March 18, 2012

Rachel Strella

The Accident That Changed My Life Forever


I published a post on Facebook that referenced a horrible car accident I was involved in.

One of my friends said she didn’t know this about me and encouraged me to share the story. So, here it is.

On March 16, 2000, I was celebrating my first college Spring break.  We were on our way to see a movie in Mechanicsburg.  I can’t remember the movie. In fact, I don’t remember even getting into the car.

Have you ever had a dream that you knew was a dream, but you still couldn’t wake up? That’s what I experienced for about four or five days.

I realized that a good amount of time had passed. In a panic, I started screaming. When I finally woke up, a woman came over to me and asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember what I told her.  The woman was a nurse who explained that I was in the hospital and that I had been there for a few days.  A million questions came to mind, and I started asking as many as I could think of. The nurse was confused, and I couldn’t understand why.  My Dad arrived a moment later and casually asked me how I was feeling.  I thought, “Dad I was in an accident! AHH!” He seemed confused, too. The nurse and my Dad talked for a moment, then Dad said, “honey, you’ve been talking to us for days… don’t you remember?”

Then Dad started to explain that I was in an accident on my way to the movies. We were hit by a truck that was making a left-hand turn at the intersection of a hill. The person I was with was OK and had been released from the hospital, but I was going to be here for a while. “What’s wrong with me,” I thought. I felt fine and was ready to get out of there.

Dad said I had just been moved from the ICU and that I had suffered some injuries that required me to be there for a while. One of the major injuries was head trauma including a skull fracture and an eye fracture caused from hitting the dashboard and the windshield.  He said they needed to monitor it to make sure I was going to be OK.  It was clear to him, at that point, that I could have memory issues, for starters.

I also broke my lower back – my L5 – and I needed to be fit for a brace that would cover my back and leg to keep it immobilized.  I had surgery on my left humerus because the bone  came out of my arm when I braced for the dash.  My lungs were punctured and had to be inflated. And finally, because there was no air bag, I had some facial damage. My jaw was broken in three places and had to be wired shut.

Dad handed me a mirror.

I didn’t recognize my own face. It was twice its normal size from swelling and there were big stitch marks across my jaw. That’s when I also noticed I couldn’t talk very well. In fact, I could barely open my mouth!

It’s funny the things that ran through my head as I was confronted with this kind of shock. All I could think about – and ask about – were rather insignificant details. “What happened to the clothes I was wearing?  That was a new outfit!” I proclaimed. “I’m not missing any school, am I?”

Dad explained that all of this stuff was no concern.  He was just glad that I was alive.

Over the next few days, the hospital prepared for me to go home. I was fitted for the brace that would be my shell for the next few months and taught how to walk with it. My parents were given instructions to help me in and out of the brace when I needed to use the restroom, take a shower, or change clothes.  My diet was soup through a straw and liquid ensure for vitamins.  My arm was to remain in a brace for a few weeks before I could begin physical therapy. And, finally, I was told that I could not go back to school – at least not for a few months – until they could figure out the magnitude of my head trauma.

The day of my release was an adventure. My Dad wanted to lift me into the car, but the hospital staff told them that I had to learn to do this stuff on my own – and the sooner, the better. I was so frustrated and embarrassed trying to get into the car for the first time.

My Mom worked half days at her job so she could take care of me.  She had to help me with the brace, prepare food that I could eat with the mouth wires, make sure I had all the medicine I was required to take, and clean up after me since I was unable to do simple tasks like make the bed or do my dishes.

I spent most of my days watching TV, writing, or going to physical therapy. Most of my ‘friends’ were around the first few days then slowly disappeared. I can’t blame them – I was a gimp.

It took about two months until my jaw could heal enough to remove the wires and three months for my back to heal to the point where I could walk without the brace.  I was told I could return to school again in the fall, so I started back in September of that year (six months after the accident).

Because of my age, I healed pretty quickly. To this day, I have only a few injuries that still affect me. I have lower back problems, which come and go.  At times, I need physical therapy and medication to help to manage the pain. My jaw did not heal correctly, which leaves me with an uneven bite and a metal plate that loves to cause a scene at airport security. And, finally, I have significant hearing loss due to the head trauma.  The hearing loss has affected me the most. It’s something I struggle with daily but have become used to.

All in all, I’m pretty lucky.  The doctors said I would have died upon impact, if I had not been wearing a seat belt. Also, my back was broken due to stereo equipment launching forward from the back seat. Had the equipment hit me just a quarter inch lower, I would have been paralyzed from the waist down.

Twelve years later, a few things remain at the forefront of my mind when I think about the accident. Whenever challenges happen in life, it’s surprising who lends support and ‘runs for the hills.’  I am forever grateful for the support of my family during that time in my life.  They took the time to be there for me when I needed it most.

When my parents arrived at the hospital the day of my accident, they were told to ask for a gentleman named “Jeff.”   As it turns out, the crew that was called to the scene thought it was a fatality. It’s policy at the Hershey Medical Center to contact the chaplain and have him greet the parents when this happens. My Dad said he will never forget the feeling he had when he was greeted by “Jeff” and thought I was dead.

