Tiffany Jones battles back from tragic accident

Published: March 3, 2008  |  Source: jeffersonpost.com
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Some people believe everything happens for a reason. Even a tragedy, difficult at first to comprehend, may leave the survivor feeling that he or she has a higher purpose. Tiffany Jones believes this. And her family is buoyed by the strength of her faith. But in the meantime, there is the reality to face.

Only two months after a terrible accident that may leave her paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair, 18-year-old Tiffany Jones has the fortitude of her faith and the boundless enthusiasm of youth to help her endure and give her hope. Her parents, Jeff and Lisa Jones of West Jefferson, are comforted by her amazingly positive attitude and this helps lift them from despair to do what they need to do on her behalf.

“She’s always been one who believes things happen for a reason,” said Tiffany’s mother, Lisa Jones. “That God is in control.”

On the night of January 5, Tiffany was thrown from a vehicle in which she was riding. Her boyfriend, who was driving, swerved to miss some deer and lost control. The vehicle flipped several times and Tiffany, who was not wearing her safety belt, was sucked out of the back window and thrown 30 feet to the pavement. Her mother said she was conscious the whole time and felt her neck break. She also suffered a separated right shoulder, broken nose, lacerated liver (which healed almost immediately) and cuts and bruises. Her boyfriend was wearing his safety belt and suffered only a neck injury and has since recovered. Tiffany has a long road ahead of her.

Attending college on a full academic and athletic scholarship, Tiffany played fast pitch softball. She had undergone conditioning and training for the season at Walter State in Tennessee. At the time of the accident, Tiffany was in the best shape of her life, her mother said. That has helped in her recovery process.

After the accident, Tiffany was transported to Ashe Memorial Hospital. “They did an excellent job,” Lisa said. “Dr. Tan was her doctor. He gave her a special shot for spinal cord injuries that must be given within a certain amount of time after an accident.” That drug is methylprednisolone, a steroid that appears to reduce damage to nerve cells if administered within the first eight hours after an injury. Tiffany was then taken by helicopter to the emergency center of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Lisa went with her. An hour or so after arriving, doctors told Lisa that Tiffany’s spinal cord appeared to be severed and she would never walk again.

The impact of that news was devastating to Tiffany’s family, but she refused to accept a foregone conclusion. Lisa said the doctors put a steel plate on Tiffany’s spine during surgery to protect the damaged Vertebrae. “She asked the doctor if that would help her walk, and he said no, and she told him, �I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.’ It was a miracle she made it through the wreck,” Lisa said. “They told us in Charlotte that if she lived she would never walk again. That’s the way they said it.”

Tiffany broke her neck at the C5 and C6 vertebrae and nearly severed her spinal cord at the C4 vertebrae. There was just a thin cord left connecting the vertebrae. Her parents were told she would have to be on a Ventilator, but it was needed only during surgery. Afterwards, she was breathing on her own. That is a miracle in itself, Lisa said, as most people suffering a C4 break require a ventilator for breathing. Tiffany has shown miraculous progress all along.

Despite widely fluctuating body temperature and blood pressure due to her spinal cord injury, Tiffany has come through the initial trauma and continues to make progress.

“The people in the Charlotte ICU are absolutely excellent,” Lisa said. “They are wonderful. They’ve been so helpful to Tiffany. She has control of her arms and can shrug her shoulders. She can’t flex her fingers, but she can put her pointer finger and thumb together. She’s really functioning at the level of a C7 break. She has some feeling in her stomach area. She can move both arms well and has good wrist control. She started getting feeling in her right arm off and on right after the accident, and she can use it now. I asked God for a sign, and he gave us a bunch of them.”

Lisa said that Tiffany was transferred on January 16 to The Shepherd’s Center in Atlanta for Rehabilitation. She started undergoing occupational and Physical Therapy, much of which was disguised as fun activities. “She’s strong enough now that they put her in a manual wheelchair so she could push herself. That’s just amazing,” Lisa said. “Their goal is to send her home in a manual wheelchair, not an electric one.”

Some other signs of recovery include feeling in the lower part of her body. Lisa said Tiffany could feel shots in her buttocks and stomach. And she also feels catherization. She can feel when she needs to go to the bathroom, but cannot do so on her own yet. All are signs of hope for this remarkable young woman.

Tiffany’s family is being trained in how to care for her when she comes home, which may be the end of March. That is when the grim reality hits home. The family home is being remodeled to accommodate Tiffany’s needs. Plans are in place for therapy. Hopes for her are high, but so are the bills. This is where the community can help, and is helping.

“It’s hard down there,” Lisa said of the therapy situation in Atlanta. “There’s a lot of expense. It’s $500 a week out of pocket for therapy. It costs several thousand for a manual wheelchair. The electric ones cost about $10,000 and you need a special van for transportation because those can’t be folded down. She needs a shower chair and special adaptive equipment. We have to make the house handicap accessible, put in ramps and remodel the bathroom for her and widen all the doorways.” Jeff and Lisa Jones also have tremendous expenses for gas, food and hotel bills. One or the other tries to be with Tiffany as much as possible. Tiffany will be out of the hospital on Thursday and start day therapy on Friday. Lisa left Monday to stay with Tiffany in a special apartment at The Shepherd’s Center for several weeks of therapy. Afterwards, Tiffany should be coming home.

“Jeff and I would really like to thank everyone for their help and support,” Lisa said. “We live in a wonderful place. Everyone has been wonderful. It’s unbelievable. There’s no way to thank everyone, but we want them to know how much we appreciate it.”

Family and friends are pitching in to help, including Jamie Wood in plumbing and Pat Martin in electrical plus Ricky Goodman and others painting, and businesses like Lowe’s Home Improvement, State Drywall and Martin Electric are helping in the house remodel. The girls on Tiffany’s softball team are planning a tournament in her honor. And the Ashe County community is gearing up for a fundraiser on Saturday (see related story).

“People say, how in the world do you deal with it?” Lisa said. “Well, you deal with it. You have to. It’s hard, but you do what you have to do. Tiffany is real positive. She has kept her spirit up and her faith up. She has met people in worse shape than she is, like a soldier from Iraq who got shot trying to save his buddy and then contracted spinal meningitis. They met at a Valentine dance in their wheelchairs. Tiffany was inspired by him and the others. She wants to be a witness for God and to make people aware of the importance of wearing your seat belt. I would like people to be aware of their car insurance liability. Tiffany’s expenses are topping $200,000. Know what your insurance coverages are and how they are paid. It’s been a learning experience for us. The bills add up really fast.”

Tiffany has received many, many cards while in the hospital. They have come from all over the country. A box of cards handmade by children came from a church in Virginia Beach. “Tiffany gets real emotional over the care people have shown her,” Lisa said. “She just cried and cried at those cards. She said, When I get out of here I want to go to Virginia Beach and meet those kids,’ and I’ll take her there. It’s been amazing, it really has.”

by Linda Burchette, Assistant Editor – Jefferson Post