"I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are yours. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it means to be human." Frederick Buechner, American Writer and Theologian

Jen's Page

This is Jen Best, brain injured in a car accident when she was 20. She’s 42 in this picture. Now she’s almost 51 and still looks almost this young. As her mother, I think she’s beautiful – I don’t use this word out loud as the tomboy in her doesn’t like it – but I’m not the only one who thinks so. Family and friends love her smile and her wit. I wrote about this part of our life: In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Who She Was, Who She Is Now

She was born Jennifer Best 1965 in Provo, Utah. She’s in the middle of two sisters. Her youngest sibling is her beloved “little” brother. She lived in Utah until she was 17. This was two years after her father divorced me (you can read about this in my memoir) and I moved to Virginia. She stayed behind with friends, went to Brigham Young University for a year, then moved to Virginia.

She was living with me, her younger sister, and brother in a townhouse I was renting in Chantilly Virginia that winter when she turned left on a green light, plunging all of us into a new life.

She was living with me, her younger sister, and brother in a townhouse I was renting in Chantilly Virginia that winter when she turned left on a green light, plunging all of us into a new life.

Crushed Car at Willow Springs Towing

She didn’t see the pickup truck heading into the intersection. She was driving her younger sister’s car. Stephanie in the passenger seat got a crushed pelvis – more about her on Stephanie's page.

Jen got a closed head injury – twisted brain stem. She was 20 years old, and in a coma for 5 months. It was 11 months before she could talk. Now she jokes, “They can’t shut me up.” Of which her mother is (usually) glad. She has a page also.

She wrote stories when she was a teenager, some of which she’s willing to share here on our website.
She’s also willing to share a few pictures, especially these two. After two months of colic she became the sweetest (somewhat still bald) child.

Orem, Utah High School 1983
She’s not as fond of this picture, for some reason I don’t understand. But I like it. I tell her it’s one of the few printed pictures I still have in my files.

The "Old" Jen was a tomboy.
This is one picture of her before the accident that she likes. She was a tomboy when she was a teenager. She liked to climb trees. This old tree was in the yard of her paternal grandparents in Kamas, Utah. The tree might be gone by now. Her grandparents are, and the house has been drastically remodeled. Time ages everything.

She can’t climb trees now or ride the bicycle she loved. Nor write stories like she used to. Brain injured she can only remember bits and pieces of her youth, and she’s lost the ability to analyze.

But in a special blessing that Mormons call a priesthood blessing she was told she would be able to write. She can’t write with her spastic right hand, but she was left-handed before the accident, and that’s the hand she can use. She says this is a gift from her Heavenly Father.

Our Journey with Brain Injury

The following photo essay illustrates the road she’s traveled since the accident. As a friend once said, “You’re a miracle, Jen.” In return she quipped, “I’m a sitting miracle”… thanks to the wonderful doctors, nurses, and therapists, the first four months at Fairfax Hospital and then 14 months at Mt. Vernon Hospital. Today, the healthcare system would have probably sent her home or who knows where after 4 months. That the accident happened when it did her family considers a blessing.

Less than 4 months after the accident she’s still comatose. I’m trying to stimulate her brain. Her eyes are bright but she still can’t talk. With her pointer finger on her workable left hand she spells letters to sentences on a communication board. “My-Mind-Is-Fine” she “says.”

The doctor casted her arms and legs, trying to straighten them.

She looks very bright-eyed here, but she still can’t verbally talk. This doesn’t happen until 11 months after the accident – after speech therapy strengthens her vocal cords so she can swallow food and thus have her G-tube removed.

It took me a half hour to feed her in the cafeteria at Mt. Vernon (Virginia) Hospital, but this is great progress. (It took me an hour and half round trip, in good traffic, to visit her at the hospital, which I did at least 3 times a week. Her siblings and our church friends also visited her, the friends taking turns each week.)

Laughter was also great progress, one of the first steps toward talking.

Her sisters could make her laugh. :)

Years ago I wrote this about that beautiful day in December 1986 when she talked.

It’s one week before Christmas, eleven long months after the accident. I realize Jen is mouthing words I can’t understand. Three days later when I visit her again the door to her room is closed. I wait at the nurses’ station. Finally the door opens and Jen’s favorite night nurse bustles out. Why doesn’t Carol motion me into the room? Why doesn’t she look over at me? She isn’t smiling as she disappears around the corner, returning in a few minutes with a clean towel and a hospital gown, closing Jen’s door behind her.

Finally the door opens and nurse Carol smiles and waves me into the room. Jen doesn’t look any different than always, but the head of the bed is raised so she’s sitting upright and I realize her eyes do seem brighter and more alert than usual and she is smiling and so are two other nurses and a young aide who motion me forward. I lean toward my daughter, I watch her lips move as she says, “I-love-you-Mom,” the words slurred but audible.“Oh Jen!” I press my hand to my mouth.“Tell her again,” Carol says, and Jen does, the words louder this time. "Thank you, everyone. Thank you, thank you." I'm overcome with emotion. I can’t stop smiling this almost-Christmas day. Some gifts you never forget.

After a year and a half in rehab, she’s home with me and her stepfather. An Aid Van takes her once a week to Mt. Vernon Hospital to volunteer in the office.

I’ll be forever grateful to the superb care she received at this hospital that kept her for so long in their program. At the end what Medicaid didn’t pay, they wrote off. This and the length of stay wouldn’t happen today (2016). I’ll be forever grateful to them and to God. If I ever had a lot of money, I would contribute to Mt. Vernon Hospital.

This is the standing box some friends built for her in 1995, nine years after the accident. The brain stem has never healed enough for her to walk, but this box has kept her legs from withering away. I’m grateful she’s not paralyzed and can stand with help. I wouldn’t be able to transfer/take care of her if her legs couldn’t bear weight.

It’s been a long journey that hasn’t been easy. She had a lot of pain in the hospital, and still has some especially in her bad left foot. But from 1987 to 2015 we’ve taken many cross country trips together, the first one before the accident. Then others from East to West/West to East.

No more journeys since May of 2016. We’re now settled not far from my two other daughters and their spouses. The oldest has six children, the youngest 15. It hardly seems possible. My son and his wife and their two little boys recently moved to Albuquerque. Jen and I really miss them.

We’re renting a duplex in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley USA. Last stop. When my mother passed away at age 97, I used my inheritance money to put a down payment on it. I used to transfer Jen in and out of cars and vans, but this one has a left so all I have to do is maneuver her wheelchair into the passenger seat side. As I get older, this is making my life as caregiver easier.

She still can’t walk. She won’t ever walk in this life. But she has a wonderful wheelchair that she can propel with her good left hand. She also loves the computer – and her iPad. What marvelous inventions for someone like Jen whose right arm is fused at less than a 45 degree angle and her fingers are bent. That’s severe spasticity caused by the twisted brain stem.

Besides watching old movies -TV series such as Leverage and Psych, and movies through channels on Roku – she loves playing games on her computer.

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