I also think about all events that have happened in my life. I have had several significant and unfortunate events happen to me over the years. This was the first of them – and a strong preparation for many more. Whatever doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger. They aren’t kidding.

Lastly, and something I did not realize until recently, is that we ARE here for a reason.  As I said on Facebook, we all have a purpose.  Each day is truly a gift to fulfill. We go through many challenges in life and often ask “why,” but it all becomes clear at some point – even if that point is many years later. I’m grateful to have found a purpose in life through my business.

I could have been permanently injured or paralyzed; I could have even died on that day years ago. Thankfully, I did not.  I do know that my life will never be the same because of it.

What moments or events forever changed your life?

Subscribe To Our Blog
Subscribe To Our Blog

41 comments on “The Accident That Changed My Life Forever”

    1. Hi Marshall,

      I'm so lucky - I really am. Glad I could share the story. It serves as a reminder to myself about how precious life can be.


  1. Rachel, You are such an inspiration. I encourage you to tell your story often - every chance you get. This was definitely a life altering experience which could have gone a totally different way. Instead it turned you into the driven and powerful woman and business owner you are today. I am so thankful for the day you walked into my event and into my life. :))

    Your friend, Michele

    1. WOW, thank you, Michele. It's hard to believe 12 years have gone by, but everyday I am grateful for being here. We are here to do something great with our lives - I'm so glad I had a chance to fulfill my mission and I'm even more delighted to meet others who are doing the same! Thanks for helping me on my journey!!


  2. A nice piece of writing as is the norm with what you share. Character-building experiences typically come at us unsought and go unrecognized. Perhaps this one was too obvious to miss. Thank you for sharing your perspective on it.

    1. Thanks, Stephen. I have to thank my editor, Pete (a.k.a. my husband!). He helps the writing flow.

      Well said about the experiences. We've all had them and most were delivered to us without asking. But, they certainly do make you better for them. I'm glad I had a chance to share it. It's been an interesting weekend as I travelled down memory lane.

      Thank you for reading.


  3. Words can not express how reading your post, made me feel. You are so right, we are all here for a reason, and thank you for reminding me of that. I am sure sharing your story was very difficult, so I just wanted to say thank you for sharing.

    1. Bill,

      You are so sweet. Thank you for subscribing to the blog and for reading my posts - especially this one. It was actually kind of healing to write this blog. It serves as a good reminder of all of the things I have to be grateful for.

      You certainly are here for a reason. Celebrate.

      1. This is a beautiful article, Rachel. It speaks volumes about your strength of character, and character in general. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Rachel,

    What an incredibly inspiring story! I love reading stories such as yours - tales of the strength of the human spirit and what one can overcome with perseverance and support. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself. You're an inspiration!

  5. When the dust settles, you know who your (true) friends are. Rachel, thanks for sharing this amazing story, which is also every parent's worst nightmare.

    1. Precisely, Joel.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my story and share your thoughts.


  6. Dear Rachel,
    Your attitude and authenticity are inspirational. I'm sure this story will help others, and keep everyday "stuff" in perspective.
    Peace and Gratitude, Rickie

  7. Well Rachel, I am glad your sharing the story with the world. It was a very traumatic time for all of us. I was fairly young at the time so I couldn't really comprehend all that was currently going on, but helped if and when I could. I'm so glad that you lived through it all and here with our family. I firmly believe in the phrase "what does not kill you, only makes you stronger", I live by that everyday, since I've been through something similar (as you know). We can only learn through the expericences in our life to make it or break it into something bigger and better, like a phoenix rising from the ashes we must renew ourselves into a better able minded person. I love you sis, glad you’ve made it through. Striving and thriving with your bussiness is living proof of that, and you continuing to do so everyday. I’m so proud to be your lil bro, and what you’ve done with your life.

  8. I finally got to read your article..... Wow you had some major hills to climb! Good for you that you never gave up and things like this definitely make you stronger and appreciate how precious life is! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Laurie,

      Thanks for taking the time to read this. We all have challenges and personal battles to fight in life. I'm just grateful my story encouraged others to keep pushin' on!


  9. Thank you for sharing. Seems that you and I have been through similar experiences in our lives and have lived to tell about it. I agree that we are all here for a particular purpose, even if we may not know what that purpose is right away.

