I didn't make the bed the morning of Sunday, November 2, 2008; my husband, Marco, was still asleep when I left the house. I always make the bed. When I returned to the house late that afternoon, I straightened the linens, all the while grumbling about Marco's failure to do so.
Suddenly, I heard a loud knock at the door, which was strange: In Los Angeles, no one just stops by. On my front porch was a CHP officer. He asked me if Marco Ferreira lived there. "Yes," I answered, puzzled.
"Does he have a motorcycle?" the young officer asked. I started to catch on slowly. I felt like I was under deep water.
"Yes, he does! My husband was out riding his motorcycle today," I responded, frantic. "What happened?"
Marco was alive, the officer assured me; he had been in an accident and was flown by helicopter to UCLA Medical Center. In the movies, the officer takes you to the hospital. Not true. I drove myself, calling the ER along the way.
Marco was a healthy 45-year-old, an avid cyclist, and an employment defense attorney at Paul Hastings. He had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and upon arrival at UCLA was close to death. Marco was in a coma for six weeks, and after "waking" he spent the next seven months barely speaking, walking, or eating. After four surgeries - including a craniectomy and cranioplasty - many months at a skilled nursing facility and Casa Colina, a rehabilitation hospital, and years of therapy at home, he made a "miraculous" recovery, at least in the world of brain injury. But he is not the person he was before the accident - physically, emotionally, or cognitively.
I distinctly remember telling myself early on, as I sat for hours in the intensive care unit, that I did not want this experience to turn me into a bitter person. I kept this in mind even at one of my lowest moments, when Marco was discharged to return home but still needed a 24-hour caregiver. By focusing on the positive in our tragedy, including our ability to provide support for others in a similar situation, I was able to move through even our toughest challenges.
This long journey has been full of ups and downs, even with a strong support network of family and friends, my understanding and flexible law firm, insurance and disability benefits, excellent relationships with health care providers, and my own 20-plus years of experience litigating complex medical cases.
For Marco and me, giving back to others has provided our greatest sense of purpose. A year after the accident, I began handling pro bono cases for veterans seeking increased benefits for their injuries, including TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder. One of my proudest moments was getting a thank-you card from a female veteran that simply stated, "There are angels out there." But it has been harder for Marco because he no longer practices law and lives daily with a brain that often operates in a fog, even four years later.
He volunteers as UCLA's first neurosurgery patient advisor, helping patients and their families as they deal with the aftermath of a brain injury. In fact, UCLA has provided us with incredible opportunities to assist TBI survivors and their families. We are there to give hope and inspiration. Over the years we've developed lifelong bonds with many families and have formed an informal support group to share our stories on a monthly basis at one of our homes.
When we innocently recited our wedding vows just seven years before Marco was injured - to be there "in sickness and in health" - we never contemplated this
. Nevertheless, my most fulfilling work thus far has been as Marco's wife, and as an advocate and confidant for brain injury survivors and their families.
In our lifetime, we'll all get a knock at the door - whether literal or figurative. We typically have no choice but to answer. We do have a choice, however, about what we do with the experience - and all that comes after
Wendy A. Tucker is a partner in the life sciences practice of Sedgwick in Los Angeles. In 2012 she received Public Counsel's Pro Bono of the Year award for her work with veterans.