Back from the brink: My near-death experience and the road to recovery

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alaysia Berry
  • 366th Fighter Wing
I’ve heard it repeatedly: the only thing that stays the same is change. November 27, 2016, was the day my life was forever changed.

I was driving from Boise, Idaho, back to Mountain Home Air Force Base in the evening when all of a sudden I began to veer off the road at 80 mph.

When I noticed I was losing control of my Mustang, I overcorrected and flipped my car three times.

First responders used the “Jaws of Life” to tear through the roof of my car to get to my mangled body and I was airlifted to the nearest hospital in Boise.

My injuries were extensive. I had a traumatic brain injury, my hand was gashed open, four of my fingers were severely fractured and my back was essentially shattered.

I was alone, a single Airman in an unfamiliar place with my closest family members a 36-hour drive away, battling life-threatening injuries. I can’t remember much of the ordeal, but what I do know is that I needed support.

But in my time of greatest need, my military acted as my family.

After learning of my accident, my superintendent came to the hospital as soon as she could and didn’t leave my side until my mother arrived the following morning. My command chief, squadron commander, and first sergeant also came to watch over me as soon as they heard what happened.

After spending three days in intensive care, I began my recovery process with a civilian medical team and after nine weeks, I was able to continue my recovery with military medical support.

The healing process was long and tedious, involving hours of therapy that addressed each specific injury. My left hand also needed stitches to close a large gash, and it was set in a cast so my fractured fingers could heal.

I was placed in a back brace that helped set and realign my spine. It made me look like a ninja turtle for approximately three months, but it did its job.

Treating a traumatic brain injury (TBI) involved many therapy sessions and brain exercises, which were very frustrating.

It’s hard to explain my TBI experience, but let me try and clarify for you.

Picture a perfectly working brain as a library, with shelves upon shelves of neatly organized books. Everything has its place, and you are aware of how to reach the information you need.

With a TBI the bookshelves have been knocked over and the books are scattered on the floor. There’s no real system, and it’s frustrating because you know you have the books, you just don’t know where they are.

For example, my therapist would ask me to keep subtracting eight from 100… did I know I could do that? Of course. However, when I tried to count backwards I could only get to 92. I knew I could, I just couldn’t find that information in my brain.

I’ve read a lot about people who suffer from TBI and one thing I know is that everyone heals different and in different ways. Astonishingly, the way I was able to piece information back together was through music. I think music triggered my ability to reorganize the “books” in my head.

In addition to healing my physical wounds, I suffered from anxiety after my accident. The military was there every step of the way making sure I was well taken care of, not just physically but mentally as well.

To this day, I still have military personnel, who were part of my recovery process, check in on me to make sure I’m okay and doing well, even though my accident was a year and a half ago.

My path to healing would have been very rocky if it weren’t for the people I had helping me along the way. I’ve tried my best, but words cannot explain how grateful I am, and how happy I am that I made the decision to join the world’s greatest Air Force. I know if I would have worked for any other organization I wouldn't have had nearly as many benefits, or such a close-knit network of people who were (and still are) concerned about my wellbeing.