“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 SUPPORT IN THE COMMUNITY AND 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