Pittsburgh, November 21, 2011 -- On February 4, 2009, 19-year-old Alisha Webb lost control of her car after it slipped on black ice. In the horrific accident that followed, she suffered a potentially fatal combination of internal injuries, including a ruptured spleen, a heart contusion, multiple neck fractures, and a type of brain injury known as a diffuse axonal injury. Doctors at her local hospital successfully kept her alive, but did not expect her ever to regain consciousness.
Of all the injuries “Lish” had sustained, the doctors were most concerned about the injury to her brain. A diffuse axonal injury is one of the most common and devastating types of traumatic brain injury, according to David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD, co-director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. “A diffuse axonal injury,” notes Dr. Okonkwo, who was not involved in Lish’s early care, “affects a larger portion of the brain than a focal injury, and is one of the major causes of unconsciousness and persistent vegetative state after head trauma.”
For an entire month, the family kept their vigil at Lish’s side in the intensive care unit, watching for any sign of consciousness, sustaining a level of hope far beyond what the medical circumstances seemed to justify. The family was grateful to those involved in Lish’s care, but immensely frustrated and at times discouraged that Lish’s initial medical team did not seem to share their optimism about Lish’s future.
On March 4, exactly one month following the accident, much to the surprise of doctors and nurses alike, Lish suddenly regained consciousness. As Lish’s grandparents, Regina and Jim Venturella, recalled, “To our utter amazement, she opened and closed her eyes on command, gave a thumbs-up and counted to five with her right hand. She didn’t utter a word, but had a huge smile on her beautiful face.”
Eventually, Lish became well enough to be discharged to a rehab facility, and shortly thereafter Dr. Okonkwo examined Lish for the first time.
A new book by Ms. Venturella, entitled It Only Took a Moment: A True Story of Tragedy, Faith and Triumph Following a Traumatic Brain Injury, tells the story of her granddaughter’s gradual recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Ms. Venturella has decided that proceeds from this book will support brain injury research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Neurologic Surgery.
“The University of Pittsburgh is fortunate to have access to state of art diagnostic imaging technologies, some of which are unavailable almost anywhere else in the world,” commented Dr. Okonkwo. “Lish’s brain images at that time clearly indicated that the basic structures were reasonably intact, and given Lish’s youth and otherwise good health, we predicted then that a prolonged and thorough program of rehabilitation should yield very positive results.”
Buoyed by Dr. Okonkwo’s hopeful prognosis, Ms. Venturella (herself a retired nurse) devoted herself full time to caring for Lish and supervising her rehabilitation. During the next two years, as Lish relearned to talk, to eat, to walk and to care for herself, Ms. Venturella was her coach, advocate and constant companion.
Throughout this time Ms. Venturella met many other individuals and families who had also experienced traumatic brain injuries. She realized that Lish’s story might help other families as they put together the pieces of their own lives, and could provide hope and inspiration to help them manage the more difficult times. She began to keep detailed notes about Lish’s medical journey and eventually decided to write a book which she completed in 2011.
It Only Took a Moment is Ms. Venturella’s first book and is a moving look at Lish’s long path to recovery. In the book Ms. Venturella writes in detail about the numerous UPMC doctors, nurses and physical therapists that helped Lish along the way, as well as the family’s religious faith which sustained them throughout those many months.
After completing the book, Ms. Venturella contacted the Department of Neurological Surgery to ask whether the proceeds might support brain injury research that could benefit other patients in the future. The department enthusiastically accepted her offer.
“We are especially grateful to Ms. Venturella commitment to support our brain research efforts in this very creative and generous way,” commented C. Edward Dixon, PhD, director of the university’s internationally recognized brain injury research programs. “Due to an increasing shortage of federal research funds, we must increasingly turn to private philanthropy to help us advance this important area of research.”
In the summer of 2011, Lish enrolled in college, a step that just two years before had seemed nearly unthinkable.
“We are forever indebted to Dr. Okonkwo,” reported Ms. Venturella, “ because of all the doctors we had consulted, he was the first to predict that Lish might make a complete recovery.”
Copies of the book are available for purchase online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Two dollars of every book sold goes to Traumatic Brain Injury research. You can also directly contact the book’s author, Regina Venturella, at email@example.com.
For more information, please contact James Olsen at 412-647-7781.