Ordinary day changed lives forever
Family comes back from the brink after crash.
If anyone deserves a break, it is 2-year-old Abigail Graybill and her family.
Abigail — Abby for short — has always loved watching movies, having books read to her and playing ball with her big bros.
Sometime today, the budding tomboy will leave Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle to rejoin her siblings and her mom and dad in Kirkland. After seven long months in the hospital, Abby is looking forward to it.
She is the last in her family to get out of the hospital — and the one who faces the toughest road after what happened.
Abby is a quadriplegic; she can’t move from the neck down and needs a ventilator to breathe.
“One day she’s running around the yard,” her mother, Tanya Miller, 32, tells me. “Next day, she can’t move.”
The day the lives of the family changed — Sept. 15, 2005 — was extraordinary in its ordinariness.
Miller went to pick up her 14-year-old son Riley from football practice. The family was heading back to their home in the Shelton area. Riley sat in the back next to Abby. Their brother, Brent, 10, rode shotgun.
They were on Agate Road, north of Shelton, when a Suzuki Sidekick veered into their path and plowed into their Mazda Protege.
One thing about the accident seared into the mind of State Patrol Trooper Brian George when he looked at the mangled steel.
“The children,” George says. “So many people in one family. Someone crossed the centerline and almost took out a whole family. We didn’t think they’d make it.”
Medic crews rushed the family to hospitals in Seattle and Tacoma. The mother was in such bad shape that last rites were administered.
The catalog of injuries is profoundly sobering.
Brent suffered fractures to his arms, hands and wrists. He lost a spleen. His left leg snapped.
Riley, now 15, sustained a traumatic brain injury, a broken jaw and a broken left leg.
Miller broke a staggering number of bones: her collarbone; pelvis; hips; both femurs; knees; ankles; and all the toes in her left foot. The mother also lost her right kidney, part of a liver, her gallbladder and her appendix. Her spleen and pancreas were damaged. She was in a coma for many weeks.
But day by day, the miracle of healing has inched this family back from the brink.
Brent was released from the hospital Nov. 1. Looking at him now it would be hard to tell anything happened; he’s bounced back even though he has a metal rod in his leg.
His mom got out Dec. 8. She has graduated from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. But pain still pulses through a leg, reconstructed with rods, pins and plates.
The day after she was let go, doctors gave Riley the green light to leave. He suffered no other internal injures except for a severe one to his brain.
Riley had to relearn how to tie his shoes and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Although at times his memory and thinking are foggy, he has made huge strides in recovering his cognitive abilities. After spring break, he’ll be returning to school in a special-ed class.
This leaves Abby, who suffered two fractures to her spine.
As the girl has convalesced, her family had to deal with other challenges. They lost their Shelton apartment during the prolonged hospitals stays.
Miller’s fiancé — and Abby’s dad — left a job hanging drywall back in Shelton. A job can be replaced. Jesse Graybill vowed to keep a vigil at the bedsides of what mattered most — Miller and the kids.
Some family possessions got ruined in storage as mold took hold of bedding and furniture.
Despite the hardships this family has endured, good has shone through.
While the family had been living in free housing provided by the Ronald McDonald House, they’ve now secured an emergency Section 8 voucher for affordable housing with wheelchair access in Kirkland.
As word of their plight has spread, donations have trickled in. Beds. Chairs. Even money — as much as $12,000. Most of that sum has gone toward the purchase of a special van for Abby. The account now holds $56.
It is unthinkable that this family is fighting to make ends meet, all because someone crossed a foot-wide centerline in a renegade vehicle. Douglas Burgess, the driver of the Suzuki, is that someone. After the crash, he was treated for scrapes and chest pain. He faces multiple counts for vehicular assault. A trial is slated for spring.
Abby faces a whole different trial. For now, her mom, dad and brothers are looking forward to the long-awaited reunion of a family that survives.
“She’s alive,” Miller says. “She’ll be at home with us. Everything is going to be the way it should be.”