing with the school's bowling team at the state championships and challenging her friends on the debate team.
She's been accepted to the University of Florida, where she wants to become a lawyer, like her parents. But college can wait, she said. And through extensive physical and psychological therapy, a normal life is approaching faster than anyone thought possible.
"The hardest part is just being patient," Mize said recently between therapy sessions at the Pinecrest Rehabilitation Hospital in Delray Beach. "I feel a little like my old self, but different, too."
Mize's chief doctor in Miami said her prognosis would be different if she were even 10 years older. Doctors who specialize in brain injuries among adolescents can't explain exactly why their brains recover so much quicker from severe trauma.
"When Abby first came in, she looked to be one of those severe cases," said Dr. John Kuluz of the Pediatric Brain Injury Program at the University of Miami. "We all just shook our heads and said we didn't know if we could help her."
Today, Kuluz expects Mize eventually to make a complete recovery.
"I think she's going to do extremely well," Kuluz said. "I wish I knew why. We could apply it to all of our patients."
Mize said she has virtually no memories of the accident or its aftermath. When she was admitted to the Delray Trauma Center, she had a fractured skull, a broken collarbone, a broken vertebra in her lower neck and internal bleeding from a torn spleen. Doctors initially thought Mize would be in the hospital more than six months. Remarkably, she was out in only a couple of weeks after she awoke from the coma.
"She's gone from nothing to a lot in six weeks," Jim Mize said. "It's like watching an infant develop, but at hyper speed. One day she can't do simple multiplication in her head, the next day she's doing it easily."
Throughout the ordeal, Abby Mize's parents have kept an online journal of the teen's successes and failures. The web site,
www.caringbridge.com/visit/abbymize has provided a forum for friends to get daily progress updates and send digital messages of support. The site has been visited almost 31,000 times since it was created in November.
"I wanted to let you know how proud I am of you," reads one post from Feb. 9. "You have been such a light in my life and have been a blessing to me in so many ways."
They are words Abby Mize said she never gets tired of reading.
"People want me to get back to normal," she said.
"Better than normal," her father added.