Despite a traumatic brain injury and extensive memory loss, Hillary Coltharp’s story has remained remarkably consistent: After she was ejected from her convertible at 75 miles per hour, she says she
felt three angels come to her rescue. Two female angels sat on her left and
right and lifted her up while a male angel pressed a hand to her back. Their
spirits spoke to hers, she says, telling her God had sent them and they were
there to give her peace and she was going to be all right.
Just as the angels promised, Hillary survived, and now a different group is
arranging itself around her and other trauma survivors, providing the resources
and support they need to recover.
The Trauma Survivors Network (TSN), developed by the American Trauma Society and
launched by Vanderbilt in July, helps trauma patients and their families
navigate the road from crisis to recovery.
“The moment trauma happens, you’re doing the most normal things, but suddenly you’re in a whirlwind nightmare. No one knows what they’re going to go through with trauma, but TSN tries to eliminate some of that
nightmare,” said Hillary’s mother, Shawn Coltharp.
The moment of Hillary’s trauma, Shawn, her husband Paul and other family members were sitting in a
Paducah, Ky., restaurant with an appetizer that was getting cold. They had
spent the 2007 Labor Day holiday on Kentucky Lake and were waiting for
26-year-old Hillary to join them for dinner.
When she didn’t arrive, her father, Paul, and brother-in-law, Billy, went out to look for her.
They noticed that Interstate 24 was backing up with cars.
“I told Billy the good news was she was coming eastbound and all the traffic was
westbound,” Paul recalled. They didn’t know then that Hillary’s car had flipped at least three times and crossed over to the westbound lanes,
her body landing 75 feet from the car in the emergency lane.
The first person on the scene was a policeman, who noticed a cloud of dust
rising on the road ahead. He immediately called an ambulance, and they called
for Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight helicopter. By the time Paul and Billy got to the scene, Hillary
had already been taken to Western Baptist Hospital.
After Hillary was loaded into the helicopter for transport to Vanderbilt, Shawn
overheard one nurse say to another, “She’ll never make it there.”
“I gave her up to God in the helicopter,” Shawn said, “but when we got to Vanderbilt, I took her back because the doctors gave us hope.”
Hillary had broken bones and a subdural hematoma that would require a
craniotomy, but she was still breathing and had good vital signs.
In the coming weeks and months, as Hillary transferred from the Trauma Unit to a
rehab facility to home care, the Coltharps struggled through their whirlwind
nightmare. Initially, they wondered where to shower and what some of the terms
they heard swirling around them meant. Then they worried about choosing the
right care facility and how to clean a feeding tube.
Shawn, who now works with the Trauma Survivors Network, hopes to use her
personal experience to help other families survive the trauma nightmare.