Story Of Haley Scott DeMaria
What Though the Odds tells the story of my time in college and the journey that followed. It has been over 16 years since the accident happened, but only now am I able to look back and fully reflect on what it meant in my life. Twice in the past, I tried to write this book, but it was too difficult. Before I was able to look back at such an uncomfortable and unstable event, I needed to be in a more comfortable and more stable time in my life. That time is now.
A tragedy is an event that changes your life forever. Until I realized this, I wasn't able to fully heal. I had to stop waiting for my life to return to normal if I was going to live a healthy and happy life. Once my physical healing was as complete as possible, my emotional and spiritual journey began. That journey continues today.
To ensure authenticity and veracity, What Though the Odds was painstakingly researched for five years using recorded interviews with teammates, family members, coaches, medical personnel and law enforcement officers; as well as court documents, medical records, newspaper clippings, television news coverage, police reports, and a journal I kept throughout this journey.
My journal has proved invaluable for documenting my feelings and recollections. Others who survived this tragedy might have different memories. As all who have lived through any tragedy recognize, coping with loss is a personal experience.
In the PHOTOS section of this website, you can read actual pages from the journal I kept throughout the journey. Below you will find an excerpt from my book What Though the Odds.
Sunday, January 26, 1992, Intensive Care Unit, Memorial Hospital of South Bend
Although it is Super Bowl Sunday, there is nothing super about it. Next to swimming, I love football, but for the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t care about the game. I don’t know who is playing, but it is a blowout. And it’s just a game. To millions of fans it is everything on this day; but to me, today, it means nothing.
There are fewer visitors today. Most have paid their respects, and those who do come will never stop coming. The mood tonight is as dark as the room only temporarily lit by a blinking light or rare laughter or the bell as I push the button on my morphine drip.
There are knowing glances fearful glances that the clock is ticking. But I don’t notice. To me, it’s all about my feet. Meghan, Colleen and my feet. Those red toes. “Move, damn it!”
My brother, Stephen, sees my focus and reads my face. “May the Force be with you,” he says. He knows just when I need to smile.
The long day that is Sunday finally ends.
Monday is even quieter.
My parents are offered a tour of the hospital’s rehabilitation floor this morning. They are shocked. There are wheelchairs everywhere and not just standard issue wheelchairs. Some of the chairs have extensive padding and most are high-backed. Many are outfitted with straps to hold the person upright. There are lifts to move patients into specialized bathing tubs or into their beds. Most of the patients are old enough to be my grandparents.
“We can teach Haley to cook in a wheelchair,” the woman explains to my mother in an upbeat voice. “She will even learn how to make her bed while in her chair.”
This shakes my mother to the core and she barely hears the rest of the tour of what I will learn to do on my own. In the elevator returning to my ICU floor, my parents turn to each other in disbelief. “This is not for our daughter,” they think. “Surely there must be another place,” as though moving me to another rehab center will change my physical state.
My father had been on the phone earlier tracking down various rehab facilities. My parents focus on Craig Hospital in Colorado, where they are told other young people, closer to my age, are abundant. A young man, who played high school football with Stephen, was injured in an accident and left a quadriplegic. He had been treated at this Colorado facility and his father, a doctor, recommended it for me.
By the time my parents return to my room, they have decided Craig Hospital is probably the best option. My father looks shaken, which is very out of the ordinary. My mother is very pale, very traumatized.
"We think Colorado is the best place for you,” my father says. He explains his reasons.
My mother adds, “It is the best option. The facilities here…”
What are they talking about? I have everything I need here: the swimmers, my friends and everyone else at Notre Dame. I can’t leave this school, these people. Medically, my parents believe it might not be the best place for me, but I know this is where I belong. This is where the story began, and this is where it has to end.
“I’m not leaving South Bend,” I inform them very clearly. “I am not leaving my friends.”
Their silence allows me to believe that I have won. But my parents know my spine is not stable enough for me to travel at this time anyway. No need to fight this battle now, they think.
My mother sits down. My father heads out to make more phone calls, to get more information and to try to make sense of it all.
The mail arrives, and it is a breath of much-needed fresh air. The cards and letters are just beginning, yet each one is a welcomed and needed source of strength. My Aunt Paulette has sent a journal. On the first page it reads, “January 24, 1992. Today begins a new journey…” Over the next several months I will pour my heart out through the words I write in this journal.
Another letter comes from a rehabilitation center in Phoenix. During my junior year at Xavier, I had a typical swimmer’s injury. Ignoring the pain, I swam until I could not carry my books. My doctor thought I had ruined my shoulder. But after six months of intense physical therapy, I swam once again.
In the mail is a letter signed by all the rehabilitation staff in Phoenix. It states simply:
“We know what you can do, Haley. Now, you show them!”
I need hope, and today with my usual visiting hoard down to a trickle because of the funerals in comes the mail and it brings faith. Faith to sustain me through the pain of missing what is happening on campus and in St. Louis.
My mother goes to Meghan’s funeral and my father stays with me. I wanted to go, begged to go, but everyone denied me. Rightfully so I am in no condition to sit up, let alone leave the hospital. But I am still disappointed and desperately want to be included.
When my mother comes back she looks beautiful, though I can see in her eyes the myriad of emotions that the funeral brought together for her: sorrow, sadness, pride.
“The service was wonderful,” Mom says.
She also experienced what I have tried to explain, about how South Bend and Notre Dame - is where I belong.
“Haley, the swimmers are so amazing. Just amazing people,’’ my mother says. “They took me right in, as if I were a part of their team. It was a huge comfort to me.”
As the Mass ended and they went to bury Meghan, my mother was again reminded that we have to consider ourselves fortunate.
“I could not stop looking at Mrs. Beeler,” my mother says. “I could not stop thinking; ‘There but for the grace of God goes I.’ I wish I could somehow bring her comfort. Let her know Meghan is here with you.”
The hearse carrying Meghan headed from the Basilica to the grave site, in the cemetery right by the main entrance to Notre Dame. The swim team members paraded with honor, wearing their swim team parkas, behind the hearse. My mom walked behind them with hundreds of others.
“I am so proud to have you be a part of this team,” my mother says with tears in her eyes. “After the service at the grave, Coach Welsh kept the team, and everyone else left. I started to walk away, but one of the swimmers took my hand and said, ‘Stand with us.’ So I stood with the swim team and said a good-bye to Meghan, for you.”
“I remember coming here in the fall when you started school,” my mother says. “All of us were in the convention center, with the new freshman on the floor, and the parents in the stands. They talked about, ‘Your children are our children now; you are a part of our family.’ I’m sure that’s a traditional thing for colleges to say. But Notre Dame doesn’t just talk it, they live it, they practice it.”
My mother is fully grasping what I mean about the Notre Dame family.
I tell anyone who comes to visit: I will walk and swim again for Meghan and Colleen. I’m lucky to be alive. Walking and swimming will happen here, in South Bend. This community, and particularly my school, has given me so much care, so much love, and so much of themselves. I have to give something back, and the best gift I have for them is to heal. It is all about healing now.
I have to walk again - and swim for Meghan and Colleen, and for Notre Dame. That’s part of the deal. I just have to figure out how to get those red toes to move.