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Mai Phakoxay was sitting in the passenger’s seat of her friend’s 1998 Honda Accord heading to her Puyallup home on State Route167.
Night kissed the sky goodnight. She succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep with her head against the seatbelt.
When Phakoxay woke up, it was one month later, and she was a patient at Harborview Medical Center.
On April 17, 2009, Phakoxay’s friend fell asleep at the wheel and then crashed her car.
The accident put Phakoxay in a coma, fractured her hips and sacrum, and tore some of her organs.
The crash caused damage to the right side of her brain. Surgeons tried to repair the injury.
“They cut the back of my ear,” Phakoxay said, touching underneath her ear where a scar should have been. “They had to drain out all the fluid.”
In one month, Phakoxay endured the agony of her injuries, hefty medical bills and the loss of her job as a caregiver. She said it was most difficult to see her family in so much sorrow, especially during the time of her younger sister’s wedding.
After leaving the hospital, Phakoxay went to recover at the nursing home in downtown Puyallup where she used to work.
“It was very awkward and uncomfortable,” Phakoxay said. “I was thinking, I use to be a caregiver here and now I am living here to be cared for. I see how the tables turn.”
Many of her family members and friends call her recovery phenomenal. She had to relearn how to walk, talk, read, write and use the bathroom.
“After those motors shut down, they are so different,” Phakoxay said. “It never goes back to being the same.”
She had to wear diapers while she retrained her bladder.
The accident left her mute. She’s gone from wheelchair, to walker to cane.
Phakoxay left the nursing home a couple of months after the accident with a better handle on being able to move.
She went to live with her parents for the next seven months to continue recovering from the brain damage. The impairment continued to cause her emotional constraint.
“It felt like I was haunted,” Phakoxay said.
She began working out at Mel Korum YMCA to regain her physical endurance and registered for classes at Pierce College Puyallup to build intellectual stability as well as learn to work with others. Phakoxay has been at Pierce College since fall 2010.
“I loved the hard core and zumba classes,” said Phakoxay. “They really brought me out of my shell.”
She also was able to earn her driver’s license during that time.
Phakoxay’s ability to overcome her obstacles came from within herself and from those around her.
“In the back of my state-of-mind, I was so determined to snap out of my conscious of being paralyzed in my one mind,” Phakoxay said. “I gladly accepted the supportive people who mentored me toward my ambitions and goals. I always saw the good in people and believed in angels and God the almighty. I gave it 110 percent.”
Staff members at the college’s Access & Disability Services department also encouraged her along with instructors Carol McGonagill and Tom “Coach” Pickering.
Phakoxay also commends that her boyfriend, Jason, whom she met nine months ago, has helped her to open up.
“I have someone to talk to all the time,” she said.
Phakoxay will be gradating this June and plans to work as a medical office assistant or part-time clerical staff member.
She wants everyone who has had to overcome, or is still going through a traumatic episode in their life, to hold faith within themselves.
“Never give up,” Phakoxay said. “Keep on believing in yourself to overcome your struggles, and trust in good faith.”
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost