Survivor Turned Her Car Accident “Into Something Beautiful”

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Where is She Now? Mother's Day Update

Since we first shared her story in 2019, Brenna has never let being in a wheelchair stop her from living life to the fullest. She calls the last couple of years “a whirlwind of adventures and life changes,” including getting married in 2020. However, Brenna says, the very best change  has been that she and her husband, Matt, now have a baby daughter. Her name is Jolene "Jo" Marie Warnick and she was born in March at Baystate Medical Center's Wesson Women and Infants' Unit.

“I have truly enjoyed figuring out how to adapt to life as a parent with a disability. There are a lot of things that I was prepared for and certainly many things that I wasn't, but I've always considered myself to be a pretty good problem solver when it comes to figuring out how to get things done,” Brenna says. She’s grateful for adaptive products like her modified crib and car seat too. “Jolene is such a calm, cool and flexible baby, which really helps! Even as a newborn she's patient with me (except when she's hungry!) and we make a really good team.”

“I felt pretty emotional about my first Mother's Day this year, but mostly I feel incredibly thankful,” Brenna says. Jolene is two months old now and she's smiling and interacting with her parents more and more. “It's a fun experience figuring life out with my little girl. Loving her is the easiest thing I've ever done,” Brenna says. 

During her pregnancy, Brenna saw providers at Baystate Medical Practices--Pioneer Women's Health in Greenfield as well as the Maternal Fetal Medicine team at Baystate in Springfield, due to the high-risk nature of pregnancy with a spinal cord injury. Brenna says she’s always loved the care she’s received at Baystate Health and, this time, she was blown away when one of the nurses at Pioneer Women’s Health sent her a portal message with the link to an article she’d stumbled upon about another woman with a spinal cord injury who’d given birth to healthy children. “Not only did the article help put me at ease to hear about someone else like me, but it also felt really good to know that my nurses and midwives were thinking of me even when I wasn't in the office for an appointment,” Brenna says. “Thank you to all of the caregivers that I had throughout my pregnancy and a gracious shout out to those who were there for Jolene's birth.” 

To see baby photos of Jolene, visit Brenna’s Instagram (Brennambean).

“It was the night before I was going to leave for my freshman year at college,” Whately resident Brenna Bean says. “All my stuff was packed and sitting on the breezeway at my house.” Brenna, a local pole-vaulting champion, was looking forward to studying exercise science and continuing to pole-vault at college.

It was also the night Brenna was in a horrible car accident. The car she was in flipped and she was thrown from the vehicle. Barely breathing, the eighteen-year-old was life-flighted to Baystate Medical Center, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center.

Doctors there quickly discovered she had a collapsed lung, a spinal cord injury, broken vertebrae and ribs, injuries to her kidneys, and blood clots in her chest.

Advanced Care Minimizes Injuries

A team made up of doctors and other skilled caregivers implemented kinetic therapy where they placed Brenna on a special bed and also used a particular ventilator mode to try to minimize her injury. "At Baystate Health," Dr. Chris McKiernan, director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Children’s Hospital says,“we are fortunate to have these specialized therapies as at major medical centers, yet we are small enough to really get to know the families and support them through their recovery and their lives moving forward.”

Physicians, nurses and other caregivers kept Brenna alive and treated her injuries. Unfortunately, though, there is not currently a cure for spinal cord injuries and the car accident left Brenna partially paralyzed. When she learned she was paralyzed below the chest, Brenna says she never asked “Why did this happen?” or “Why me?” “I’ve always been an athlete, competitive and a go-getter, and it was the same with my injury. I told myself, ‘Okay, let’s conquer this.’”

Blown Away By the Support in the Community & Hospital

“My family and I were just blown away by Baystate Medical Center and the level of care,” Brenna says. “The high level of expertise and the cutting-edge things they were able to do to pull out all the stops to keep me breathing, keep me living, it rises above. And the people made me feel I was in an environment where I was going to be okay.”

Friends and neighbors came together to support Brenna’s family as they supported her. “A huge takeaway I’ve gotten from my injury is the power of community and seeing how people come together for something.”

She believes this compassion was part of what helped her go on to live the happy, successful life she has now.

“When People See Me In a Wheelchair, They Think I'm Disabled”

Brenna doesn’t want to let anything hold her back and feels that, as a result of the accident and then the care she received at Baystate Health, she has momentum and purpose. Now, with a background in adaptive sports and recreational therapy, Brenna aims to help others overcome physical obstacles like hers.

“For somebody like her to be out there talking about what it’s like to move on with your life, I think is really inspirational,” Dr. McKiernan says.

Humble, Brenna says she doesn’t intentionally try to inspire people but if getting out there and not being disabled by her injury is inspiring and encourages people to live their life to the fullest, that’s what she wants to do.

“When people see me in a wheelchair, they think I’m disabled. But really, the accident put more mountains in front of me that I can just get to the top of,” Brenna says. That’s more than a metaphor because Brenna does, literally, climb and ski and bike on mountains in western MA, Maine, Colorado and other places. She also encourages the thousands of people who follow her on Instagram and read her blog to see the positive side of life and live for today.

Follow Brenna on Instagram to see how she continues to inspire people: @brennambean

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