Turning Tragedy into Reality

Tragedies are life’s biggest lesson, here is Caroline Miller’s.

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Her life was changed forever with a knock on the door from the local police in the early hours of Sept 2, 2015. Caroline Miller received the worst news of her life, her beloved little sister was fighting for her life, open on an operating table after being life-flighted to Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. Caroline was told her sister, Courtney, had been in a horrible car accident and was thrown out of the car after flipping six times.

Courtney was put into a medically-induced coma, as Caroline and her family gathered around her hospital bed, watching machines breathe for their sister and child. They spent two agonizing weeks watching her continue to fight, before she finally was able to come out of the coma. Feelings of joy and appreciation flooded the family, as Courtney had been given a death sentence.

Caroline is a beautiful soul and person. She has gorgeous blue eyes and shiny, short blonde hair. I have just known her for a year, but I can appreciate the kind and gentle person she is. She has been through so much and still continues to be a positive light in so many people’s lives. She is a GC student, studying psychology and is very involved on campus with several organizations including Greek Life.

Caroline was just a normal 16-year-old attending school, getting ready for the ACT, hanging out with friends along with a brand-new shiny license and car, and already getting eager about possible colleges to apply to in just a short year. She was surrounded with a great group of friends and had an amazing relationship with her little sister. “We’ve always been like best friends I don’t know what my life would be like without her”, said Caroline regarding their relationship. They were born just 15 months apart, being Irish twins which is where the inseparable bond was created.

Caroline and Courtney the day Courtney woke up from her coma.

With long, curly auburn-brown hair and lightly freckled face, Courtney is a beautiful person, with an even prettier soul. She is now 18 and I have the pleasure of knowing her for the past year. Courtney lights up any room she walks into and is one of the funniest people I know. She is also an intelligent person, looking at colleges like Clemson and Georgia College for nursing programs. Currently interning at Children’s Healthcare, she is diving deep into her love of the medical field and nursing. She is already a certified phlebotomist, getting her certificate at just 17 years old.

Courtney was just 15 at the time, a freshman in high school and just beginning to learn how to drive with a brand new learner’s permit. She had spent the Labor Day night with a few friends at a cabin on the lake to celebrate the beginning of high school and the first break of the year. She had always been at the top of her classes, and was involved in many extracurricular activities. Having just moved from New Jersey, she was ready for a new life in Georgia with brand new experiences and eager to start high school as well.

The night was just like any other, the four-seater sedan was headed back to Courtney’s house before her parents woke up and realized that she had left the house. However, the driver had consumed a few alcoholic beverages just a few hours earlier. The impaired sight and judgement is what caused the driver to swerve, and the car to flip a total of six times. This detail is what shocked the community and family so much, the group had always been very smart kids and knew when to ask for help when they needed it. “I never thought Courtney would ever get into a car with someone that was drinking, but she did. It shocked me but I’m just so thankful that she’s alive, and we are all even more cautious about that now,” said Caroline. The driver sustained just a neck fracture and a few cuts and bruises. “The car behind them at the time had seen the whole event happen and called 911, we also learned that he had been in counseling for a while because of what he had seen was so horrific, watching the body fly out of the car like that,” said Caroline.

Upon arrival at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Caroline had learned the severity of her sister’s injuries. The doctors explained to Caroline that Courtney needed to be put under the medically-induced coma to prevent her brain from swelling anymore. She saw her sister, and the injuries were endless. Caroline described her sister’s knee, “it looked like someone had taken an ice cream scooper and scooped out her knee”. The doctor said that her likelihood of coming out of something like this without deficits was very slim, and basically gave Courtney a death sentence.

Other injuries that she suffered was a broken eye socket, brain bruising, broken neck disks, a fractured skull and severe road rash all over her body. Over the next two weeks, her sister underwent three surgeries and one major surgery. The wait was excruciating for everyone, waiting at her bedside for two weeks straight for any sign of a change. Family and friends had to see Courtney covered in tubes, having a machine breathing for her and feeding her, with so many IV’s hanging out of her as well.

A collection of pictures put together by Caroline depicting how many people showed out to support Courtney from the community.

Love was poured all over the Miller family during this time and the community came together to help raise awareness and support by creating wrist bands and cups. Caroline was out of school for just three days, refusing to leave her baby sister’s bedside. She then returned to school, unable to focus on anything going on around her. “Teachers knew what had happened and they told me I could sit in the hallway if I couldn’t focus or if I just really needed it, I was really thankful for that,” said Caroline. She states that the community including fellow peers were all there to support her and her sister’s fight, “old friends I hadn’t talked to in years and strangers [from school] reached out to me to check up on me and told me if I needed anything to let them know. Getting that support was really important, I’m so thankful for that”. The wristbands and cups that were being sold were soon all over her community and even other parts of Forsyth county.

One look at her social medias, you can see the support that was given while Courtney was in her coma. On her Instagram alone, she had over 200 comments from fellow peers, friends, and family wishing her a speedy recovery and just an outpour of love. So many people came together to share their prayers for her to wake up and to be healthy, wishing her to be able to do daily tasks like before and come back even stronger.

The recovery period for Courtney had lasted two months, with her in and out of hospital rehabilitation centers. During her time in rehab she had to relearn many basic skills such as shapes, colors and her times tables. She also had to relearn how to walk which took two days, and learn her basic motor skills again. “She was able to relearn everything really quickly since she was never brain dead, but it still did take some time for her to learn those basic skills which she was able to make great progress on,” said Caroline. Courtney had a rough time in rehab, but it paid off because she is now healthier than ever and totally regained all brain functions.

Courtney was able to talk about her side of the story during the recovery period. “Recovery was difficult, hitting the milestones like walking again felt great but I was getting frustrated with everyone trying to help me and me not being able to do it,” said Courtney. She was very thankful for all the support, but she was very frustrated when her body wouldn’t do what she wanted. “After the big milestones like walking again and being able to eat on my own, things got a little easier. Anything else I learned to do again was not as major as walking by myself, so I was really happy to have everyone around me cheering me on,” said Courtney.

Courtney’s first post after waking up, pictured with one of her good friends who came to visit.

When asked about how Courtney copes currently and how she did cope with this personal tragedy, Caroline shared a dark side with me. Courtney does not remember anything that happened, and would be lucid some days during recovery and then not remember it the next day. “She was awake for her 16th birthday at the hospital, and we brought all her friends and family to her room to celebrate. She says that she doesn’t remember anything though,” said Caroline. According to Caroline, Courtney attended counseling in order to discuss what had happened and talk about how it had affected her, also to talk things out. Other than counseling, Courtney mostly just pushes the event to the back of her mind, which is a little easier for her since she has no memory of the event and little memory of being in the hospital. “None of us really think about it, we’re really only reminded when we hear about teen accidents or drunk driving accidents. Courtney is constantly reminded with the scar on her forehead, knee and neck, though,” said Caroline.

Caroline carried this pain for years, and continues to do so. She is not reminded of the event much but when she is, it’s a little painful. “It doesn’t upset me too much anymore; the feeling is a little bit of both-sad but I’ve also come to terms with it. It makes me sad because I know what I could’ve lost, but I’ve also come to terms with it since I see how well she’s doing now,” said Caroline. She says it was just a painful period of time, constantly waiting for any kind of update from doctors or family. Also just seeing her baby sister in such a bad situation and being unable to help is what personally effected Caroline the most. When asked about her everyday life while her sister was hospitalized Caroline said, “everyday things just became so much duller, I hated going home to an empty house without my best friend.”