Mary Chadwick identifies days almost exclusively by number now. As in, Day 13 was when her daughter, Laura Triem, who was hit by a light rail downtown on November 4, woke up from her coma. Those thirteen days felt like months to Chadwick, and she thinks she's aged fifty years, but at least her daughter is now on a path to some sort of recovery.
Day 5 was the first time Chadwick slept or ate since the accident. "They were getting a little worried about me," she says about the staff at Denver Health, where Triem was taken. "I think it was probably about Day 5 when I had a complete meltdown. I cried like a baby. I didn't see things coming around like they should. It was just backward steps. There were no forward steps. I cried and cried and cried and then I crashed and slept, then I ate a little bit."
Triem had been on her way to work at the Cheesecake Factory on November 4 as she stood watching a light rail train pass in front of her. She had her headphones in and as soon as the train passed, she stepped in front of another she didn't realize was coming.
Laura suffered severe trauma to her head, as well as a broken rib, fractured pelvis, collar bone and spine, and was rushed into emergency surgery at Denver Health. Surgeons removed a portion of the right side of her skull because her brain was swelling. She remained in critical condition for a couple of days. As swelling was putting pressure on her brain stem, surgeons removed a portion of the left side of her skull to relieve the pressure.
Chadwick jumped on a plane out of Phoenix, near where she lived, as soon as she got a call from Laura's father. Her initial thought after she received the call was that she had lost her daughter. The flight here, while not knowing Triem's fate and being cut off from communication, was the most difficult part of this ordeal for Chadwick.
"I cried the whole way," she says. "I couldn't get here fast enough. Our plane was even delayed. I was thinking the worst. I knew that I hadn't talked to her in a few days. She had just gotten back from a vacation and we had so much left to say to each other, and I just couldn't imagine that having been our last conversation. I wasn't ready for that."
When she arrived, Triem had several tubes coming out of her and two black eyes, but at least Chadwick could hold her hand. She then spent almost two agonizing weeks waiting for her daughter to show any signs of life.
"It was a physical pain, like a stomach ache that wouldn't go away," says Chadwick. "I would try to focus on something else for a second, but then anything I would look at, even shows with people in wedding dresses on it. All of the sudden I'm picturing that she's never going to get married or she's never going to get to have this experience or that experience and grandchildren, I want lots of grandchildren. I had all those terrible thoughts that would pop into my head."
And on the thirteenth day, Triem relieved much of Chadwick's pain.
"When she woke up out of the coma and looked at me and knew me, everything just floated away," says Chadwick. "It was like I had complete peace. I'm ready for whatever challenges lie ahead for her."
Chadwick says when Triem saw her father she mouthed the word "Dad," but realized she couldn't speak. She has been able to give a thumbs up to the nurses, move her feet, track with her eyes, recognize family members in pictures, make subtle facial expressions and squeeze hands.
Everything has been positive since Triem came out of her coma. Chadwick says Triem's neurosurgeons call her progress remarkable. Still, she will have to retrain her brain to perform a number of tasks.
Triem's family has seen a parade of visitors showing their support and offering prayers. Perhaps the most notable was the driver of the light rail train.
"He didn't know how I was going to react," says Chadwick. "I walked right up to him and I hugged him and told him I was sorry he had to go through that. It was traumatizing for him. He said that he had been watching her and she was looking in the other direction. He said he noticed her and within seconds she stepped forward."
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Chadwick says she will move to Colorado with her husband to help take care of Triem.
"I've told her now, 'You didn't have to get hit by a light rail to get me to move out here,'" jokes Chadwick. "When Laura does something, she has to do it big."