UAMS Helps Accident Survivor Overcome Injuries and PTSD
You don’t have to ask Gail Ragland whether or not she believes in miracles – she counts herself as one. Medically she has defied all odds to survive not only a horrific car accident, but also the stress that followed it.
In February 2010, Gail Ragland, of Marshall, and her husband, Roy, were driving in downtown Little Rock when they were struck by another car that knocked them into a building. The driver of the other vehicle fled the scene. Roy Ragland saw his wife’s eyes roll in the back of her head, and he wasn’t sure if she would make it. He didn’t know CPR, but he breathed into her twice and said, “In the name of Jesus, let her live.” At that moment, Gail took a breath.
Fortunately for the Raglands, the accident was not far from a fire station. Firemen and various emergency personnel were immediately on the scene. Gail was rushed to UAMS where they discovered that she had 10 broken ribs all off her spine, a broken clavicle and a punctured lung. Matthew Steliga, M.D., thoracic surgeon and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, knew he would have to remove the lower lobe of her right lung or she wasn’t going to make it.
“Dr. Steliga made the statement that there is no medical reason for me to be alive,” Gail Ragland said. Steliga also repaired her ribs during the surgery.
Gail drifted in and out of consciousness over the next several days. One of the first things she remembers seeing when she woke up was the ultrasound picture of her first grandchild, who was due in June.
After almost two weeks in the hospital, Gail was released to go home, but she didn’t realize that the hardest road to recovery was still ahead of her.
She went through three months of physical therapy, persevering through a lot of pain to try to get her mobility back. Many times she was in a state of constant pain, where just lying down in bed brought tears to her eyes. She’s thankful to her family members who stayed by her side to help.
But it wasn’t only the pain from her injuries and therapy that she would have to overcome. Soon she started becoming overly anxious and scared. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Roy called Steliga, and they came to UAMS for a CT scan. Steliga couldn’t find anything wrong; the ribs had all healed and everything looked good.
“I never had problems with anxiety before,” Ragland said. “I would just come home and sit. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was always nervous. I have never felt anything like that.”
One Saturday Roy, in an effort to get his wife out of the house, suggested they go visit their son and his wife in Harrison. At that point, Gail was reluctant to leave the house to go see her son. It was apparent something had to be done.
“I couldn’t stand to be around people,” Ragland said. “I knew something was wrong with me. I just laid on the couch and slept. I couldn’t talk. I was like a zombie.”
Roy Ragland called UAMS in search of help. “This was the place I needed to be,” she said. “I know God put me in the best place I could be. You couldn’t make me go anywhere else.”
She was referred to Betty Everett, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS Department of Psychiatry. Everett discovered that Gail had been through such trauma that her brain was shell-shocked, like someone who had been through war, and it was simply going into overdrive. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She started on medication and started seeing Everett on a weekly basis. “I’m still getting better every day, even today,” Ragland said. “I couldn’t live like I was living, because I couldn’t function. I would not wish the PTSD and anxiety like that on anyone. It’s the most terrible feeling.”
Gail has now been seeing Everett for about three and half years.
“Gail has an ‘I can do this’ spirit with strong faith,” Everett said. “These qualities helped her to move out of the intense anxiety she felt after her wreck and near death experience. She was triggered by body cues, such as pain in her side, to anxiety and fear. She now has less anxiety and is able to manage her anxiety when she is triggered. She has been an inspiration to others who are struggling with health issues, trauma issues and the ability to live fully.”
Although Gail’s life is not how she pictured it being, things are starting to turn around. She had plans of being a very active grandmother. Now with three grandchildren, Gail is enjoying being able to spend more time with them and keep them at her house.
“I feel cheated to a certain degree from what I had planned,” she said. “I’m just thankful God let me live to see them. I still have some anxiety, but I can’t say enough about how UAMS has helped me. I’m a conqueror. I’ve been through the battle, and I’m winning. I know I’m a walking miracle.”