On Feb. 21, Molly Hayden, a teen from Buffalo, was crossing the street at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville. She didn't make it across.
News reports said that Molly suffered massive head injuries when she was hit by a car shortly after 9 p.m. A few days after the accident, she was still listed in critical condition.
It was a fairly warm and rainy day toward the end of skiing season, and Molly had considered not going on the trip with the St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute ski club that day. But she went anyway.
Molly loves to ski, and after a day of skiing, she and her friends went to Burger King for dinner. From that night on, their lives were changed forever.
The accident sent shock waves through the student bodies at Molly's school, the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart -- and also at St. Joe's, and other schools, where she was known by members of the ski club. There were prayer vigils at Sacred Heart, and students were encouraged to talk to teachers and each other, as the student body tried to cope with the tragedy.
Eight months later, the students' prayers have been answered. Molly is back at school and juggling tests, homework and all the college decisions that come with junior year.
With few apparent physical traces left by the accident, Molly has recovered from a fractured pelvis, a sprained knee and a traumatic brain injury, which impaired her balance and permanently affected her vision.
She doesn't remember most of the events of that night.
"I remember it was a warm day, and I had a T-shirt on. I don't remember much else," Molly said in a recent interview.
She also doesn't recall being taken by Mercy Flight to Erie County Medical Center after the accident. She was kept in a drug-induced coma for two weeks so that the swelling in her brain could be controlled, which gave her a chance to survive.
Hundreds of cards
Molly was placed on a respirator and underwent a tracheotomy, a procedure in which a slit is cut into the neck so that a tube, necessary for her to breath while in critical condition, can be inserted.
Her condition was further complicated by pneumonia and a continuously changing body temperature. Also, potentially fatal increases in her intra-cranial pressure, caused by swelling, needed to be constantly monitored.
She doesn't recall any of this period of time she spent in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit.
"I only remember the rehab room, and all the posters and things people sent me," says Molly.
She received hundreds of cards as well as flowers and gifts while she was in the hospital.
"I'm very thankful that my friends and family were there for me. I couldn't have come through it as well if it weren't for their kindness and prayers," she said.
Molly began rehabilitation about two weeks after coming out of the coma. She remained at the hospital receiving occupational, physical and speech therapy before she was allowed to return home.
Altogether she was in the hospital for five weeks.
"I was in a wheelchair because I didn't have my balance yet. It took several weeks (to regain balance). The hardest thing was walking," Molly remembers.
"I had an hour every day for each rehab session. Every day they asked me if I knew what day I was in a car accident and what day it was now. Visitors came all the time after rehab. I was never alone."
A deeper understanding
While improving her physical condition, therapy also taught Molly a lesson on life.
"It made me more aware of the hardships that some people go through. Now I have a deeper respect and better understanding of people with handicaps."
Even with the odds stacked against her, Molly recovered from her accident and started gradually returning to her normal life. One of her first obstacles at school was facing June exams. "The hardest thing was the Global exam."
Molly continued with her therapy three days a week until May, while attending school part time. She was able to catch up on work missed over the summer, and is well into this new school year.
Eight months after the accident, Molly says that some people have a hard time believing she was in an accident.
"When I went for my sports physical for the swim team, the doctor looked at my record and said to me, 'You want to do swimming?' "
But she is anxious to have things back the way they were, while at the same time coming to terms with what she went through.
"When I was in the hospital, I had no idea how bad it was. Now I know. I think, 'Oh, my God, I was in a coma.' I am truly thankful to God. He chose me for a second chance at life. I intend to use it well."
Molly's hope is that others will learn from her so that the same thing doesn't happen again.
"To get in an accident, you don't have to be stupid. It could happen to anyone, even you. It happened to me."
Tiffany Lankes is a junior at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart.