The scant memories Shea Stewart has of the car crash that nearly broke her in two have been fleshed out and stitched together with help from others. She knows that her brakes failed and that she spun off the road and crashed into a tree mostly because people told her these things, not because she remembers them.
Her month at Vanderbilt Medical Center isn’t much clearer. She recalls speaking to visitors but not their conversations.
“I was so sedated,” she said recently. “It’s weird to know that I don’t remember a whole month of my life.”
So come May 19, Shea, a talkative, easy-going teen with a bright smile, will want to remember every detail of her graduation night. She counts it as a miracle that she can even attend, and in one of those “everything-has-a-silver-lining” twists, she will share it with the one person she would most like to share it with – all because of the wreck and not despite of it.
In what figures to be the most poignant moment in an evening full of them, Shea’s brother, Lawson, a 2016 HHS graduate, will help her cross the stage in a wheelchair so she can receive her diploma with her classmates.
“It made me more than happy to know that my brother was going to be with me because Lawson and I are extremely close,” she said. “He’s my brother but he’s also my best friend - he’s always been, even when we fight. He’s been through everything with me.”
When Lawson learned of the crash, he rushed to the hospital from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“He never cries,” Shea said, “but when he came to the hospital he cried because he was so worried. It was the first time we’d seen him cry.”
“My mom stayed with me most nights because I asked for her a lot, but the other person I asked for a lot was Lawson,” she added. “I can remember wanting him in the hospital when he was back at school.”
Although Shea should make a full recovery, it could take three to six months for her to walk on her own. She will essentially have to learn to walk all over again. “They said it will be difficult and probably painful at first, but they want to build up muscle because I lost a lot of muscle.”
What she didn’t lose was optimism. Despite all she has been through (not to mention the disappointment of scrapping plans to study at the University of Mississippi so she can stay closer to home), Shea discusses the Feb. 24 crash as if she had sprained an ankle and had to sit out a soccer game:
- Yes, her injuries were extensive and severe and include a broken pelvis, detached sacrum, broken forearm, broken wrist, broken jaw, and lacerations to her spleen, aorta, liver, and kidney.
- No, she doesn’t know why the brakes on her 2003 Chevy Malibu failed. They had recently been checked by a mechanic and looked fine, though there was a problem with the car’s air conditioning compressor.
- Yes, she is relieved that her passenger and friend, HHS senior Paige Lemley, escaped unhurt. Shea credits Paige with helping save her life. “When the car started to spin, I passed out and went limp and she pulled my upper body over onto her lap” … the driver’s seat was shoved up to the steering wheel, up against the windshield, “but my upper body was on Paige’s lap.”
- No, she really doesn’t remember anything about the crash, which happened on Interstate 40 as they were on their way to Memphis for a lacrosse tournament. “The last thing I remember was picking Paige up at her house. She filled me in on the rest.”
- And yes, she does think they survived by an act of God. “The LifeFlight team that came to get me actually said they almost didn’t take me because a lot of the time they see accidents like this and they pass away on the flight or on the side of the road. My spleen was so bad they were afraid I would bleed out. Everyone said it was a blessing. They said they had never seen anything like it.”
But then they had probably never seen anyone like Shea.