You probably won't recognize her name, but in October 2004, Maria Pattakos did something heroic. She was out for a walk in Rock Creek Park with a friend and a two-year-old in a stroller. While crossing a street, Maria saw a truck out of the corner of her eye, turning into her path. She managed to push the stroller out of harm's way, but she paid dearly for it. The truck, which was turning against the walk light, hit Maria, throwing her into the air. She landed hard on the pavement, and the impact caused devastating injuries: broken ribs, a broken hip, two punctured lungs, a broken collarbone, and a fractured skull.
Broken bones heal with time. But Maria also suffered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) — an injury that isn't so easily overcome. TBI is in the news a lot these days, because of the many service men and women who have suffered brain injuries on their tours of duty. But TBI isn't just a residual of war; according to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, 1.4 million Americans sustain such injuries through falls, motor vehicle accidents, or blows to the head. In Maryland, 12 percent of all hospitalizations are due to TBI.
When Maria first arrived at National Rehabilitation Hospital, she could not walk, talk, or eat. It took her a week to open her eyes, and she could not speak for nearly three months. Maria's husband, Arion, kept a meticulous diary of their long ordeal. "I am proud of your deed but devastated emotionally, given what happened to you," he wrote in October of 2004. According to his diary, on November 8th, she kissed him. On December 9th, she spoke her first word; as he was getting her ready for therapy, he accidentally bumped her head. "Ow," she said.
February 24, 2009 marks four years since Maria walked out of NRH on her own. Today, her broken bones have mended, and while she still suffers vision problems and pain on her right side, she walks, talks, laughs, and has come a very long way since the first days after the accident. Arion says his wife's recuperation has been arduous for her and for her entire family. Still, they have celebrated every milestone in her recovery and are grateful she's alive. They're also grateful for the support of NRH specialists and staff, who helped them navigate the difficult challenges of her recovery.