  10. Yes! There is much gratitude in your story, and definitely worth sharing! Sharing helps others and brings awareness. In 1967, my oldest sister Dolores (Dolly) an honors graduate and having worked at the State Dept in Washington D.C. out of highschool - returned home to go to H.A.C.C. to become a foreign correspondent. In November of 1967 - she was around 20 ... a repeat drunk driver went continued through a Stop sign at the corner of 2nd St and Highland Hill in Steelton - to permanently change her life forever. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. My family was already struggling with my mother's alcoholism and prescription drug abuse - - the irony of her oldest daughter being permanently mentally/physically brain damaged with right side of body partial paralyzation was a real irony! My other 6 siblings all have their recollections of this day. My sister Dolly flew head-first out a locked car door of her Corvair. Cars were not required to have seatbelts back then. DUI laws didn't exist. The drunk driver had no insurance. My sister was in a coma for 2 months due to front, left lobe brain trauma. The first ambulance called had a flat tire or broke down- what are the odds? Back then- there weren't E.M.Ts ... my mom said there was no portable oxygen. My 2nd oldest brother had to see my sister lying on the sidewalk - with a blank stair - dead eyes - with wet snow falling on her. My youngest, 2 year old sister, had been in the back seat - but was found with only a mile concussion - due to being flown under the front seat. She was released the next day. My sister Dolly - a coma for 2 months and a Year before she said her first word 'HOME!' ... THEN - another year of physical therapy to learn to walk and talk - before coming home. I had nightmares a Zombie in the form of my sister - due to having seen her in the E.R. - all wrapped in bandages. She had been like a surrugate mother - but when she came home - she had no emotional control - which is located in the front lobe of the brain. When I give my LAUGHTER WELLNESS presentations ... I talk to people about HEALTHY INTERACTION with one another - due to having to learn - FIRST HAND - a new way to interact with my sister. With respect. It took a lifetime to learn - so now I share it in my programs. From Hell from my mother's challenges to additional Hell from a brain damaged sister - who could no longer go to school nor work ... you just keep moving forward - and learn the lesssons handed to you to share and help yourself and others. In a way - I now fight for the rights of others - not in THE NORM of SOCIETY - to be communicated with - with respect. It's why my motto is LIVE LIFE! LAUGH OFTEN! ... and why I say: I teach what I need to learn - I share because I care! It's why I say: I choose to feel what I need to heal; I choose to face what I need to replace. With my mom's struggles and my sister's trauma - I became a sexual abuse survivor by my next older brother. I say my family is made of SUPER SOULS! My mom lived to be 86 - even after nearly dying several times due to falling down stairs and alcohol abuse; my sister Dolly is LIVING at age 64 in a nursing home - not all receiving the respect she deserves ... so I TEACH people how to communicate healthily. Like the song says and like you wrote: What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Amen.

    1. Helen,

      Words cannot express what a heart wrenching story you've survived. And what bravery it took for you to overcome such a thing and truly make the best of it. You're one in a million. Thank you for sharing. God Bless.


      1. As Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story) noted: Fall with style! 😉 ... then roll around a little (like I note in my LOOKING UP! youtube video ... and look up - as you lie there ... maybe watch the clouds go by ... in the sky - then - reach upward for a helping hand ... and land back on your feet. It's all a process ...

  11. Great story Rachel! Everyone has a story and it was wonderful reading yours - again. Inspirational! There are those life defining moments that truly do change us forever. Thanks for sharing yours!

  12. What A great story !..You are a winner woman...! Glad and Inspirational read it !
    I have my story too ..Hope a day I can share it !.

    1. Hi JC,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond! It's been a pleasure sharing my story, but it's been even better hearing what others have to share. We all have something that helped to shape who we are!


  13. Rachel,
    What an inspirational story. I also have serious hearing issues. Had my first Cochlear Implant in 2012 and will have my second in June. The hearing struggle alone would have been a lot to cope and all of the other injuries you coped with would have been overwhelming each on their own. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Emily,

      Thank you for sharing with me. I know I'm excited for the future. Every day is a gift!


  14. Thank you for sharing your story Rachel. You are a wonderful inspiration and as hard as it is to see it at the darkest hour there is always a silver lining. And you have found yours with the wonderful work you do and your talent for writing.

  15. Thank you for sharing Rachel. Such a story of determination and inspiration! I too believe that we are all here for a purpose, and so many people have been inspired because you have have found yours! Good luck to you as you continue your journey!

    1. Hey Toni!

      Thanks for reading and chiming in. It's refreshing when you know you have a purpose. It really is.


  16. Rachel,

    I have always said you are a woman with grit, determination, and perseverance--not to mention humor. I admit I chuckled at the airport security part.

    You are an amazing woman--as anyone would be going through what you went through. Life does not prepare us for things of this magnitude, but you handled and continue to handle it with grace and dignity.

    Surely, you are an inspiration for people everywhere--facing tragedy, literally head on, you have come through and triumphed. When the little things might get you down, you just suck it up and go on. That, my friend, is strength and that strength continues to sustain you, both personally and professionally.

    It's an honor to call you friend, woman extraordinaire and amazing.

    Blessings in all you do and continue to do.


    1. Jeanne,

      I hope you are having a great weekend!

      Indeed, this tragedy was something that I am fortunate I walked away from it, so to speak. I still get to do what I love, with who I love. I am grateful that I got that chance. It's been a struggle at times, but it's how you deal with those struggles and persevere that makes all the difference in the world.

      Thank you so much for these kind words and enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover social media solutions tailored just for you, featuring strategy, audit & research, immersive content planning, insightful consulting sessions, and innovative branding & idea generation. Our full-service management encompasses asset creation, detailed analysis reports, and community engagement, guaranteeing a seamlessly crafted brand experience.

Commitment to Excellence

Strella Social Media
1412 N. 6th Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102