Meet Cassie. As you can see above, she's a young girl with a beautiful smile. She recently graduated from the same high school I did and is now planning out her future.
What you don't see, is the unfortunate circumstances she had to overcome to get where she is today. I was thrilled to be taking her senior pictures. Not only because she chose me, but a little over a year ago we didn't know if she would see this day. Cassie was involved in a severe car crash on Highway 30 in April of 2016 and was rushed to the hospital with serious brain injuries. The cluster of small towns that makes up Benton Community hung on every update for days, anxiously waiting to find out her status.
During this time, Cassie's older sister Kayla gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Adilyn. The family hoped and prayed that the gift of Adilyn's birth wasn't a sign that it was Cassie's time. However, it wasn't. Cassie's strength and determination brought her to a miraculous recovery quicker than anyone had expected. She was still able to hold and meet her new baby niece in spite of what had just happened to her.
The community I grew up in knows how to come together in light of a horrible event. Not only was a Go Fund Me account set up, but the words "Cassie Strong" could be seen everywhere: t-shirts, posters, and bracelets, all with her favorite color, purple. The accident kept her from her junior prom, but Kayla called Cassie's friends in for a last minute surprise. Cassie got her own prom and wore her prom dress. It was, you guessed it, the color purple. She and her family and friends lit up the hospital with their prom attire and music. Maybe it wasn't the prom she imagined, but it was still a memory she will never forget. With some support and her own strength, Cassie healed enough to return home where she would continue to recover.
In her session, we did a variety of poses. We did some with and without the wig, and she totally rocked all of it. I loved watching her shine. You see her now and would never guess anything is wrong. Everything is back to normal, right? And this is where I get to the part I want everyone to remember from this post.
Cassie was a cheerleader with a lot of friends, living the usual high school life. Then this awful thing happens to her. Her strength and determination brought her to her feet again, but she couldn't stop there. Part of her long hair had to be shaved off for surgery. She had to wear a helmet for months along with hours of physical therapy and doctor appointments. Then came the part where she had to move on and try to go back to normal.
Much of the recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is not visible to the eye. Irritability is one of most common symptoms, followed by moodiness, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. I read several articles on this topic. Some people recovering from a TBI say they're active and in great spirits one minute, and in severe pain the next without understanding why. I don't know the details of what Cassie went through or goes through today, but we all remember how rough high school could be. Imagine all of this on top of it. I think her story could spread awareness on how to care for anyone recovering with a TBI. They need support, patience, and encouragement. You don't know the kind of pain they could still be living with, even months later.
It has now been over a year since the accident. Cassie walked across that stage in one of those blue robes and received her diploma, as her siblings did before her. Her parents got to sit in the special reserved section on the gym floor along with all the other parents of Benton Community's Class of 2017. Let it be a reminder, to all of us, to never take a single moment for granted.