On Jan. 26, Strasburg native Marryn Blow and best friend Jeydi Ayala were driving on a curvy country road in Mount Jackson. It was an exciting evening of hugs and goodbyes. After surviving a difficult personal year, the 19-year-old Blow was scheduled to leave the next morning on a solo drive to a new address and a new life in North Carolina.
As they cruised along, it might been hard to know what was louder – the laughter or the music.
Then, in a flash and a crash, Blow began a journey that would redefine what it means to simply relocate from death’s doorstep. The young woman didn’t want to just survive, she wanted to thrive.
Late that night, a head-on collision with an SUV sent Blow by helicopter to Winchester Medical Center and her passenger to the University of Virginia. Neither Blow nor her passenger were wearing seat belts.
Ayala’s injuries were serious, but not life threatening. She suffered a broken leg, ribs, and a badly fractured jaw.
For Blow, the picture was bleak and framed by much more fear than hope. She’d suffered multiple skull fractures and a traumatic brain injury. Both of her lungs collapsed and had to be decompressed before she could fly. Her pelvis was fractured in several places and her legs were broken. Both femurs had snapped, but her left leg was even worse. Every bone was shattered and her knee was mush.
Blow was rushed into brain surgery, a complicated procedure that required surgeons to remove a large portion of her skull. The beeps, lines and flashing lights told the story. Blow was experiencing pressure for periods of time that almost always guarantee long-term brain damage.
“They almost didn’t even try that surgery,” Jennifer White, Blow’s mother said. “They told us later they weren’t sure she’d survive that long.”
Together with Blow’s father, Aaron, the family gathered for a family meeting just a few days after the crash. “We were told,” White said, “that the doctors’ only expectation was that Marryn would be able to breathe on her own. They thought that might be the best she’d be capable of.”
Nearly 90 days have passed since that first night of touch and go and tests and tears. “You have to imagine the whole picture,” White said. “She wasn’t wearing her seat belt and people don’t survive accidents like this without seat belts. Plus she had to be pulled from the burning car. She went through 20-25 units of blood. She had at least a 10 millimeter midline brain shift. I think that first couple days there were 12 IV bags hanging by her bed.”
Additionally, doctors said a portion of Blow’s brain stem died, scans revealed she’d suffered two strokes, and it was estimated she suffered 10 to 15-percent brain tissue loss. After recounting the long list of reasons her daughter should have died, White smiled. “But she’s still alive. She’s a survivor.”
Less than three weeks after the accident, Blow began showing signs of life. She shook her head and wriggled her toes on command. Soon she moved from critical care to a regular room. Before long, to the amazement of Blow’s doctors, parents and her three supportive siblings, she brushed her own teeth.
Additional recovery milestones came more quickly than anyone predicted. Blow wasn’t just surviving – she was thriving.
Despite more than a dozen surgeries and fighting an infection in one of her legs, Blow began walking the slow road to full recovery. Visitors to her room no longer saw bruises and swollen cheeks, they saw smiles and hope. They also began hearing a consistent message from mother and daughter — wear your seat belt. White has become so passionate about the topic, she’s even stopped young people in parking lots and gas stations to make her case.
White recalled that as her daughter moved from critical to serious to fair and beyond, it became clear to everyone in her support network that she’d changed. “Marryn’s different now,” her mother said.
“True. I feel like a new person,” Blow said. “I feel like this has changed me. I have a new mission and I want to make a difference. I’ve got another chance and I’m going to use it. I promise.”
“Moop,” as she’s known to family and close friends, was recently discharged and the entire family extends their deepest thanks to the teams of doctors, nurses and EMTs who saved Blow’s life against all odds. “They and God worked miracles,” White said with confidence. “I have no doubt.”
Blow is now home undergoing intensive physical therapy and enjoying full-time, round-the-clock care from her mother and continued support from her family and friends. Both women know there will be many appointments in her future, more rehab, more tests and more surgeries including one to insert a brand new, custom fit prosthetic piece of skull. “It will be nice to have my head back,” Blow joked.
But both women – and her entire family – also know that this car accident victim isn’t going to spend her life by simply surviving. She’s going to find her own way to make a difference in the world, to spread joy, and to share her message of always wearing a seat belt.
Yes, Marryn Blow will do much more than survive, she’ll thrive.
In fact, she already is.