I wasn't supposed to live beyond May 12, 2014; but I am still here. I was in my Senior year at Florida International University, and I was 22 years old. As I was out for my usual run, I suffered a horrific fall from a bridge straight onto concrete, one that shattered my skull, my ribs, and other bones. It was the day after Mother’s Day. My Father continuously called my cell phone, but I never answered because I lay unconscious with a severe Traumatic Brain Injury. Finally, someone picked up, but it was a police officer. My Father's heart stopped, for he knew something was terribly wrong…..I was surrounded by paramedics as they quickly worked to save my life. Twice my heart stopped, and twice they brought me back to life. Still, I never gave up....and neither did my family. "It's her athletic body", doctors would say in the trauma room...."she's a runner so she's built to endure". As my punctured lungs gave out, I found myself on life support. Then, I shivered uncontrollably, my brain was dying, it could no longer control my temperature, nor my heart rate and breathing. I lay on a bed of ice, my intracranial pressure skyrocketed along with my heart rate….I was dying once again. Doctors said I would not make it past the night, this my family heard many times. This went on for days, then days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. I was in a coma, and not a medically induced coma…I simply would not wake up. My sorority sisters, my pastors, and my co-workers all remained by my family’s side, praying incessantly for my life. At one point, there was over 100 people in the hospital’s waiting room. Security could barely contain the high volume of people entering the Intensive Care Unit waiting room.
After 6 weeks of being in a coma, I was airlifted to Shepherd Center in Atlanta. They are one of the best Traumatic Brain Injury units in the USA. My family scrambled to gather the funds for the costly plane ride which would not be covered by my insurance, and my parents slept in my room for all of those months, right next to me. Both of my parents had to cease working, but after 12 weeks, my Father was forced to go back to work. I remained at Shepherd Center for nearly 5 months; all in total, I lay in a hospital for over 6 months. Shepherd Center brought me out of my coma, and so I remain in a “minimally conscious state”. I was airlifted back to my home in Miami on November 2014. After arriving from Shepherd Center, where I was so well cared for, my Mother decided to care for me at home. While Doctors recommended placing me in a nursing home, my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They wanted me home, and so I remain at home, where my Father now cares for me 24/7 (he is no longer able to work). On top of the emotional pain, my parents have had to deal with the struggle of paying for therapy, and numerous other things which are not covered by insurance.
My parents have cried, not just cried, they have sobbed for months. It’s the kind of sobbing that comes from parents who may never hear their daughter’s voice again, from parents who will never see their daughter marry, or fulfill her dreams and potential. As a child I was deemed “gifted”. I had the highest writing and reading scores in the State of Florida, but my brain was destroyed when I fell, and now I can’t even muster up a simple “yes”. There are days I am conscious and aware, where I visually follow people, and there are other days where my mind seems to wander off into space. Still, in the midst of my tragedy, I have seen the best of people. My family and friends have watched me fight, they have watched me suffer, and they have watched the tears roll down my cheeks without understanding what hurts. "Does your head hurt Cristy?", they say, "do we need to change your diaper or your position?". Sometimes out of frustration I bite my lip because it's one of two things I am able to command my body to do. I cannot speak my thoughts or express them in any way. "Blink" they tell me, "blink one for yes and twice for no"....yet my body and mind betray me as I am unable to even follow simple commands consistently.
My family continuously looks for ways to help me communicate, but it's a never ending project. As you go about your day, think there are many people like me whom you may not know of. Many are trapped in their homes for their medical necessities outweigh the luxury of being able to leave their home. I cannot move, speak, type, or communicate, but my injuries do not define what I stand for. Helping people was my mission in life - feeding the homeless, raising money for orphans, raising money for special causes, donating my hair for cancer, non-profit organizations....that was my life prior to this horrible tragedy. My work and legacy continue through The Cristina M. Gomez TBI Foundation. We raise funds for TBI survivors and their parents, because together we can make a difference in someone's quality of life, and we can be there for them in their darkest times.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Cristina M. Gomez Daughter, Sister, FIU Student, Sorority Sister, Teacher, and Friend